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10. Learning ‘Li’ through games November 26, 2007

Posted by kentneo in Art.

“Xi Li” is to “learn Li”, (“Li” means proper conduct, rites, principles, propriety, manners. Confucius meant it as principles more than rites.) “Yu Xi” are games. Games to learn “Li”.


At one point in history, people did not need Confucius’ teachings, after a while they found that they needed his teachings again, [this on and off desire] is a bit like a “child’s game” [as children gain and lose interest rather quickly]. In “Shi Ji” (Historical Records, compiled by Si-ma Qian, 145 – 86 BCE), there is a section called “Kongzi Shijia” (Confucius family xx?), which has a paragraph called “Weier Xixi, Dang chen chudou” (which encourages children to pretend play with an altar setting).


“Chudou” originally was made of stone and used on Chinese altars (an object for the rituals of worshipping ones ancestors). “Chu” resembled an item with curvy legs that one would put a bowl on. “Dou” (bean) is not the bean we know it as today, originally it is a clay pot that resembles “a mouth”, later in the bronze tool period, the word “dou” evolved to become a unit of measurement, like in “one dou of meat, one dou of wine”. This unit of measurement is close to today’s 1 kg.  In the old days, “dou” (bean) was called “su”, it is only much later that beans were called “dou”.


“Dou” (pot) came in two types, one type the belly of the pot was very shallow, it had no lid and no handles, like a plate. Another type had a roundish belly, there was a handle on the bottom of the pot and there was another piece, “den” (pot holder), which was used to hold the pot.


“Chudou” in the old times was also an ancient type of formal clothing. In “Liji” (The Rites), there is a chapter called “Leji Pian” (piece on happiness??), there is a verse that says that the “chudou” was a musical instrument. It also says what people used to do ritually (everyday), today, we only do on formal occasions.


When Confucius was young, he received most of his education from his mother and was also very interested in “Shang Gu” (ancient Chinese text) about history and antiquities and all things around him. He also knew about “Li”. Similar to children of today, in order to be good members of society, one must know [principles] proper conduct well. Confucius had a group of young friends he would play with. Unlike children of today that have computer games, though of course that is because of “progress” but they seem to have lost their “manners”. Confucius himself admitted that he was not from a prosperous family, but just another poor kid, he is said to have said, “so I can do a lot of ordinary things”, as in being poor he is able to take hardships better, contrasted to being rich, one only knows how to enjoy, to talk about freedom, everything is about freedom and with too much freedom, nothing usually gets done, the term “bai zia zi” (child that disgraces the family) originated from here.


Confucius said, “at 15, my mind was set on learning, at 30, my character had been formed, at 40, I had no more perplexities, at 50, I knew the decrees of heaven, at 60, I was at ease with whatever I heard, at 70, I could follow what my heart desired without transgressing moral principles”. So on the matter of who your children’s friends are is an important one. When Confucius was a young boy, he used “xili” (the learning of proper conduct) as a type of game, Confucius’ success was in the fact that [by age 15], he decided that he wanted to know as much as he could learn.


I once did a painting of Confucius “xili yuxi”, that is to have Confucius, with his young friends together, paying homage to heaven and earth [the universe], using different sized rocks as “chu dou” (altar objects), the large stone [that resembles a table] is the altar and the smaller stones as the objects used on an altar. To pay homage is a very traditional custom, but it can teach one to understand proper conduct.


Painting itself is one of the most obvious [or clear] type of expression, so painting’s best attributes are that it is able to convey messages to people, from young children to young adults, it is able to teach them about kindness, for middle age to old people, they implore one to do charity [and impart loving kindness?], leading people towards treating other people better, leading countries to peace.


From Confucius’ “xili”, we can see that when he was 15, he was determined to learn as much he can to be a “superior” human being. At 30, his character would have been formed and to be independent, being able to help his family and help the country. At 40, he should have no more doubts [as ones character settles down]. At 50, to know the decrees of heaven is to finally understand about life. At 60, being at ease with whatever he heard, is to say, all ideas and myths can be listened to [without being provocated?]. Confucius also did say, “ if a leader has manners, he will have the respect of his people, if a leader is righteous, he will have the admiration of his people”. Proper conduct not only helps to build a country, if inhabitants of a country do not have proper conduct then the country is headed for doom.


Some people have compared Confucius to a phoenix, according to one part of the analect, “The song of Jieyi”, Jieyi sang this to Confucius “Oh phoenix, oh phoenix, how did we reach such a low point? The past has warned us of this, but the past can not be changed, the future still can, but forget it, why throw more good after the bad?” The phoenix only appears when all is well but when the world is in chaos, it disappears.


The analect also tells of another situation where “Chang Jui and Jia Ni were cultivating the fields together”, Confucius sends his disciple, “Zi Lu to ask directions on how to cross the river”. Chang Jui asked, “who is the one holding the reins of your carriage?” (the 6 “arts” of olden times, includes ceremonies, music, archery, writing, mathematics and carriage-driving, a skill which is similar to the specialized skills of a pilot today), to which Zi Lu answered “it is Kong Chiu (the private name of Confucius)”. Chang Jiu then asks, “is that the Confucius of Lu Guo? If so, he should definitely know the way across” and then he added, “the whole world is swept as though by a torrential flood. Who can change it? As for you, instead of following one who flees from this man or that man, is it not better to follow those who flee the world altogether?” with that he continued to spread seed on his field.


When Zi Lu relayed this to Confucius, Confucius said ruefully, “One cannot herd with birds and beasts. If I do not associate with mankind, with whom shall I associate? If the Way prevailed in the world, there would be no need for me to change it.” [There is also a conflicting interpretation where Confucius is happy for Chang Jiu and Jia Ni who can be contented to plough the fields, but his own path is to sacrifice and guide his country out of chaos].


Confucius also said this (to himself), “no food for a day” and also said “for three months I do not know the taste of meat”, are both very meaningful sentences, he did say, “with coarse rice to eat, with water to drink and a bent arm for a pillow, there is still joy”.  This is because Confucius from young was from humble circumstances and thus acquired the ability to do the simple things of humble folk.


“The heavens have sent Confucius as a “mu duo””, a “mu duo” in the old days was a large bell, similar to the one we see on cows today, it is made of metal and has a large opening, a piece of wood is the tongue of the bell. When it is sounded, it is like the school bell guiding the children to congregate.


Confucius was very fussy about what he wore, he said, “gentlemen/superior men do not use a deep purple as collars”. For underwear, he did not use anything of a red or reddish color. Underwear is only for the casualness of the home environment and red is the color for women of his period. “In warm weather, he had a single garment of either coarse of fine texture, but he always wore it over an inner garment.” [Signaling to dress appropriately, when outside the home to dress formally.]


“Over lamb’s fur he would wear a garment of black, over fawn’s fur, one of white and over fox’s fur, one of yellow.” He did this to match the underneath color of his clothing. His right sleeve was shorter for convenience. When at home, he used thick furs of the fox or the badger. He did not wear lamb’s fur or a black cap on a visit of condolence. On the first day of the month, he would put on his court robes and presented himself at court. At funerals, he would wear white, on happy occasions he would wear a dark grey. When fasting, he would always bathe and then put on plain clothes. His pyjama’s were very long, one and a half times his body, with the lower part folded to cover his toes.


When he was sick and the prince came to visit him, he faced east and had his court robes spread over him and placed his girdle across them. Even when he was ill, he would conduct himself properly.


To know the proper conduct is the foundation of life, “man” cannot be without proper conduct, otherwise, he is just another animal. So from young, children can be taught proper conduct through games. Though it is not as simple as just that, it is hoped that every family will be able to instill into their own children, proper conduct, which will maintain peace at home, when they grow up, will society then be able to do better and advance.



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