The book appeared in the middle of the 2nd century BC, when it was found and included in the collection of Old Texts in the library of Prince Liu De (劉德; d. 130 BC), a younger brother of the Hanemperor Wu. Its first editor was Liu Xin (c. 50 BC – AD 23), who credited it to the Duke of Zhou. Tradition since at least the Song dynasty continued this attribution, with the claim that Liu Xin's edition was the final one.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, following Kang Youwei, the book was often seen as a forgery by Liu Xin. Currently, a few holdouts continue to insist on a Western Zhou date while the majority follow Qian Mu and Gu Jiegang in assigning the work to about the 3rd century BC. Yu Yingshi argues for a date in the late Warring States period based on a comparison of titles in the text with extant bronze inscriptions and calendrical knowledge implicit in the work
A part of the Winter Offices, the "Record of Trades" (考工記, Kaogong Ji) contains important information on technology, architecture, city planning, and other topics. A passage records that "The master craftsman constructs the state capital. He makes a square nine li on one side; each side has three gates. Within the capital are nine north-south and nine east-west streets. The north-south streets are nine carriage tracks in width".
Nylan, Michael, The Five 'Confucian' Classics, New Haven (Yale University Press), 2001, ISBN 0-300-08185-5, Chapter 4, The Three Rites Canon pp. 168–202.
Boltz, William G., 'Chou li' in: Early Chinese Texts. A Biliographical Guide (Loewe, Michael, ed.), pp. 24–32, Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China, 1993, (Early China Special Monograph Series No. 2), ISBN 1-55729-043-1.
Karlgren, Bernhard, 'The Early History of the Chou li and Tso chuan Texts' in: Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquites, 3 (1931), pp. 1–59