Sacred Books of the East/Volume 27/The Lî Kî/Chapter 1

Sacred Books of the East, Volume 27:
The Texts of Confucianism. (Part III: The Lî Kî, I–X)
translated by James Legge
Introduction to the Lî Kî. Chapter 1.






Three different Lî King, or Ritual Books, acknowledged in China. The recovery of the first two, and formation of the third, under the Han Dynasty.

 1. Confucius said, "It is by the Odes that the mind is aroused; by the Rules of Propriety that the character is established; from Music that the finish is received[1]"

How Confucius
spoke of the Lî.

On another occasion he said, "Without the Rules of Propriety, respectfulness becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, timidity; boldness, insubordination; and straightforwardness, rudeness[1]."

These are two specimens of the manner in which Confucius expressed himself. about the Lî, the Rules of Propriety or Ceremonial Usages, recognised in his time. It is a natural inference from his language that there were Collections of such Rules which could be read and studied; but he does not expressly say so.

How Mencius
spoke of them.

The language of Mencius was more definite. In at least two passages of his works we find the usual form of quotation Lî Yüeh, "The Lî says[2]" which, according to the analogy of Shih Yüeh, "The Shih King, or Book of Poetry, says," might be rendered, "The Lî King says." In another passage, he says to a Mr. King Khun, "Have you not read the Lî[3]?" It does not appear that Mencius was always referring to one and the same collection of Lî; but it is clear that in his time there were one or more such collections current and well known among his countrymen.

Now there are
three Lî King,
or three Rituals.

There are now three Chinese classics into which the name Lî enters:—the Î Lî, the Kâu Lî, and the Lî Kî, frequently styled, both by the Chinese themselves and by sinologists, "The Three Rituals[4]." The first two are books of the Kâu dynasty (B.C. 1122-225). The third, of which a complete translation is given in the present work, may contain passages of an earlier date than either of the others; but as a collection in its present form, it does not go higher than the Han dynasty, and was not completed till our second century. It has, however, taken a higher position than those others, and is ranked with the Shû, the Shih, the Yî, and the Khun Khiû, forming one of "The Five King," which are acknowledged as the books of greatest authority in China. Other considerations besides antiquity have given, we shall see, its eminence to the Lî Kî.

2. The monuments of the ancient literature, with the exception, perhaps, of the Yî King, were in a condition of disorder and incompleteness at the rise of the Han dynasty (B.C. 206).

State of the Lî
books at the rise
of the Han dynasty.

This was the case especially with the Î Lî and Kâu Lî. They had suffered, with the other books, from the fires and proscription of the short-lived dynasty of Khin, the founder of which was bent especially on their destruction[5]; and during the closing centuries of Kâu, in all the period of "The Warring Kingdoms," they had been variously mutilated by the contending princes[6].

Work of the
emperors of Han
in recovering the
ancient books.

The sovereigns of Han undertook the task of gathering up and arranging the fragments of the ancient books, and executed it well. In B.C. 213 Shih Hwang Ti of Khin had promulgated his edict forbidding any one to hide and keep in his possession the old writings. This was repealed in B.C. 191 by the emperor Hui, so that it had been in existence only twenty- two years, during most of which, we may presume, it had been inoperative. Arrangements were also made to receive and preserve old tablets which might be presented[7], and to take down in writing what scholars might be able to repeat. In B.C. 164, the emperor Wăn ordered "the Great Scholars" of his court to compile "the Royal Ordinances," the fifth of the Books in our Lî Kî[8].

Recovery of
the Î Lî.

i. Internal evidence shows that when this treatise was made, the Î Lî or portions of it at least, had been recovered; and with this agrees the testimony of Sze-mâ Khien, who was born perhaps in that very year[9], and lived to between B.C. 90 and 80. In the 61st Book of his Biographies, referred to in a note above, Khien says, "Many of the scholars repeated (parts of) the Lî; but no other of them so much as Kâo Thang of Lû; and now we have only the Shih Lî, which he was able to recite." In harmony with this statement of the great historian, is the first entry in Liû Hsin's Catalogue of Lî books in the Imperial library of Han:—"56 küan or sections of Lî in the old text, and 17 phien in the (current) text (of the time);" forming, as is universally believed, the present Î Lî, for which the Shih Lî of Khien is merely another name.

That Kâo Thang should have been able to dictate so much of the work will not be thought wonderful by those who are familiar with the power of memory displayed by many Chinese scholars even at the present day. The sections in the old text were found in the reign of the emperor Wû (B.C. 140-87), and came into the possession of his brother, known as king Hsien of Ho-kien. We do not know how much this mass of tablets added to the Î Lî, as we now have it, but they confirmed the genuineness of the portion obtained from Kâo.

King Hsien of
Ho-kien, and
his recovery of
the Kâu Lî.

ii. The recovery of the Kâu Lî came not long after, and through the agency of the same king Hsien. No one did so much as he in the restoration of the ancient literature. By name Teh, and one of the fourteen sons of the emperor King (B.C. 156-141), he was appointed by his father, in B.C. 155, king of Ho-kien, which is still the name of one of the departments of Kih-lî, and there he continued till his death, in 129, the patron of all literary men, and unceasingly pursuing his quest for old books dating from before the Khin dynasty. Multitudes came to him from all quarters, bringing to him the precious tablets which had been preserved in their families or found by them elsewhere. The originals he kept in his own library, and had a copy taken, which he gave to the donor with a valuable gift. We are indebted to him in this way for the preservation of the Tâo Teh King, the works of Mencius, and other precious treasures; but I have only to notice here his services in connexion with the Lî books[10].

Some one[11] brought to him the tablets of the Kâu Lî, then called Kâu Kwan, "The Official Book of Kâu," and purporting to contain a complete account of the organised government of the dynasty of Kâu in six sections. The sixth section, however, which should have supplied a list of the officers in the department of the minister of Works, with their functions, was wanting, and the king offered to pay 1000 pieces of gold to any one who should supply the missing tablets, but in vain[12]. He presented the tablets which he had obtained at the court of his half-brother, the emperor Wû; but the treasure remained uncared for in one of the imperial repositories till the next century; when it came into the chaise of Liû Hsin. Hsin replaced the missing portion from another old work, called Khâo Kung Kî, which Wylie renders by "The Artificers' Record." This has ever since continued to appear as the sixth section of the whole work, for the charge of which Hsin obtained the appointment of a special board of scholars, such as had from the first been entrusted with the care of the Î Lî. The Kâu Lî is a constitutional and not a ritual work. The last entry in Hsin's Catalogue of Lî Books is:—"The Kâu Kwan in six sections; and a treatise on the Kâu Kwan in four sections." That is the proper name for it. It was not called the Kâu Lî till the Thang dynasty[13].

Formation of
the Lî Kî.

iii. We come to the formation of the text of the Lî Kî, in which we are more particularly interested. We cannot speak of its recovery, for though parts of it had been in existence during the Kâu dynasty, many of its Books cannot claim a higher antiquity than the period of the Han. All that is known about the authorship of them all will be found in the notices which form the last chapter of this Introduction. After the entry in Liû Hsin's Catalogue about the recovered text of the Î Lî, there follows—"131 phien of Kî," that is, so many different records or treatises on the subject of Lî. These had also been collected by king Hsien, and Kû Hsi's note about them is that they were "Treatises composed by the disciples of the seventy disciples," meaning by "the seventy disciples" those of Confucius' followers who had been most in his society and profited most from his instructions. These 131 phien contained, no doubt, the germ of our Lî Kî; but there they remained for about a century in the imperial repositories, undigested and uncared for, and constantly having other treatises of a similar nature added to them.

Council of
B.C. 51.

At last, in B.C. 51, the emperor Hsüan (B.C. 73-47) convoked a large assembly of Great Scholars to meet in the Stone-Conduit Gallery, and discuss the text of the recovered classics[14]. A prominent member of this assembly, the president of it I suppose, was Liû Hsiang, himself a celebrated writer and a scion of the imperial house, who appears to have had the principal charge of all the repositories. Among the other members, and in special connexion with the Lî works, we find the name of Tăi Shăng, who will again come before us[15].

B.C. 26.

We do not know what the deliberations of the Great Scholars resulted in, but twenty-five years later the emperor Khăng caused another search to be made throughout the empire for books that might hitherto have escaped notice; and, when it was completed, he ordered Hsiang to examine all the contents of the repositories, and collate the various copies of the classics. From this came the preparation of a catalogue; and Hsiang dying at the age of seventy-two, in B.C. 9, before it was completed, the work was delegated to his third and youngest son Hsin. His catalogue we happily possess. It mentions, in addition to the Î Lî and Kâu Lî, 199 phien of Lî treatises. The résumé appended to the Lî books in the Catalogue of the Sui Dynasty, omitting works mentioned by Hsin, and inserting two others, says that Hsiang had in his hands altogether 214 phien. What was to be done with this mass of tablets, or the written copies made from them?

Hău Зhang and
the two Tâis.

The most distinguished of the Lî scholars in the time of the emperors Hsüan and Khăng was a Hău Зhang, the author of the compilation called in Hsin's Catalogue Khü Tâi Kî; and two of his disciples, Tâi Teh and Tăi Shăng, cousins[16], the name of the latter of whom has already been mentioned as a member of the council of B.C. 51, were also celebrated for their ability. Teh, the older of the two, and commonly called Tâ Tâi, or "the Greater Tâi," while Hsiang was yet alive, digested the mass of phien, and in doing so reduced their number to 85. The younger, called Hsiâo Tâi, or "the Lesser Tâi," doing the same for his cousin's work, reduced it to 46 treatises. This second condensation of the Lî documents met with general acceptance, and was styled the Lî Kî. Shăng himself wrote a work in twelve chapters, called "A Discussion of the Doubts of Scholars about the Lî Kî," which, though now lost, was existing in the time of Sui.

Mâ Yung and
Kang Hsüan.

Through Khâo Zăn and others, scholars of renown in their day, the redaction passed on to the well-known Mâ Yung (A.D. 79-166), who added to Shăng's books the Yüeh Ling, the Ming Thang Wei, and the Yo Kî, making their number in all forty-nine, though, according to the arrangement adopted in the present translation, they still amount only to forty- six. From Mâ, again, it passed to his pupil Kăng Hsüan (A.D. 127-200), in whom he was obliged to acknowledge a greater scholar than himself.

Thus the Lî Kî was formed. It is not necessary to pursue its history farther. Kăng was the scholar of his age, and may be compared, in scholarship, with the later Kû Hsî. And he has been fortunate in the preservation of his works. He applied himself to all the three Rituals, and his labours on them all, the Kâu Lî, the Î Lî, and the Lî Kî, remain. His commentaries on them are to be found in the great work of "The Thirteen King" of the Thang dynasty. There they appear, followed by the glosses, illustrations, and paraphrases of Khung Ying-tâ.

Зhăi Yung and
his manusculpt.

In A.D. 175, while Kăng was yet alive, Зhăi Yung, a scholar and officer of many gifts, superintended the work of engraving on stone the text of all the Confucian classics. Only fragments of that great manusculpt remain to the present day, but others of the same nature were subsequently made. We may feel assured that we have the text of the Lî Kî and other old Chinese books, as it was 1800 years ago, more correctly than any existing manuscripts give us that of any works of the West, Semitic, or Greek, or Latin, of anything like equal antiquity.

Lî of the
Greater Tăi.

3. A few sentences on the Lî of the Greater Tăi will fitly close this chapter. He handed down his voluminous compilation to a Hsü Liang of Lang Yeh in the present Shan-tung[17], and in his family it was transmitted; but if any commentaries on it were published, there is no trace of them in history. As the shorter work of his cousin obtained a wide circulation, his fell into neglect, and, as Kû Î-jun says, was simply put upon the shelf. Still there appears in the Sui Catalogue these two entries:—"The Lî Kî of Tă Tăi, in 13 Sections," and "The Hsiă Hsiâo Kăng, in 1 Section," with a note by the editor that it was compiled by Tâ Tâi. This little tractate may, or may not, have been also included in one of the 13 Sections. There are entries also about Tâ Tâi's work in the catalogues of the Thang and Sung dynasties, which have given rise to many discussions. Some of the Sung scholars even regarded it as a 14th King. In the large collection of "Books of Han and Wei," a portion of the Lî of Tâ Tâi is still current, 39 Books in 10 Sections, including the fragment of the Hsiâ dynasty, of which a version, along with the text, was published in 1882 by Professor Douglas of King's College, under the title of "The Calendar of the Hsiâ Dynasty." I have gone over all the portion in the Han and Wei Collection, and must pronounce it very inferior to the compilation of the Hsiâo or Lesser Tâi. This inferiority, and not the bulk, merely, was the reason why from the first it has been comparatively little attended to.

  1. 1.0 1.1 Confucian Analects, Book VIII, 8 and 2.
  2. Works of Mencius, II, Part ii, a. 5; III, Part ii, 3. 3.
  3. Works of Mencius, III, ii, 2. 2.
  4. See Wylie*s Notes on Chinese Literature, p. 4, and Mayers' Chinese Reader's Manual, p. 300.
  5. Sze-mâ Khien's Biographies. Book 61 儒林傳, p. 5b. Other testimonies to the fact could be adduced.
  6. Mencius V, ii, 2. 2. See also the note of Liû Hsin, appended to his catalogue of Lî works, in the Imperial library of Han.
  7. Such was the "Stone-Conduit Gallery," which Mayers (Manual, p. 185) describes as a building erected by Hsiâo Ho at Khang-an for the reception of the records of the extinct Khin dynasty, about B.C. 200, adding that "in B.C. 51, the emperor Hsüan appointed a commission of scholars to assemble in this building, and complete the revision of the classical writings." But it had also been intended from the first as a repository for those writings as they were recovered.
  8. See the General Mirror of History under that year.
  9. Mayers puts his birth "about B.C. 163," and his death "about 85."
  10. See the account of king Hsien in the twenty-third chapter of the Biographies in the History of the first Han dynasty. Hsien was the king's posthumous title 獻, denoting "The Profound and Intelligent."
  11. The Catalogue of the Sui Dynasty's (A.D. 589-618) Imperial library says this was a scholar of the surname Lî 李. I have been unable to trace the authority for the statement farther back.
  12. This is related in the Catalogue of the Sui dynasty. It could not be in Khien's sixty-first chapter of Biographies, because the Kâu Kwan was not known, or, at least, not made public, in Khien's time. The Sui writers, no doubt, took it from some biography of the Han, which has escaped me.
  13. A complete translation of the Kâu Lî appeared at Paris in 1851, the work of Edward Biot, who had died himself before its publication, before his fiftieth year. According to a note in Gallery's "Memorial des Rites" (p. 191), the labour of its preparation hastened Biot's death. There are some errors in the version, but they are few. I have had occasion to refer to hundreds of passages in it, and always with an increasing admiration of the author's general resources and knowledge of Chinese. His early death was the greatest loss which the cause of sinology has sustained. His labours, chiefly on Chinese subjects, had been incessant from 1835. The perusal of them has often brought to my memory the words of Newton. "If Mr. Cotes had lived, we should have known something." Is there no sinologist who will now undertake a complete translation of the Î Lî?
  14. See the Details in the General Mirror of History, under B.C. 51.
  15. See the 58th Book of Biographies 儒林 in the History of the first Han, and the Catalogue of the Sui Library.
  16. Sinologists, without exception I believe, have called Shăng a "nephew" of Teh, overlooking the way in which the relationship between them is expressed in Chinese. Shăng is always Teh's 從〬兄之子, and not simply 兄之子. Foreign students have overlooked the force of the phrase 從〬兄 and, more fully, 從父兄. Teh and Shăng's father had the same grandfather, and were themselves the sons of brothers. They were therefore what we call first cousins, and Teh and Shăng were second cousins. The point is unimportant, but it is well to be correct even in small matters. Not unimportant, however, is the error of Callery (Introduction, p. 6), who says, "Le neveu, homme dépravé, beaucoup plus adonné aux plaisirs, qu'à l'étude, retrancha encore davantage et fixa le nombre des chapitres à 46." No such stigma rests on the character of Tâi Shăng, and I am sure translators have reason to be grateful to him for condensing, as he did, the result of his cousin's labours.
  17. 徐良,字斿卿,受禮於戴德。