An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yili 儀禮

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Yili 儀禮 "Etiquette and Rites" is one of the three Confucian ritual books (sanli 三禮) and belongs to the Thirteen Confucian Classics. Conceivably it may originally have been part of the Five Confucian Classics (wujing 五經), the core writings of the Classics corpus, with the title Li 禮 "Rites". This can be deduced from the original name of the book which was Lijing 禮經 "Classic of Rites", or Shili 士禮 "Rites of the lower nobility". It is therefore easily confounded with the Liji 禮記 "Records of Rites" that today possesses the status of a core classic, while the Yili is less appreciated.

The Three Ritual Classics (Sanli 三禮)
周禮 Zhouli The "Rites of the Zhou"
儀禮 Yili "Etiquette and Rites"
禮記 Liji "Record of Rites"
三禮圖 Sanlitu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
三禮圖集注 Sanlitu jizhu (Five Dynasties) 聶崇義 Nie Chongyi

All ancient dynasties had certain state rituals for which almost no regulations are preserved. It was only the Confucian scholars who started writing down the rules for etiquette and rituals for all levels of society and thus created a kind of handbook for everybody's use. The ritual rules for the lower nobility (see qing shi dafu 卿士大夫)—which a great part of the Confucians belonged to—was therefore of special interest, and in the early Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) 17 chapters of a book on etiquette survived in the hand of Master Gaotang 堂高生. Their content covered manhood capping, marriage, symposia, banquets and interstate missions as well as funeral rites. During the reign of Emperor Xuan 漢宣帝 (r. 74-49 BCE) three different versions of the ritual classics were taught at the National University (taixue 太學): The versions by Dai De 戴德, his nephew Dai Sheng 戴聖 and Qing Pu 慶普. To these so-called new-text versions (jinwenjing 今文經), several old-script versions (guwenjing 古文經, see old-text/new-text debate) had to be added that were discovered in the walls of the mansion of the Kong family. The latter were called Ligujing 禮古經 "The old classic on rites" and had a length of 17 chapters. There were also 39 chapters of "Non-canonical rites" (Yijing 逸經), which did not survive the Han period.

Table 1. Chapters of the Yili
1. 士冠禮 Shiguanli Capping of an ordinary officer's son
2. 士昏(=婚)禮 Shihunli Marriage of an ordinary officer
3. 士相見禮 Shi xiangjian li Visit of one ordinary officer to another
4. 鄉飲酒禮 Xiang yinjiu li District symposium
5. 鄉射禮 Xiang sheli District archery contest
6. 燕禮 Yanli The banquet
7. 大射 Dashe The great archery contest
8. 聘禮 Pinli Interstate missions
9. 公食大夫禮 Gongshi dafu li The dinner to the commissioner
10. 覲禮 Jinli The audience
11. 喪服 Sangfu Mourning garments
12. 士喪禮 Shi sangli Obsequies of an ordinary officer I
13. 既夕禮 Jixi li Obsequies of an ordinary officer II [The evenings of the second and the last day before the interment]
14. 士虞禮 Shi yuli The sacrifices of repose
15. 特牲饋食禮 Tesheng kuishi li The single beast offered in food to the ancestor
16. 少牢饋食禮 Shaolao kuishi li The smaller set of beasts offered as food to the ancestor
17. 有司徹 Yousi che The assistant clears away

The new-texts survived until the end of the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE), before they were superseded by Zheng Xuan's 鄭玄 (127-200) newly arranged version near the end of the Later Han 後漢 (25-220 CE). Only this version, which was given the name Yili during the the Jin period 晉 (265-420), has survivied and is still used today. During that period of time many books were written on funeral rituals that can be seen as complements to the Yili text.

Quotation 1. The Obsequies of an ordinary officer (Shi sangli 士喪禮)
死于適室。幠用斂衾。 When [he] has died in the principal room of the private apartments, he is covered with the coverlet used at a smaller dressing.
復者一人,以爵弁服,簪裳于衣,左何之,扱領于帶;升自前東榮,中屋北面招以衣,曰:「皋某復!」三。降衣于前。受用篋,升自阼階,以衣尸。復者降自後西榮。 A man is sent to call [the soul] back. He uses the clothes of the russet cap suit [for the purpose] (image see Sanlitu jizhu 三禮圖集注), sewing the skirt to the coat. Then throwing them over his left shoulder, he takes the collar and the girdle together [in his left hand]. He [then] ascends by a ladder set against the front end of the east wall, and, going up to the centre of the house, faces north, and uses the clothes to invite the spirit to return to them, saying, "Ah! So-and-so, return!" This he does three times, [and then] throws the clothes down in front of the hall. [The clothes] are received in a basket, and taken up by the east steps for the clothing of the corpse. The man who [went up to] call back [the soul] descends by the back end of the west wall.
楔齒用角柶。綴足用燕几。奠脯醢、醴酒。升自阼階,奠于尸東。帷堂。 [A servant] plugs the teeth open with a horn spoon. [And another] uses an easy body-rest to prop the feet in position. [The things] laid down are dried flesh, hash, must, and wine. They are brought up by the [east] steps, and laid down to the east of the corpse. [Then] the hall is curtained off.
乃赴于君。主人西階東南面命赴者,拜送。有賓,則拜之。 Then [an announcement of the death] is sent to the prince. The Master [of Ceremonies], standing to the east of the west steps, faces south, and gives his instructions to the messenger [of woe], who thereafter takes leave of him with a bow. If visitors arrive [on hearing of the death], [the Master of Ceremonies simply] bows as they [enter].
入,坐于床東。眾主人在其後,西面。婦人俠床,東面。親者在室。眾婦人戶外北面,眾兄弟堂下北面。 [The Master of Ceremonies then] enters, and sits down to the east of the couch, with those who help him to manage [the obsequies] behind him, and all facing west. The females of the family sit close up to the couch on the other side, with their faces eastward. The near relations are in the room. The rest of the womanfolk are outside the door [of the room], with their faces to the north, and the rest of the menfolk in the court below the hall, with their faces also north.
Steele 1917: 45-47

Zheng Xuan was also the first to comment the ritual classics. He also made comparisons between the old-script and new-text versions. During the Tang period 唐 (618-907) Jia Gongyan 賈公彥 compiled a modern commentary, the Yili shu 儀禮疏, with a length of 17 juan. It was printed together with Zheng Xuan's commentary during the Southern Song 南宋 (1127-1279), with the title Yili zhushu 儀禮注疏. For a short time in the eleventh century the Yili had even been exluced from the canon of Confucian Classics. The most important commentary from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) is Hu Peihui's 胡培翬 (1782-1849) Yili zhengyi 儀禮正義.

The Yili was translated by John Steele, The I-Li or Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial (London: Probsthain, 1917).

Boltz, William G. (1993). "I li", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 234-243.
Liu Qiyu 劉起釪 (1992). "Yili 儀禮", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1392.

Further reading:
Nylan, Michael (2001). The Five "Confucian" Classics (New Haven: Yale University Press).