Rites of Zhou

Rites of Zhou
Traditional Chinese 周禮
Simplified Chinese 周礼

The Rites of Zhou (Chinese: 周禮; pinyin: Zhōu lǐ), originally known as "Officers of Zhou" (周官; Zhouguan) is actually a 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.

Such purely administrative texts are usually referred to as Legalist, but the text's governmental model is one of co-governance, with the ruler's family holding in hand a particularly aristocratic-bureaucratic state, as opposed to the absolutist administration of Han Fei. 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.


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[1][2][3] 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:[4][5]

  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), senior clerk (shang shi), middle clerk (zhong shi) and junior clerk (xia shi). There is only one minister per department -the department head-, but the other four ranks all have multiple holders spread across various specific professions.

Record of Trades

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".



  1. "Zhou Ritual Culture and its Rationalization" (PDF). Indiana University. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  2. "Rites of Zhou - Classics of Confucianism". Cultural China. Shanghai News and Press Bureau. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  3. Theobald, Ulrich. "Chinese History - Zhou Period Literature, Thought, and Philosophy". China Knowledge. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  4. "Zhouli (Chinese ritual text)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  5. "Cultural Invigoration - Books". Taipei: National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院). Retrieved 25 July 2011.


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