Li (Rites / Social Norms)
Li (礼) is a general term for social norms which regulate an individual’s relationship with other people, everything else in nature, and even ghosts and spirits. By setting various regulations about ceremonial vessels, rituals, and systems, rites define an individual’s specific status and corresponding duty and power, thereby differentiating between people in a community in terms of age, kinship, and social status. With such differentiations, the rites determine the proper position of each individual, thus achieving harmony among human beings, and between humanity and everything else in nature.
Rites are the rules governing the movement of heaven and earth as well as code of conduct for the people. (Zuo’s Commentary on The Spring and Autumn Annals)
Rites are the basis for determining proper human relations, clarifying ambiguities, differentiating between things, and telling right from wrong. (The Book of Rites)
Rites are observed to achieve harmony. Former kings followed this principle in handling matters both great and small, and were praised for doing so. But sometimes acting in such a way alone is not adequate. If one pursues harmony simply because it is so precious as to forgo the constraints of rites, the result will not be desirable. (The Analects)