Yili (The Ceremonies and Rites) - Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial
The Yili (仪礼; literally "Etiquette and Rites") or Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial is a Chinese classic text about Zhou Dynasty rituals. The Yili, Zhouli 周礼 "Zhou Rites", and Liji 礼记 "Record of Rites" — collectively known as the "three ritual texts" — are Confucianist compilations of records about rites, ceremonies, protocols, and social customs.
The title Yili combines the Chinese words yi 仪 "demeanor; appearance; etiquette; ceremony; rite; present; gift; apparatus" and li 礼 "ceremony; rite; ritual; courtesy; etiquette; manners; propriety; social customs". In modern Standard Mandarin, the compound yili 仪礼 means "etiquette; rite; protocol".
This ritual text was first called Yili in the (ca. 80 CE) Lunheng. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), it was also called Shili 士礼 "Rites for Common Officers", Lijing 礼经 "Classic of Rites", Ligujing 礼古经 "Old Classic of Rites", or simply Li 礼 "Rites". Among Zhou Dynasty feudal ranks, this shi 士 was a "low-level noble; yeoman; common officer; scholar".
Many early Chinese texts were lost during the Qin Dynasty (213-206 BCE) burning of books and burying of scholars. When texts were restored during the early Han Dynasty, the Yili was extant in two versions: "Old Text" (supposedly discovered in the walls of Confucius's residence) and "New Text" (supposedly transmitted orally). Zheng Xuan (127–200) compiled an Yili edition from both the Old and New Text versions and wrote the first commentary. Wang Su (195-256 CE) wrote two books about the Yili and criticized Zheng, but Zheng's version became the basis for later studies and editions.
The Yili text was carved into the 837 CE Kaicheng Stone Classics, and first printed from woodblocks from 932-953 CE. In 1959, archeologists excavated some 1st-century Han tombs at Wuwei, Gansu and discovered a cache of wooden and bamboo textual copies. They include three fragmentary manuscripts of the Yili, covering more than seven chapters.
The first Western translations of the Yili were in French (Charles-Joseph de Harlez de Deulin 1890 and Seraphin Couvreur 1916). John Steele (1917) translated the full text into English.
The Yili translator John Steele summarizes the text.
The amount of repetition and unnecessary detail will make the reading of parts of the book almost as wearisome a task as was the translation of it; but when all is said and done, the details found here are an essential part of that picture of the public and private life, education, family interests, and work-a-day religion of an average man in the China of 3,000 years ago, which, gathered from the classical works of that nation, is without parallel, both for age and interest, in the literary history of the world.
Compared with the other "ritual texts", the Yili contains some highly detailed descriptions. Take for instance, this passage about a shi (personator) ceremony.
Then the host descends and washes a goblet. The personator and the aide descend also, and the host, laying the cup in the basket, declines the honor. To this the personator makes a suitable reply. When the washing is finished, they salute one another, and the personator goes up, but not the aide. Then the host fills the goblet and pledges the personator. Standing, facing north to the east of the eastern pillar, he sits down, laying down the cup, bows, the personator, to the west of the western pillar, facing north, and bowing in return. Then the host sits, offers of the wine, and drinks. When he has finished off the cup, he bows, the personator bowing in return. He then descends and washes the goblet, the personator descending and declining the honor. The host lays the cup in the basket, and making a suitable reply, finishes the washing and goes up, the personator going up also. Then the host fills the goblet, the personator bowing and receiving it. The host returns to his place and bows in reply. Then the personator faces north, sits, and lays the goblet to the left of the relishes, the personator, aide, and host all going to their mats.