CHINAKNOWLEDGE - a universal guide for China studies | HOME | About
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8) [Location: HOME > Literature > Confucian Classics > Zhouli]

Chinese Literature
Zhouli 周禮 "Rites of the Zhou"

The Zhouli 周禮 "Rites of the Zhou" is a decription of the putative organisation of the government during the Western Zhou period 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE). It is one of the three classics on rites (sanli 三禮) and one of the thirteen Confucian Classics. It was compiled during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) and was known under the names of Zhouguan 周官 "The Offices of the Zhou" or Zhouguanjing 周官經 "Classic of the offices of the Zhou". Only during the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) it was given the name Zhouli by Liu Xin 劉歆. The book consists of six parts corresponding to the six ministries (liubu 六部) which, according to ancient cosmology, are correlated to Heaven, Earth, and the four seasons. There are 376 state officials in total, with subalters secretaries numbering many thousands. The Ministries, their cosmology and structure are:
  • Celestial offices (tianguan 天官), headed by the Prime Minister (zhongzai 冢宰), called the "regulating offices" (zhiguan 治官). The 63 officials care for the royal palace and its administration, as well as the core of the central government.
  • Terrestrial offices (diguan 地官), headed by the the Overseer of Public Affairs (situ 司徒), called the "educational offices" (jiaoguan 教官). The 78 officials care for the local administration, especially the royal domain around the capital, and the inhabitants.
  • Spring officices (chunguan 春官), headed by the Overseer of ritual affairs (zongbo 宗伯), called "ritual offices" (liguan 禮官). The 70 officials care for religious matters and the education of state officials.
  • Summer offices (xiaguan 夏官), headed by the Overseer of military affaris (sima 司馬), called "governing offices" (zhengguan 政官). The 69 officials are responsible for warfare and communication.
  • Autumn offices (qiuguan 秋官), headed by the Overseer of penal affaris (sikou 司冠), called "penal offices"(xingguan 刑官). The 66 officials are responsible for jurisdiction.
  • Winter offices (dongguan 冬官), headed by the Overseer of public works (sikong 司空), called "affairs offices" (shiguan 事官). The 30 officials care for dykes, canals, irrigation and all other public work.
The Zhouli became part of the Classics thought at the state academy only during the reign of Wang Mang 王莽 (r. 8-22 CE). The usurper used this book to reestablish the universal and state orders that were thought to have existed under the early Zhou kings. With the downfall of Wang Mang and the restoration of the Han dynasty the Zhouli was expelled from the state academy. Liu Xin's disciple Du Zichun 杜子春 wrote a commentary to the Zhouli which was known by the Confucian scolars Zheng Xing 鄭興, Zheng Zhong 鄭眾, and Jia Kui 賈逵. Zheng Xing wrote the commentary Zhouguan jiegu 周官解沽. Ma Rong 馬融 wrote the commentary 周官傳, and Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 wrote the commentary Zhouguanli zhu 周官禮注. During the last decades of the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) the three books Yili 儀禮, Liji 禮記 and Zhouli became canonized as the three ritual books. Zheng Xuan believed in the authenticity of the Zhouli as a book compiled on order of the Duke of Zhou 周公 (11th cent. BCE), regent during the early Zhou period, while many others thought it being a forgery or a text concocted at a much later date. During the Song period 宋 (960-1279) the reformer Wang Anshi 王安石 used is as a model and was criticised for this by many of his opponents. The Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹 called it a forgery made by Liu Xin on Wang Mang's order. During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) Wan Sitong 萬斯同 (Zhouguan bian fei 周官辨非), Yao Jiheng 姚際恒 (Gujin weishu kao 古今偽書考), Mao Qiling 毛奇齡 (Jingwen 經問), and Fang Bao 方苞 (Zhouguan bian wei 周官辨偽) called it a forgery. Kang Youwei 康有為 was probably the most vehement critic of the Zhouli and thought it was composed according to some statements in the book Guanzi 管子. But Mao Qiling, Wang Zhong (Zhouguan zhengwen 周官徵文) and Wang Guowei 王國維 also found evidence that at least parts of the Zhouli were compiled during the Warring States period, for instance, the parts on music. There are also many hints in contemporary sources that the offices described in the Zhouli really existed. Famous statements about the administrative system of the Zhou, like Mengzi’s 孟子 description of the "well-field" system (jingtian 井田), or Xunzi’s 荀子 description of the "royal system" (wangzhi 王制) are differing from the Zhouli. It might therefore be that the Confucians Mengzi and Xunzi had other imaginations of the royal administration than the compilers of the Zhouli. The Confucians had in mind a system in existance during the Western Zhou period while the offices and administrative processes described in the Zhouli date from the Eastern Zhou period, as can be seen by comparison with other sources. Only a few parts have been compiled during the Han period.
The high quality of Zheng Xuan's commentary saved it from being expelled from the Classics, and it obtained its fixed place within the Canon. During the Tang period 唐 (618-907) Jia Gongyan 賈公彥 wrote the commentary Zhouli yishu 周禮義疏 with a length of 42 juan "scrolls". Both great commentaries were printed together during the Song period as Zhouli zhushu 周禮注疏. The third great commentary is Sun Yirang's 孫詒讓 Zhouli zhengyi 周禮正義 from the Qing period.

Source: Liu Qiyu 劉起釪 (1992). "Zhouli 周禮", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 3, p. 1603. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

1. 天官冢宰 Tianguan Zhouzai Celestial Ministry with the Prime Minister
2. 地官司徒 Diguan Situ Terrestrial Ministry with the Overseer of Public Affairs
3. 春官宗伯 Chunguan Zongbo Spring Ministry with the Overseer of Ritual Affairs
4. 夏官司馬 Xiaguan Sima Summer Ministry with the Overseer of Military Affairs
5. 秋官司冠 Qiuguan Siguan Autumn Ministry with the Overseer of the Penal Affairs
6. 冬官考工記 Dongguan Kaogongji Winter Ministry with the Overseer of Public Work.
Exemplarious translation:

惟王建國,辨方正位,體國經野,設官分職,以為民民極。乃立天官冢宰,使帥 其屬而掌邦治,以佐王均邦國。
宰夫,下大夫四人;上士八人,中士十有六人,旅下士三十有二人;府六人, 史十有二人,胥十有二人,徒百有二十人。
The Prime Minister and the "Heavenly Ministry"
The only person that constitutes the empire, is the king. He determines the [four] regions and fixes the [governmental] positions; he embodies the cities and measures the countryside; he creates the ministries and separates their respective functions; this all to make a fixed pole for the people. Therewith, he institutes the "Heavenly ministry" and the office of prime minister, he charges the prime minister to head his subordinates and to take into his hands the administration of the state, to help the king to regulate the fiefdoms and the state.
The ministry consists of the following persons:
The Great Administrator, one ministerial person. Small Administrators, two prefects of second rank. Assistant Administrators, four prefects of third rank. Eight graduated officers of first rank, sixteen graduates officers of second rank. Ordinary officers: thirty-two graduated officers of third rank, six officers for the magazins, twelve scribes, twelve aides, and one hundred and twenty retainers...
三曰禮典,以和邦國, 以統百官,以諧萬民。
五曰刑典, 以詰邦國,以刑百官,以糾萬民。
The office of Great Administrator:
He holds in his hands the duty to establish the Six Constitutions to constitute the empire, for he has to help the king to regulate the fiefdoms and the state.
First, the Regulating Constitution, to measure the fiefdoms and the state, to regulate the ministries and to structure the people.
Second, the Instructing Constitution, to consolidate the country, to instruct the Ministries and to civilize the people.
Third, the Ritual Constitution, to harmonize the country, to unite the Ministries and to bring the people together.
Forth, the Governmental Constitution, to appease the country, to correct the officers, and to make equal all people.
Fifth, the Punishment Constitution, to correct the country, to chastise the officers, and to bind the people to what is needed.
Sixth, the Labour Constitution, to enrich the country, to make active the officers, and to nourish the people...
歲終,則令百官府各正其 治,受其會,聽其致事,而詔王廢置。三歲,則大計群吏之治而誅賞之。
By the Eight regulations, he regulates the Ministries,...
by the Eight Principles, he regulates the cities and the towns,...
by the Eight Handles, he helps the king to control the many officers,...
by the Eight Guidelines, he helps the king to control the people,...
by the Nine Offices, he employs the people,...
by the Nine Taxes, he reassembles the richness and values,...
by the Nine Measures, he equals and moderates the finances [of the ministries],...
by the Nine tributes, he effects the expenditures of the country,...
by the Nine Couplings, he helds together the people of the country...
At the end of the year, he orders all officers to regulate each one of their duties, and he receives their account, he makes them report how they effected their duties, and he suggests the king whom to dismiss and whom to confirm. Every third year, he carries out the great control of the government of all officers and punishes or rewards them.

The "Wild Duck Master" produces bells. The two edges at the opening of the bell are called xian, the part between the edges (the opening) is called yu ("expansion"), the part above the "expansion" (the lower, undecorated part of the corpus) is called gu ("drum"), the part above the "drum" (the decorated upper part of the corpus) is called zheng ("sounding part"), the part above the zheng (the head of the corpus) is called wu ("dancer"), the part above the wu (the top of the corpus) is called yong ("protuberance"), the upper part of the hanger is called heng. The suspension part is called xuan, the dragon-like decoration of the suspension is called han ("reinforcement"), the belt-like decoration of the corpus is called zhuan, the (belt) parts between these "belts" are called mei, the protruding buttons (the "nipple nails" 乳釘) are called jing. The polished part above the rim (the lower, non-decorated part of the corpus below the "drum") is called sui.
The distance between the edges (xian) at the opening are divided into ten parts. Two parts are taken away to obtain the diameter of the sounding zheng part.The same distance is taken for the distance at the expansion xian part. Two parts are taken away to obtain the inner measure of the "drum"gu part. Using this measure, the length or height of the "dancing" wu part is made. Again, two parts are taken away to obtain the width of the "dancing" part. The length of the "sounding" zheng part is the same as the length of the "protuberance"yong part. Its circumference has the same measure as its length. This measure is divided into three, two parts above, and one part below correspond to the length of the suspension xuan part.
There are special explanations to regulate the movement of the bell's oscillation, as a result of the various thickness of the bell, and to regulate the pure or impure sound, depending on the width and size of the bell. If the bell is to thick, it sounds like a stone. If it is to thin, the sound dissipates. A wide bell has a radiant sound, a narrow bell is scarcely canorous. If the upper part of the corpus is too long, the vibration is to strong. Therefore, producing large bells, the inner measure of the "drum" is divided into ten parts. One part of is corresponds to the thickness of the wall. Producing small bells, the inner measure of the "sounding" zheng part is divided into ten. One part corresponds to the thickness of the wall. A large bell being too short, the sound will be vivacious, but fading out soon. A small bell bring too long, the sound will be extended and of long endurance. Concerning the polished lower sui part of a bell, it should be divided into six parts. One part of it serves as measure for the circular deepness of the bell.

Translated by Ulrich Theobald, according to the translation of Edouard Biot (1951). Le Tcheou-Li or Rites des Tcheou. Paris: Imprimerie nationale. [1851]
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

July 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail