Rites of Zhou

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Zhou li)
Rites of Zhou
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese周禮
Simplified Chinese周礼
Literal meaningZhou rites
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetChu lễ
Chữ Hán周禮
Korean name
Japanese name
Lady Xuanwen Giving Instruction on the Rites of Zhou by Chen Hongshou, 1638

The Rites of Zhou (Chinese: 周禮), originally known as "Officers of Zhou" (周官; Zhouguan), is a Chinese work on bureaucracy and organizational theory. It was renamed by Liu Xin to differentiate it from a chapter in the Book of History by the same name. To replace a lost work, it was included along with the Book of Rites and the Etiquette and Ceremonial – becoming one of three ancient ritual texts (the "Three Rites") listed among the classics of Confucianism.

In comparison with other works of its type, the Rite's ruler, though a sage, does not create the state, but merely organizes a bureaucracy. It could not have been composed during the Western Zhou. With a vision based on Warring States period society, Mark Edward Lewis takes it as closely linked to the major administrative reforms of the period. He and Michael Puett compare its system of duties and ranks to the "Legalism" of Shang Yang.[1]


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 Han emperor 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 12th century, it was given special recognition by being placed among the Five Classics as a substitute for the long-lost sixth work, the Classic of Music.

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.[2][3][4] In this view, the word "Zhou" in the title refers not to the Western Zhou but to the royal State of Zhou of the Warring States; the small area still directly under the king's control.


Bronze chariot model based on a passage of the Rites of Zhou, "Make the criminal with his left foot cut off guard the gardens" (刖人使守囿; Yuè rén shǐ shǒu yòu)

The book is divided into six chapters:[5][6]

  1. Offices of the Heaven (天官冢宰) on general governance;
  2. Offices of Earth (地官司徒) on taxation and division of land;
  3. Offices of Spring (春官宗伯) on education as well as social and religious institutions;
  4. Offices of Summer (夏官司馬) on the army;
  5. Office of Autumn (秋官司寇) on justice;
  6. Office of Winter (冬官考工記) on population, territory, and agriculture.

The work consists mainly of schematic lists of Zhou dynasty bureaucrats, stating what the function of each office is and who is eligible to hold it. Sometimes though the mechanical listing is broken off by pieces of philosophical exposition on how a given office contributes to social harmony and enforces the universal order.

The division of chapters follows the six departments of the Zhou dynasty government. The bureaucrats within a department come in five ranks: minister (qing ), councilor (da fu 大夫), senior clerk (shang shi 上士), middle clerk (zhong shi 中士) and junior clerk (xia shi 下士). There is only one minister per department -the department head-, but the other four ranks all have multiple holders spread across various specific professions.

It was translated into French by Édouard Biot as Le Tcheou-Li ou Rites des Tcheou, traduit pour la première fois du Chinois in 1850 and a abridged English translation edition called Institutes of the Chow Dynasty Strung as Pearls by Hoo peih seang and translated by William Raymond Gingell in 1852.[7][8]

In addition to the Etiquette and Ceremonial, the Rites of Zhou contain one of the earliest references to the Three Obediences and Four Virtues, a set of principles directed exclusively at women that formed a core part of female education during the Zhou.[9]

Record of Trades[edit]

A part of the Winter Offices, the Record of Trades (Kao Gong 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". It was translated by Jun wenren as Ancient Chinese Encyclopedia of Technology Translation and Annotation of Kaogong Ji, the Artificers' Record.[10]



  1. ^ Benjamin Elman, Martin Kern 2010 p.17,41,137 Statecraft and Classical Learning: The Rituals of Zhou in East Asian History https://books.google.com/books?id=SjSwCQAAQBAJ&pg=PA41
  2. ^ "Zhou Ritual Culture and its Rationalization" (PDF). Indiana University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 March 2016. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  3. ^ "Rites of Zhou - Classics of Confucianism". Cultural China. Shanghai News and Press Bureau. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  4. ^ Theobald, Ulrich. "Chinese History - Zhou Period Literature, Thought, and Philosophy". China Knowledge. Archived from the original on 12 July 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  5. ^ "Zhouli (Chinese ritual text)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  6. ^ "Cultural Invigoration - Books". Taipei: National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院). Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  7. ^ The Ceremonial Usages of the Chinese: B. C. 1121, as Prescribed in the "Institutes of the Chow Dynasty Strung as Pearls;" Or, Chow Le Kwan Choo ... Being an Abridgement of the Chow Le Classic. Smith, Elder, & Company. 1852.
  8. ^ Le Tcheou-li ou Rites des Tcheou traduit pour la première fois du chinois par feu Édouard Biot: Tome 1 (in French). Imprimerie nationale. 1851.
  9. ^ Kelleher (2005), p. 496.
  10. ^ Wenren, Jun (2017). Ancient Chinese Encyclopedia of Technology: Translation and Annotation of Kaogong Ji, the Artificers' Record. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-8153-6738-3.


  • Jin, Chunfeng (1993). New examinations on the composition of the Zhouguan and on the culture and age reflected in the classic. Taipei: Dongda Tushu Co. ISBN 957-19-1519-X.
  • Lu, Youren (2001). "Summary on Zhouli". Journal of Henan Normal University (Philosophy and Social Sciences Edition). Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2006-06-04.


  • Boltz, William G., 'Chou li' in: Early Chinese Texts. A Bibliographical 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.
  • Kelleher, M. Theresa (2005). "San-ts'ung ssu-te". In Taylor, Rodney L.; Choy, Howard Y.F. (eds.). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism. Vol. 2 N-Z. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 496.
  • 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
  • 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.

External links[edit]