Thoughts On The Book of Rites

The so-called “Book of Rites” is one of the core texts of the Confucian canon, sometimes called the “five books.” The Book of Rites, or Liji, is a collection of political and administrative documents that originate from the Zhou (1046 BC – 256 BC) and Han Dynasties (202 BC – 220 AD). It is intended to demonstrate obedience to piety, custom, and law as prescribed by Confucius in the Analects. It represents the wish of the philosopher: to see his city in speech come to life.

The subject matter of the Book of Rites includes rules of acting or propriety (the “li”), music, regulations, ceremonial rites, mourning, sacrifices, clothing, archery, and so on. The texts have been memorized, copied, and annotated into modern 20th century China. This two-thousand year legacy of this compendium is astounding.

Within the various texts we find certain parallels with Platonic political philosophy – discussions of human pride and the need to build and nurture a great society, rules for successful rulers, the dangers of public opinion and the masses. Many of the texts speak directly as if addressing future rulers.

There are several digital English translations available of the text. For this reading, I read through some of those. Occasionally, I enjoy dabbling into segments of the Eastern Canon, particularly works of Confucianism.

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