Annotated Edition of “The Book of Rites”


Li ji (The book of rites) is one of the Five Classics of the Confucian canon, which had significant influence on Chinese history and culture. The book was rewritten and edited by the disciples of Confucius and their students after the "Burning of the Books" during the rule of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, around 213 BC. The work describes the social forms, governmental system, and ceremonial rites of the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC). Li literally means "rites," but it also can be used to refer to "ceremonial" or "rules of conduct,” traditional forms that provided a standard of conduct. The ideas of Li became closely associated with human nature, ethics, and social order as the people integrated these ideas into their lives. The work contains decrees and institutions, rules and regulations, and rituals and etiquettes. In this edition a dozen or so taboo words of the Song dynasty were avoided. Such word avoidance was a practice prevalent until after the reign of Emperor Guangzong (1190–94). Thus the date of its printing can be placed prior to the end of the Guangzong period. The work has other distinctive characteristics. For example, the explanations of important meanings and words were printed in positive (white characters on a black background) and the areas of the center column of the page, called ban xin, are narrow. These printing features are identical to those of works printed in Jian’an, one of the three largest publishing centers during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). The Confucian canon printed during the Southern Song at local printing workshops, especially in Jian’an, often had appended illustrations, similar quotations, and explanations and annotations from other works such as this one. Copies such as the one presented here were considered valuable for people taking civil examinations, as they helped in memorizing and understanding the texts. This copy originally was in the collection of Yuan Kewen (1890–1931), a literary scholar, calligrapher, and painter, who was the second son of Yuan Shikai (1859–1916), the second president of the Republic of China. The book contains Yuan Kewen’s 1916 handwritten inscription, in which he states that this is a Jian’an copy. He found out later that the book originally had been in Tianyige, the oldest private library in China, but was stolen from there and sold.

Date Created

Publication Information

Jian'an, Fujian, China


Title in Original Language


Type of Item

Physical Description

20 juan, 10 volumes, 16 x 11.6 centimeters


  • Only preface and juan 1–6 are included in the WDL presentation.

Last updated: May 24, 2017