LI . The homophones li and li, two distinct Chinese graphs, are seminal concepts in Chinese moral philosophy and metaphysics. Although they are both pronounced the same in the modern Beijing dialect, they differed in ancient pronunciation and were originally unrelated: one li, meaning "principle," terminated in the consonant sound g, according to Karlgren's reconstruction, while the other, meaning "rites," ended in the consonant sound r. While the meaning and usage of these terms converge to some extent, they will be discussed separately in this article.
Li as Principle
The root graph for this li combines the elements "field divided into sections for planting" with "earth," and means "village." To this is added the element "jade," in consequence of a derived meaning—thought by later philosophers to be the original sense—"cut and polish jade" so as to make its inner pattern of veins visible. The original meaning as found in the Shi jing (Classic of odes), however, apparently was to mark out divisions in a field for planting, and so to organize it for agricultural work. Thus li has the senses "put in order," "govern," and the resulting (good) "order" in society, as well as "inner structure." In antiquity these senses already converge in the sense "natural order or structure."
In the Mengzi the word occurs in a moral sense in the term li yi, "order and right," which Mengzi says is what "all human hearts have in common" and what naturally "pleases" our moral sensibility (6A.7). By the early Han dynasty, the term had gone through a semantic evolution: from just "patterns observable here and now" to patterns in temporal extention; hence a pattern developing through history; hence potential or ideal as well as what is actual; hence not only patterns observed in particulars but also general patterns in types or classes; and hence also one overarching pattern through time, branching out from a simple beginning to the complexity of observables in the present; thus both one and many, both explanatory and normative. The Huainanzi (c. 130 bce) says, "As for the dao, when unity is established the myriad creatures are produced. For this reason, the li of unity permeates the entire world, and the expansion of unity reaches the bounds of Heaven and earth." This sense is further developed by Wang Bi (226–249), who speaks of zhi li ("ultimate li"), and Kuo Xiang (d. 312). However, one already finds the expression tian li ("heavenly" or "natural" li) in Zhuangzi and in the Li ji. Li thus approaches the sense of a single first "principle," intelligible but distinct from sensible phenomena, linked with dao and Heaven. It was not yet, perhaps, an object of religious awe.
The word acquired this religious sense when Buddhists, realizing its importance, appropriated it to refer to the primary object (and state) of saving contemplation. The Sūtra in Forty-two Sections (c. 100 ce) says that the saint who has cut ties to the world "attains to the deep li of Buddhahood," gaining enlightenment and nirvana. Zhi Dun (314–366) uses the word interchangeably with the Daoist wu ("nothing" or "nonbeing") and the Buddhist kong (Skt., śūnyatā ; "emptiness"), the ultimately real character ("divine li") of things. Still later, proponents of Huayan Buddhism such as Dushun (557–640), retreating from the negativistic Mādhyamika terminology of kong and se ("phenomena"), offered a dualism of li ("principle"?) and shi (things and events), in which li are both one and many, "pervading" and "pervaded by" shi, so that the one-and-many li of everything is instanced, for example, in each mote of dust.
The word next is repossessed by the Confucians of the Song and following dynasties; li is now both one and many, it becomes the object of religious veneration insofar as it is identified with their first principle, under various names and aspects—tai ji ("supreme ultimate"), dao ("way"), tian ("heaven"), and xing ("human nature"). In the dualism of Zheng Yi (1033–1108), li, "principle(s)," sometimes redescribed as dao, is "above form" (xing er shang ), while qi, "embodiments," are "within form" (xing er xia ). Different attempts were made to overcome this dualism by such thinkers as Lu Xiangshan, Wang Yangming, and Dai Zhen; some of them (Lu, Wang, but also even Zheng Yi himself) identified li with xin ("mind"). Li is (are) both normative (dangran ) and explanatory-descriptive (so-i-jan ). As described by Zheng Yi and Zhu Xi, after long study (gewu, "investigating things") the Confucian sage attains a sudden unitary vision of all li. The concept is often illustrated by reference to natural objects; however, the Confucians usually have in mind the "principles" of social institutions and relationships.
Li as Rites
The graphic root of this li represents a type of ritual vessel (called a li), to which is added the graph for "altar stand," an element commonly marking graphs for religious objects or activities. The basic sense was "religious rite." By the time of the earliest moral-philosophical writings the term had already taken on an expanded meaning: not merely a rite in a religious ceremony, but formal, patterned behavior of any kind, from court ceremonial—and hence, the functions and duties of officials—to the ordinary forms of everyday polite behavior. In early Confucian writings great attention was paid to li in all senses; Confucius frequently complained about eminent people's use of ceremonials to which they were not by rank entitled. Some schools of his followers specialized in the study and practice of li. Of particular importance were observances for the dead, such as the three-year period of mourning for parents (Mengzi 3A.1–3).
As the meaning evolved during the first millennium bce two concurrent tendencies developed. First, there was a progressive secularization of certain originally religious concepts, not only "rite" but also Heaven (tian ). This latter term originally denoted an anthropomorphic deity, but by the third century bce it had become for many simply the physical heaven and the order of nature. The other tendency was a persisting sacralization of the concept of ordinary civilized behavior (Fingarette, 1972). Both of these developments came to fruition in the subtle moral philosophy of Xunzi, in whose writings the ubiquitous term li yi ("rites-and-right") means in effect "morality," much like renyi in Mencian thought. Xunzi was cognitively and explicitly atheist, yet attitudinally deeply religious, devoting a major chapter to the utility, beauty, and cosmic appropriateness of li. Earlier, Mengzi had taken li, in the sense of a disposition to propriety, as one of man's four natural virtues.
The different sorts and aspects of li were explained and cataloged in a group of the Confucian classics that probably date from Han times (with older material): the Zhou li, on the organization of the early Zhou state and functions of its officers; the Yi li, on ceremonies in everyday life; and the Li ji, which contains miscellaneous treatises on ritual and related moral-philosophical matters, and which was probably the cumulative product of Han court specialists on ritual.
Li has continued to have a double importance in Confucian moral thought. On the one hand, its observance is evidence of the moral health of society or of the individual. On the other hand, observing the rites is thought to develop moral character and the moral health of society (see Ouyang Xiu's Ben lun ). The li, therefore, are thought of as the patterns of behavior of a good society, a good government, or a good life.
In this sense the concept overlaps with the li meaning "pattern" or "principle." The convergence of li and li was noticed by Xunzi: "Music [i.e., the standard modes and traditional pieces] is harmonies that are unchangeable; rites [li ] are patterns [li ] that are unalterable" (Xunzi, chap. 20). That is, the rites are forms of social behavior that are valid throughout history. Much later, Wang Yangming offers a very different idea. In his Chuanxii lu (Instructions for practical living) Wang argues that "li [rites] means li [principle]," because "restraining oneself with li [rites]" means that "this mind" must become completely identified with the "principle of nature," the li of Heaven (3.9).
Chan, Wing-tsit. "The Evolution of the Neo-Confucian Concept of Li as Principle." Tsing-hua Journal of Chinese Studies, n.s. 4 (February 1964): 123–148.
Demiéville, Paul. "La pénétration du bouddhisme dans la tradition philosophique chinois." Cahiers d'histoire mondiale 3 (1956): 19–38.
Fingarette, Herbert. Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. New York, 1972.
Gimello, Robert M. "Apophatic and Kataphatic Discourse in Mahayana: A Chinese View." Philosophy East and West 26 (April 1976): 117–136.
Graham, A. C. Two Chinese Philosophers: Ch'êng Ming-tao and Ch'êng Yi-ch'uan. London, 1958.
Waley, Arthur, trans. and ed. The Analects of Confucius. London, 1938.
David S. Nivison (1987)
ALTERNATE NAMES: Ha, Gei, Zun, Moi-Fau, and Shai
LOCATION: China (primarily Hainan Island province)
POPULATION: 1.2 million
RELIGION: Ancestor worship
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: China and Her National Minorities
The ancestors of the Li were included in the ancient "Luoyue," the general term for the minorities in southern China during the Western Han Dynasty (206 bc-ad 8). The name of Li, however, appeared in the ancient historical documents at the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and has remained unchanged since the Song (960-1279). The Li continuously paid tribute to the imperial dynasties. Entering the Li's districts rather early, the Chinese developed marketplaces and towns. The development increased significantly under the imperial Tang (618- 907), which became interested in trading with countries in the south by way of Hainan Island. At that time, 5 districts and 22 counties were set up. Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Li headmen were appointed to rule their people by the imperial government. In the following centuries, the economic development of the Li districts was on par with their Chinese neighbors. They planted "double-harvest rice," made use of iron farm implements invented by the Chinese, and even learned to set up and operate bamboo-tube waterwheels for irrigation. Country fair trade at regular intervals flourished for centuries. Exports to the Chinese mainland represented an important part of the Li economy; among the main items exported were a local brand of oxen, coconut, and areca. Yet, oppression from the feudal government and native officials was so intense as to arouse quite a few uprisings of the Li in the last centuries. In contrast to the Li farmers, who adopted Chinese methods of agriculture in most Li districts, the rest of the population still lived in abject poverty. A primitive co-cultivation system, hemu, had been prevalent in these areas. A piece of land was owned and co-cultivated by several families bound by ties of blood and led by a senior member, the hemu "head." After the payment of common expenses and the reward for the hemu, the crops were divided equally.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Li population was 1.2 million in 2000. They live in Hainan Province, dwell together with the Chinese, Miao (Hmong), and Hui in Baoting, Ledong, Dongfang, Qiongzhong, Baisha, Wanning, and Danxian counties. Hainan Island is located in the subtropics and boasts abundant rainfall and rich soil. In some areas, the hot climate yields three crops of rice annually. Corn, sweet potato, and cassava can be planted all year round. Coconut, pineapple, mango, cocoa, coffee, rubber, and areca abound in Hainan.
Li language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family, Zhuang-Dong group, Li Branch. There are five dialects. An alphabetical system of writing based on Latin was created in 1957. The self given names of the Li include Ha, Gei, Zun, Moi-Fau, and Shai. Shai has been most popular; however, most now use the term Li, a traditional Chinese given name.
The Li myth of origins is closely linked to the culture of pumpkins and to the history of the flood. A long, long time ago, so the story goes, there were two brothers. Both of their wives were heavy with child for three years already. One day, a white-headed old man advised them to plant a pumpkin in front of the door in order to hasten childbirth. The brothers followed his advice. Subsequently both wives gave birth to a child. The elder brother had a son, the younger a daughter. The pumpkin continued to grow year after year. Then the flood came. The brothers were barely able to put their children inside the huge pumpkin in time to save them from the flood. When they got out of the pumpkin, the flood had already receded, but all the other people had drowned. They made a double-deck bed for the brother and sister. Before long, the sister got pregnant. The god in Heaven angrily cleaved a stone into two and struck a tree down to the ground, saying: "Any brother and sister who marry will be condemned to death." Thereafter, the brother and sister lived separately. The sister bore a fleshy lump, which was cut into three by the brother. One piece was enclosed in a piece of hemp cloth, put on a board, then driven by the current of the Nandu River. Ten months later, it became a Chinese child. That is why the ancestors of the Chinese wore clothing made of hemp. The second piece was wrapped in four smaller pieces of cloth, put on a leaf of a herbaceous plant, and left to drift about on the Wanqian River. Ten months later, it became a Miao child. That is why the Miao women's skirts are made of four pieces of cloth. The last piece was bound up in linen, put on a leaf of coconut, and sent adrift along the Changhua River. Ten months later, it became a Li child. That is why Li women wear linen. After the brother and sister gave birth to the Han, the Miao, and the Li in Hainan Island they became the local gods of the land.
Ancestor worship and belief in ghosts and gods are widespread among the Li. They pay special attention to witchcraft. Witchcraft may cause great harm in the guise of disease or even death. A man practicing witchcraft is called jingtai, and a woman jingpo. There are two kinds of ancestor spirits, one evil and the other good. The good ensure safety and prosperity, while the evil bring about misfortune. On the death of a senior person, a grand funeral with all the trappings of ancestor worship will be held. Whoever falls sick must invite the shaman, daogong, or shamaness, niangmu, to exorcise the ghost; the shamans are also adept in divination and play a role of intermediary with the ghosts and gods. The Li have a number of taboos. For example, it is not auspicious to point one's head toward the door in one's sleep, because that is the position of the body of the dead before a funeral. If a guest lies in that direction, the host will be most unhappy.
The Li celebrate the Spring Festival from the last day of the old lunar year to January 15 (Western calendar, between January 21 and March 7). The dinner party on the eve of the lunar New Year is the occasion for the whole family to reunite. Songs of New Year greetings will be sung. On the first and second of lunar January (Western calendar, between January 21 and February 21), the men of a village organize a group hunt. Half of the kill belongs to the hunter who first hits an animal in the hunt. The rest is divided among the villagers. A pregnant woman may have two portions. A traveler who happens to be in the village will also have his share.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Elaborate funeral rites among the Li are related, as mentioned before, to ancestor worship. People announce a death by firing a shot. In areas bordering on Chinese settlements, the Li practice geomancy (divination by means of geographic features) for location of the tomb. In areas of hemu, the coffin is buried underground at a common burial ground. No tumulus or gravestone is set up, nor are there sacrificial offerings or grave sweeping after burial. However, after the funeral the family should receive guests with beef or pork. On the occasion of funerals, family members are allowed to drink and eat as usual, except for rice, which is then taboo. They bury the dead hastily. In general, if a person dies in the morning, the burial will take place in the afternoon; if death occurs in the afternoon, the deceased will be buried the following morning. Because of belief in the "Five Element Theory," burial is never held at noon, lest it lead to disaster. After the date when a person passed away, every twelfth day is celebrated as a commemoration; on "commemorative days" family members are not allowed to work in the field. Such observances last for as long as three years after the death occurred.
If a guest calls in, the host will serve him areca; if the guest is not accustomed to areca, he should explain to the host. It would be a very impolite behavior simply to refuse.
Formerly, there was a dating custom called fangliao. Reaching adulthood, girls would go in groups to chop wood in the mountain; they carried the wood back to the outskirts of the village or to their family house. Helped by their parents, they built up a house (or an adjacent room) called liaofang, where the girls stayed every night from then on. A young man would sing or blow an instrument to express his affection to the girl. If they found each other congenial, a token showing his affection would be given to her. The young man would then be received by the girl in the fangliao house or room. The fangliao relation did not always lead to marriage. The illegitimate child often born from the fangliao relation was not discriminated against by the Li people. Today, the fangliao custom is waning and is practiced only in remote Li villages. The vast majority of Li youngsters choose more modern ways of social intercourse.
In rural areas Li houses are built in the shape of a short-domed cylinder. The frame is laid out with bamboo or wood and is covered with a thatched roof. The walls are built with bamboo poles or branches of trees covered with mud. The floor is made of bamboo or rattan, about 20 inches above the ground. Some of their houses are two-story, provided with a gable roof. People live upstairs, the ground floor serving for livestock and storage. In urban areas, Li houses are the same as the Chinese.
The cities in Hainan Island are modernized. Highways are well developed. A railway makes a circuit around the island. An integrated bus system links the main towns and villages on the island. Haikou (the capital, in the north) and Sanxia (main tourist resort, in the south) boast fully-equipped international airports.
Most families in a village are of the same surname. The family is patrilineal and small. Reaching adulthood, the son or daughter moves to the fangliao room beside the house or in the common house. As soon as they marry, they cook separately from their parents. Since the women do a lot of fieldwork with the men, they have a rather high position in their family. According to traditional custom, women mediated conflicts in or among the villages. Even in cases of armed fighting among villages, women intervened in the dispute and helped negotiate a settlement.
In mountainous areas, men wear a kerchief over the head, an edge-to-edge buttonless linen top and, instead of pants or shorts, two pieces of linen front and back below the waist (as a skirt). Fewer and fewer men still wear this traditional garment, the majority having adopted Chinese-style dress. Women wear an embroidered kerchief on the head, an edge-to-edge buttonless trimmed top with underwear, and a tight straight skirt woven with multicolored cotton threads and adorned with figures and designs. Some of their straight white skirts may reach down to the ankles. Almost all women like to wear earrings— sometimes a wide and heavy array—as well as bracelets and necklaces. Tattoos also serve as feminine ornaments. Some women have designs tattooed on their faces, others over their hands, feet, neck, and chest. The designs vary in different areas, ranging from rather simple figures to very intricate ones. A growing number of Li women now wear Chinese clothes and ornamentation. Urban Li women are not different in outward appearance from those of other nationalities. The men are not tattooed, but they like to wear earrings.
Rice, corn, and yams are the staple foods of the Li. They eat three meals a day. Pottery is used for rice cooking. Meat is roasted or preserved in salt with ground rice and edible wild herbs. Vegetables are rare. Men have a passion for hunting, and meat is an important source of dietary protein. Men like drinking and smoking, while women are fond of chewing areca. The eating habits of the urban Li are the same as those of the Chinese.
Nearly 1,000 primary schools have been set up in Li areas. Over 90% of children reaching school age are enrolled. Besides formal schooling, literary classes, reading groups, and cultural rooms in the villages contribute to the elimination of illiteracy. Middle school students and college students are quite common. Their cultural and educational level is higher than average for the minorities, but it is still below average for the whole country.
The Li are well known for their natural talent for singing. In fact, folk songs are their principal means of expressing their emotions. Lyrics spontaneously flow from their mouths when they are touched by feelings. Folk songs may be performed as solos, as antiphonal singing, in unison, or in chorus. There are quite a few traditional musical instruments. The "Mouth Bow" is made of a thin piece of bamboo or copper, which is played by flicking the fingers. There are at least four kinds of vertical bamboo flutes particular to the Li, one of which is played by nose-blowing. The Li also have a wide array of dances accompanied by music and song, the most popular being the "Cutting Firewood Dance," the "Rice Husking Dance," and the "Double Sword Dance," all of which are colorful and have a rich flavor of life.
Li literature is mainly oral and includes lengthy epics handed down through many generations, all praising their heroes and founders; among the most popular are "Brave God of Unusual Strength," "Legend of the Five-Finger Mountain," and "Brother's Constellation."
The Li mainly engage in rice planting, gathering, and hunting to complement their main economic activity. Li women excel in weaving textiles, especially silk cotton. Early in the Song Dynasty (1127-1279), Li brocade was already famous and was sought after by the Chinese. Tradition has it that the legendary expert of textiles, Lady Huang Daopo, lived in Li areas for 46 years. She dedicated herself to the improvement of textiles. Li women benefited considerably from her teaching.
"Bamboo Dancing" is very popular among the Li. People sit on the ground in two rows, face to face, in pairs. Each pair holds two bamboo sticks by the ends. They rhythmically separate the bamboos and bring them back together. The dancers, following the rhythm, must jump in and out of the gap before the bamboo sticks are brought back together, or the foot will be caught between the bamboos; it is then almost impossible for the dancer to find his rhythm again and his feet get caught at almost every beat. The competition is open to all participants, young and old, and always attracts large crowds.
"Shooting a buffalo's leg" is another traditional sport. Each village selects a good archer. The buffalo leg is hung beneath a tree, about 30 m (100 ft) away from the shooters. Whoever hits the leg is allowed to take it back to his village and share it with the villagers.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Although available, movies and television are not yet popularized among the rural Li. Their entertainment and recreation gravitate toward singing and dancing. In urban areas, however, a wide array of recreation and entertainment is available. Beach activities, especially on the southern shores of the island, have recently begun to attract more and more Li youngsters.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Li brocade is an important craft. Ornaments made of silver and animal bones have a unique style. Some women wear a few earrings in different patterns and also bracelets in different styles.
Since Hainan Province is now the largest special economic zone of China, the social economy has developed rapidly in an integrated way. The current problem among the rural Li is the intense conflict between their traditional agricultural and rural culture and the modern industrial urban culture. The process of modernization seems inevitable, but there is no way to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition between traditional and modern values.
The Chinese constitution states that women have equal rights with men in all areas of life, and most legislation is gender neutral. Li women, in traditional household, have a relatively high position. Women were the traditional mediators of community conflicts. As the Li become more urbanized, this tradition is changing somewhat, with men taking stronger roles.
China has strict family planning laws. It is illegal for women to marry before 20 years of age (22 for men), and it is illegal for single women to give birth. Though minority populations were previously exempt from family planning regulations, policy has changed in recent years to limit minority population growth. Today, urban minority couples may have two children while rural couples may have three or four.
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—by C. LeBlanc
The Li numbered 1,110,900 in 1990 and lived in Hainan Li and Miao Autonomous Prefecture on the island of Hainan, off China's southern coast, in Guangdong Province. (Hainan has since become a province in its own right.) The Li language belongs to the Zhuang-Dong Branch of the Sino-Tibetan Family. Li is closely related to Zhuang, Shui, Dong, Dai, and Bouyei; the peoples are culturally similar in many ways as well. Although there is now a system for writing Li, most Li people make their written communications in Chinese. Many Li can speak local dialects of Chinese as well.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the Li people or their ancestors lived in their present location for a considerable time, perhaps as long as 3,000 years. Han people have been living on Hainan with the Li since before 200 b.c., and Han control over the Li has existed since the sixth century.
Li settlements consist of small groups whose members are consanguineally related and who work together on commonly held lands and share the harvest. They build their houses in the shape of boats out of woven bamboo and rattan, and they use mud to plaster the walls.
The Li region is located at the base of the Wuzhi Mountains. The climate is tropical and there is a good amount of rainfall, which allows up to three rice harvests per year in some places. The Li raise coconuts, betel nuts, sisal, lemongrass, cocoa, coffee, rubber, palm oil, cashews, pineapples, cassava, mangoes, and bananas. They also raise staple foods like wet rice, maize, and sweet potatoes.
The monogamous Li have arranged marriages; a bride-price may run as high as several head of cattle. Grooms unable to afford the bride-price perform bride-service for several years. A newly wed woman lives with her parents, visiting her husband only on occasion; only when she becomes pregnant does she move in with her husband.
The Li are animists and ancestor worshipers. The dead are buried in single-log coffins in a village cemetery.
Other distinctive features of the Li are their skill in weaving kapok, their understanding of herbal medicines, and their twelve-day week, in which each day has the name of an animal.
Ma Yin, ed. (1989). Chinas Minority Nationalities, 405-410. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
National Minorities Questions Editorial Panel (1985). Questions and Answers about China's Minority Nationalities. Beijing: New World Press.
Li was first developed as a moral and religious concept by Confucius and his followers, for whom li consists of a pattern of behaviour which, when performed correctly, of itself effects and expresses harmony among the various hierarchically ordered elements of family, society, and the cosmos.
Mo Tzu, in contrast, attacked the Confucian understanding of li. It has nothing to do with the training of people or the ‘regulation of their likes and dislikes’. It has a certain limited value as an expression of gratitude to the spirits (belief in which Mo Tzu views as performing an essential social-moral function), but if performed extravagantly it wastes precious resources and distracts people from the more pressing tasks of ordering society. Taoists saw li as a prime example of the sort of contrived practice (wei) characteristic of the fall from primordial simplicity.
Despite these attacks, the concept of li remained central to the Confucian tradition in China down to recent times.
LI • abbr. ∎ Long Island.LI • symb. the chemical element lithium.
LI • abbr. ∎ Long Island.LI • symb. the chemical element lithium.
li / lē/ • n. (pl. same) a Chinese unit of distance, equal to about 0.6 km (0.4 mile).