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The Book of Rites (Liji 禮記) the Writing and Re-writing of a Classic under the Han Dynasty

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Directors : Stéphane Feuillas (UPD), Marc Kalinowski (EPHE)

Regular Members :
Béatrice L’Haridon (UPD), Alain Thote (EPHE).

Associate Members : Marianne Bujard (EFEO), Romain Graziani (ENS Lyon), Pénélope Riboud (INALCO, Centre Chine)
Doctoral Students : Julie Gary (ENS Lyon)
External Participants : Gilles Boileau (Taiwan), Jean Levi (CNRS), Anne Cheng (Collège de France)
Collaborators : Lee Chi-hsiang (Foguang University, Taiwan), Michael Nylan (Institute of Asian Studies, Berkley), Michael Puett (East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University)

The aim of this project is to initiate an overall study of the Five Confucian Classics. Indeed, since their translation by Seraphin Couvreur and James Legge (in French & English respectively) in the late 19th century, no study of these fundamental works of Chinese thought and culture has been undertaken. From the outset, the Liji 禮記 or Book of Rites, reconstructed under the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD), was the obvious first choice given that the annotations made by Han scholars of that time, in particular Zheng Xuan’s (127-200), have not, generally speaking, been taken into account in the initial studies of the work. Moreover, the CRCAO has the ideal set of competencies (technical, philosophical, musical, calendrical, ritual, archaeological) at its disposal for the study of such a work. A reading of the work more narrowly focused on Han knowledge would highlight recent scholarly contributions and the diversity of areas covered by this classic that lend it its “encyclopaedic” character.
Owing to the disappearance of the classics on rites and music under the preceding dynasty, the Book of Rites offers an opportunity to study the way in which a classic is ‘rewritten’, and also to examine the reasons for its canonization at the end of the 1st century of the Han period and the process involved. The book reveals numerous differences with ritual such as it was practised under the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1050-256 BC) and also seems to have been conceived in response to the very clear need to adapt ritual practices —initially destined for the aristocracy—and render them accessible to the larger public. It consists of a series of texts in which ritual prescriptions are accompanied by philosophical or theoretical reflections and where the fragmentation of ritual knowledge is counterbalanced by efforts to systematise it.
Several questions will be addressed in this preliminary study : the elements enabling to date the texts, the work’s composition highlighting the relative “flexible” character of the knowledge it presents as evidenced by the obvious contradictions in the ritual and ethical prescriptions. Comparison with the other two ritual compendia (Etiquette and Ceremonials [Yili 儀禮] and The Rites of Zhou [Zhouli 周禮]) will offer an opportunity to reflect on its specificity as well as the reasons for the systematisation and compilation of ritual knowledge into a single work (context in which the texts were written, local and regional variations, different Confucian traditions). Archaeological findings have moreover enabled us to measure the gap between the ritual canon as defined in the work and actual ritual practice under the Han.

Upcoming events
These different themes will be further defined over the course of a four-day workshop opening with an international conference on actual ritual practice vs. the models defined in the Liji, the work’s structure, and organization of knowledge in the early Han period, canonization and political legitimization. In parallel, a series of monthly study sessions will be held to discuss issues the participants are faced with in the translation of a given chapter and the differences between actual practice and the models presented in the Liji. The outcome of these sessions will be a new complete translation that will be published in a bilingual edition by Belles Lettres (China series). December 2013 - February 2014 Seminar : Readings of Tan Gong texts : Confucius as Master of Ritual, Collège de France, Thursdays 15:00 to 16:30, attended by around 20 graduate and doctoral students, external participants and researchers.