Six Courses in Morals

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  • Compiled: 1652
  • Chinese/Japanese: 六諭衍義 (luyu yanyi / rikuyu engi)

The Six Courses in Morals is a Chinese collection of six tracts on moral instruction, commissioned originally by the Hongwu Emperor in 1398, and later expanded and reissued. The six maxims, which seek to guide the reader towards a virtuous and harmonious life, focus on encouraging the reader to teach one's children, to avoid committing wrongs, to be content with one's lot in life, to live harmoniously with one's neighbors, and to have respect for one's parents, elders, and superiors.

The version which has come down through to today includes considerable additions by a late Ming era village teacher named Fan Hung, who added a number of stories, poems, and legal cases which help illustrate the points made in the core text. This text was recompiled and reissued in 1652 at the orders of the Shunzhi Emperor, and was expanded into sixteen maxims in 1670 under the Kangxi Emperor.

This text, written in vernacular Chinese, was brought back to Ryûkyû by Tei Junsoku in 1707, who provided his own private funds to have it republished; members of the 1714 Ryukyuan mission to Edo then presented copies of the text to Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune as a formal gift, who commissioned Ogyû Sorai to write a new preface & to add kunten readers' guiding marks for the kanbun,[1] and Muro Kyûsô to rewrite the text into a form that would be easier for Japanese readers to understand. This rewritten version, entitled Rikuyu engi taii (六諭衍義大意), was then published in 1722 and distributed to a number of domains, where it was reprinted yet again and circulated even more widely. In some domains, village headmen were required to lecture on the moral maxims at least once a month. The text continued to be circulated and read throughout the archipelago until the Meiji period.

Meanwhile, the Yongzheng Emperor added his own exposition of Kangxi's Sacred Edict in 1724, and the expanded text, along with others like it, came to form the core of what has come to be known as "Imperial Confucianism," a key part of the Qing Court's efforts at instilling order in rural and provincial areas.

The Six Courses in Morals

孝順父母 Be dutiful to your parents.
尊敬長上 Respect your elders.
和睦郷里 Be at peace with your native land.
教訓子孫 Teach and guide your offspring.
各安生理 Be content with your occupation.
毋作非為 Do not engage in wrongdoing.[2]


  • Minoji wo aruku Ryûkyû shisetsu 美濃路をゆく琉球使節, Bisai Museum of History and Folklore 尾西市歴史民俗資料館, Bisai, Aichi (2004), 8.
  • Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 67-68.
  1. Maehira Fusaaki, Ryûkyû shisetsu no ikoku taiken 琉球使節の異国体験, Kokusai kôryû 国際交流 59 (1992), 62.
  2. Transcription and translation from explanatory plaques at Nago Museum, Nago, Okinawa.[1]
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