The challenge thrown out by Dr. Legge in 1885 (vide L., Intro., p. 5, note 2), calling for a complete translation of the I-li, has not hitherto been responded to. Passages from the work have been reproduced, notably by Dr. De Groot in his monumental book on " The Religious System of China," but no one who had not a knowledge of Chinese character could read it as a whole. I have ventured here to present a complete translation of the I-li into English ; annotating some of the parts which require elucidation ; calling attention to parallel, and illustrative passages from other Chinese works ; discussing the composition, age, and history of the transmission of it ; and endeavouring to indicate its relation to the other two members of the Li group.
No one had better right than Dr. Legge to call for workers in a territory through whose forests he had driven a royal road by his translation of the Li-chi. His introduction to that book leaves little to be done even upon the origins of the I-li. But there were points to be cleared up, facts to be correlated, and some mistakes in translation and annotation to be rectified, and this I have endeavoured to do in the interests of scholarship.
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 ; bat 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.
It is not necessary to make a list of those whose labours on the Chinese language and literature lays every student under a great debt of obligation. Some of them, such as Professors De Groot, Giles, and Parker, are still in active service. I have paid them the highest tribute within my power by making a use of their works, which is, I hope, not unworthy.
I wish to acknowledge the help received from my colleague, A. W. Edmunds, Esq., B.A.I. (T.C.D.), in the preparation of the plans which accompany this work.