SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CHINESE CHARACTER CALLED
LÎ. MEANING OF THE TITLE LÎ KÎ. VALUE OF THE
Lî is a symbol of religious import.
1. The Chinese character Lî admits of a
great variety of terms in translating a work where it abounds
into any of our western languages. In order fully to apprehend
its significance, we must try to get bold of the fundamental ideas
which it was intended to convey. And these are two. First, when
we consult the Shwo Wan, the oldest Chinese dictionary, we find
Lî defined as 'a step or act; that whereby we serve spiritual
beings and obtain happiness.' The character was to the author,
Hsü Shan, an ideagram of religious import; and we can see
that he rightly interpreted the intention of its maker or makers.
It consists of two elements, separately called khih and lî.
That on the left is the symbol, determining the category of meaning
to which the compound belongs. It was the earliest figure employed
to indicate spiritual beings, and enters into characters denoting
spirits, sacrifices, and prayer. That on the right, called
lî, is phonetic, but even it is the symbol for (a vessel
used in performing rites;' and if, as the Khang-hsî dictionary
seems to say, it was anciently used alone for the present compound,
still the spiritual significance would attach to it, and the addition
of the khih to complete the character, whensoever it was made,
shows that the makers considered the rites in which the vessel
was used to possess in the first place a religious import.
Lî is a symbol for the feeling of propriety.
Next, the character is used, in moral and philosophical
disquisitions, to designate one of the primary constituents of
human nature. Those, as set forth by Mencius, are four; 'not fused
into us from without,' not produced, that is, by any force of
circumstances, but 'belonging naturally to us, as our four limbs
do.' They are benevolence (zan), righteousness (î), propriety
(lî), and understanding (kîh). Our possession of the
first is proved by the feeling of distress at the sight of suffering;
of the second, by our feelings of shame and dislike; of the third,
by our feelings of modesty and courtesy; of the fourth, by our
consciousness of approving and disapproving.
Thus the character lî, in the concrete
application of it, denotes the manifestations, and in its imperative
use, the rules, of propriety. This twofold symbolism of it--the
religious and the moral--must be kept in mind in the study of
our classic. A life ordered in harmony with it would realise the
highest Chinese ideal, and surely a very high ideal, of human
But never and, nowhere has it been possible for
men to maintain this high standard of living. In China and elsewhere
the lî have become, in the usages of society in. its various
relationships, matters of course, forms without the spirit, and
hence we cannot always translate the character by the same term.
It would be easy to add to the number of words, more or less synonymous,
in French or English or any other Aryan language, which Callery
has heaped together in the following passage:--'Autant que possible,
j'ai traduit Lî par le mot Rite, dont le sens est susceptible
à une grande étendue; mais il faut convenir que,
suivant les circonstances où il est employé, il
peut signifier--Cérémonial, Cérémonies,
Pratiques cérémoniales, L'étiquette, Politesse,
Urbanité, Courtoisie, Honnêteté, Bonnes manières,
Égards, Bonne éducation, Bienséance, Les
formes, Les convenances, Savoir-vivre, Décorum, Décence,
Dignité personnelle, Moralité de conduite, Ordre
Social, Devoirs de Société, Lois Sociales, Devoirs,
Droit, Morale, Lois hiérarchiques, Offrande, Usages, Coutumes.'
I have made little use in my translation of the word Rite or Rites,
which Callery says he had endeavoured to adhere to as much as
possible, but I do not think I have allowed myself so much liberty
in other terms in my English as he has done in his French. For
the symbol in the title I have said 'Rules of Propriety or Ceremonial
Translation of the title.
2. The meaning of the title--Lî Kî-need
not take us so long. There is no occasion to say more on the significance
of Lî; the other character, Kî, should have a plural
force given to it. What unity belongs to the Books composing it
arises from their being all, more or less, occupied with the subject
of Lî. Each one, or at least each group, is complete in
itself. Each is a Ki; taken together, they are so many Kîs.
Only into the separate titles of seven of them, the 13th, 16th,
17th, 18th, 19th, 27th, and 29th, does the name of Kî enter.
That character is the symbol for 'the recording of things one
by one,' and is often exchanged for another Kî, in which
the classifying element is sze, the symbol for 'a packet of cocoons,'
the compound denoting the unwinding and arrangement of the threads'.
Wylie's 'Book of Rites' and Callery's 'Mémorial des Rites'
always failed to give me a definite idea of the nature of our
classic. Sze-mâ Khien's work is called Sze Kî ,
or 'Historical Records,' and Lî Kî might in the same
way be rendered 'Ceremonial Records,' but I have preferred to
give for the title, 'A Collection of Treatises on the Rules of
Propriety or Ceremonial Usages.'
The value of the Lî Kî.
3. The value of the work has been discussed fully
by P. Callery in the sixth paragraph of the Introduction to his
translation of an abbreviated edition of it, and with much of
what he has said I am happy to feel myself in accord. I agree
with him, for instance, that the book is 'the most exact and complete
monography which the Chinese nation has been able to give of itself
to the rest of the human race.' But this sentence occurs in a
description of the Chinese spirit, which is little better than
a caricature. 'Le cérémonial,' he says, 'résume
l'esprit Chinois. . . . Ses affections, si elle en a, sont satisfaites
par le cérémonial; ses devoirs, elle les remplit
au moyen du cérémonial; la vertu et le vice, elle
les reconnait au cérémonial; en un mot, pour elle
le cérémonial c'est l'homme, l'homme moral, l'homme
politique, l'homme religieux, Dans ses multiples rapports avec
la famille, la société, l'état, la morale
et la religion.'
To all this representation the first sentence
of our classic is a sufficient reply:--'Always and in everything
let there be reverence.' In hundreds of other passages the same
thing is insisted on,--that ceremony without an inspiring reverence
is nothing. I do not deny that there is much attention to forms
in China with a forgetfulness of the spirit that should animate
them. But where is the nation against whose people the same thing
may not be charged? The treaties of western nations with China
contain an article stipulating for the toleration of Chinese Christians
on the ground that, 'The Christian religion, as professed by Protestants
or Roman Catholics, inculcates the practice of virtue, and teaches
man to do as he would be done by.' Scores of Chinese, officers,
scholars, and others, have, in conversations with myself, asked
if such were indeed the nature of Christianity, appealing at the
same time to certain things which they alleged that made them
doubt it. All that can be said in the matter is this, that as
the creeds Of men elsewhere are often better than their practice,
so it is in China. Whether it be more so there or here is a point
on which different conclusions will be come to, according to the
knowledge and prejudices of the speculators.
More may be learned about the religion of the
ancient Chinese from this classic than from all the others together.
Where the writers got their information about the highest worship
and sacrifices of the most ancient times, and about the schools
of Shun, we do not know. They expressed the views, doubtless,
that were current during the Han dynasty, derived partly from
tradition, and partly from old books which were not gathered up,
or, possibly, from both those sources. But let not readers expect
to find in the Lî Kî anything like a theology. The
want of dogmatic teaching of religion in the Confucian system
may not be all a disadvantage and defect; but there is a certain
amount of melancholy truth in the following observations of Callery:--'Le
Lî Kî, celui de tous les King où les questions
religieuses auraient dû être traitées tout
naturellement, à propos des sacrifices au Ciel, aux Dieux
tutélaires, et aux ancêtres, glisse légèment
sur tout ce qui est de pure spéculation, et ne mentionne
ces graves matières qu'avec une extrême indifférence.
Selon moi ceci prouve deux choses: la première, que dans
les temps anciens les plus grand génies de la Chine n'ont
possédé sur le créateur, sur la nature et
les destinées de l'âme, que des notions obscures,
incertaines et souvent contradictoires; la seconde, que les Chinois
possèdent à un trés faible degré le
sentiment religieux, et qu'ils n'éprouvent pas, comme les
races de l'occident, le besoin impérieux de sonder les
mystères du monde invisible.'
The number of the Kî that are devoted to
the subject of the mourning rites shows how great was the regard
of the people for the departed members of their families. The
solidarity of the family, and even the solidarity of the race,
is a sentiment which has always been very strong among them. The
doctrine of filial piety has also the prominence in several Books
which we might expect.
As to the philosophical and moral ideas which
abound in the work, they are, as Callery says, 'in general, sound
and profound.' The way in which they are presented is not unfrequently
eccentric, and hedged about with absurd speculations on the course
of material nature, but a prolonged study of the most difficult
passages will generally bring to light what Chinese scholars call
a tâo-li, a ground of reason or analogy, which interests
and satisfies the mind.
The Lî Kî as one of the Five King.
4. The position that came gradually to be accorded
to the Lî Kî as one of 'The Five King,' par excellence,
was a tribute to its intrinsic merit. It did not, like the Kâu
Lî, treat of matters peculiar to one dynasty, but of matters
important in all time; nor like the Î Lî, of usages
belonging to one or more of the official classes, but of those
that concerned all men. The category of 'Five King' was formed
early, but the 'Three Rituals' were comprehended in it as of equal
value, and formed one subdivision of it. So it was early in the
Thang dynasty when the collection of 'The Thirteen King' was issued;
but ere the close of that dynasty our classic had made good its
eminence over the other two Rituals. In the 29th chapter of the
Monographs of Thang, page 17, it is said, 'To the charge of each
of the Five King two Great Scholars were appointed. The Yî
of Kâu, the Shang Shû, the Shih of Mâo, the
Khun Khiû, and the Lî Kî are the Five King.'
*From The Sacred Books of China translated by
James Legge, 1885.