Guan Li, the coming-of-age ritual

Translated from Yi Li, and Tianfeng Huanpei‘s Proposition for Revival of Han Chinese ceremony Project:

A Coming-of-age ceremony at a Confucian tutelage.

A Coming-of-age ceremony at a Confucian tutelage.

The Guan Li (冠禮, lit. “headpiece/coronation ceremony”) is a traditional rite by the Han Chinese to signify the coming of age or adulthood of the receiving participant. According to the Book of Rites, males are of age by 20 and females by 15 (in which their ceremony is called Ji Li 笄禮, lit. “hairpin ceremony”), but in context of modern-day societal standards, 18~20 years of age is the ideal time for the ceremony for both genders, with standardized routines to signify the equality between the two.


With the onset of Westernization, the function of this rite has been split into two other rituals: Convocation and marriage, as per Western standards. While Japan and Korea retains a statuary day and ceremony of the same purpose (Seijin no Hi, on January 15 for Japan; third Monday of May in Korea), the practice is generally lost in the Chinese communities, partly due to effects from Queue Order and the Manchurian invasion of 1644, the disfavouring of tradition in the early 20th century, and the opinion of technical incompatibility with Western practices today.


With the rise of living standards in China today, the Chinese people are beginning to rediscover their diverse heritages. Even as the leading ethnicity in the PRC, the Han Chinese tradition is often overlooked as a mysterious or stagnant culture, but little was done to make it more understandable and relatable, until the traditional clothing revival movement (Hanfu Movement) started in 2003, popularizing the clothing before the influence of the Queue Order and bringing back civil rituals to mainstream society.

Layout of the ceremony. A Eastern Room is used for changing on the top right.

Layout of the ceremony. A "Eastern Room" is used for changing on the top right.

The Ceremony


The ceremony proceeds as follows:

–          A masters of ceremonies enters, announcing the beginning of the ceremony, invites the parents into the seat, then invites the teacher into the seat across from the parents. Parents show thanks by bowing and offering a washing bowl for washing hands. Teacher shows thanks.

–          MC calls start music and invites the student (recipient), who bows to the teacher and sits in the middle of the hall, facing east. Attendant brings speech, and Teacher declares, “On this month and this auspicious day, I add on thy first robes of adulthood. Leave behind thy juvenile aspirations, and let It become your adult virtues. Blessed with longevity, and prosperity be with thee[1]” and puts on first headpiece for participant. Participant stands up, bows to teacher then to guests, leaves stage with attendant to side room to change.

–          After changing, participant returns and sits (in kneeling position) in front of parents (or symbolically at the parent’s direction). Teacher declares, “Goats thank their parents’ milk of mercy with kneeling. Crows have the virtue of feeding their parents. The grace of the mother and father are like the oceans, and a hundred virtues list filial piety as its first[2]” Participants do a formal bow to parents, then return to the centre stage.

–          Attendant brings speech, and Teacher declares, “On this auspicious month and such day, I affirm thy robes. Respect it with dignity, grace and modesty be thy virtue. May your longevity last a myriad years, and forever receive good fortune[3]”, changes the participant’s headpiece to the second set, both stand and bow. Teacher returns to seat while attendant helps participant change to second set of robes in side room.

–          After changing, participant returns and sits (in kneeling position) in front of the teacher. Teacher stands up, teacher recites, “The obligations of teaching is as heavy as mountains, and the disciplines of the teacher are unforgettable for a lifetime. I wish thee success like a carp jumping the Dragon’s Gate, and like a giant phoenix flying a myriad miles[4]” and then sits down, accepting the bows of the recipient. Recipient sits back in the centre, facing east.

–          Attendant brings speech, and Teacher declares, “By the auspiciousness of this Sun, and by the times of the Moon, all give you this robe, ensuring thee eternal life. Use these to actualize their virtues, and receive the joys of Heaven[5]” and changes the participant’s headpiece to the third set. Both stand and bow, and participant goes to change with attendant.


–          Upon returning, they sit to the north, facing the national flag and portrait/image of the Yellow Emperor (or Confucius), bow three times. Teacher declares, “Sharing the tradition of the civilization of the fluorescent and great, and shouldering the task of being sons and daughters, for the sake of refining the body and harmonizing the family, establishing doings for the country, for worldly justice, and an equal world.[6]

–          Attendants set up table (a goblet of wine), teacher stands behind the seat and participant behind the teacher. Teacher picks up goblet and congratulates participant, “The sweet wine is full-bodied, and I introduce it to thee its fragrance. Accept it in worship, for settling thy prosperity. Take unto thee the beauty of Heaven, and lest you forget in your lifetime[7]” puts it down, and bows to the participant. After returning the bow, teacher sits back in own seat, recipient sits down in front of meal and raises goblet to the Heavens and holds for a bit, splashes some to the ground, then symbolically drinks a bit. (If rice is available, take a symbolic bite with chopsticks.) Participant then stands up and faces the visiting spectators.

–          Teacher walks in front of the participant and stands in front to participant’s right. Attendant brings up speech, teacher recites, “The rites and rituals are prepared, and on this auspicious day and month, I announce thee thy courtesy name (zi). By a splendid courtesy name, it shall benefit thy virtue. To show thy chaste virtue, and forever thine keeps. Thou shalt be named (courtesy name here)[8]

–          The recipient responds, “I (or the courtesy name) may be unworthy, but I dare not let the gods of darkness cometh.[9]” Both stand and bow in congratulation.

–          (If parents present) Participants listen to words of advice from parents, sitting in front in kneeling position. Participant thanks them by bowing fully and reply “I may be unworthy, but lest I dare not to follow it[10]

–          All members of the ceremony line up and thank the spectators for coming.


[1] 令月吉日﹐始加元服。棄爾幼志﹐順爾成德。壽考惟祺﹐介爾景福。

[2] 羊有跪乳之恩﹐鴉有反哺之義。父母恩深似海﹐百德孝義為先。

[3] 吉月令辰﹐乃申爾服。敬以威儀﹐淑慎爾德。眉壽萬年﹐永受遐福。

[4] 教誨恩重如山﹐師訓永生難忘。願君雨躍龍門﹐鵬程萬里。

[5] 以歲之吉﹐以月之令﹐咸加爾服﹐保玆永命。以成厥德﹐受天之慶。

[6] 秉承華夏文明﹐肩負男女之使命﹕修身齊家﹐立業報國﹐為公天下﹐大同世界。

[7] 甘醴惟厚﹐嘉薦令芳。拜受祭之﹐以定爾祥。承天之休﹐壽考不忘。

[8] 禮儀既備﹐令月吉日﹐昭告爾字。爰字孔嘉﹐令德攸宜。表爾淑美﹐永受保之。可字曰(某某) 。

[9] 某(或表字) 雖不敏﹐敢不夙夜祇來。

[10] 女/兒雖不敏﹐敢不祇承。


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sam Kim
    Jul 26, 2009 @ 23:47:04

    Ah! This is great. I have been looking for something like this. You should do an article detailing rubrics for household veneration of ancestors (like the Korean Jesa 祭祀).

    Here are links to some cool photographs of the Korean 冠禮 (Gwan Rye):


  2. Sam Kim
    Jul 27, 2009 @ 00:07:02

    Here too:

    Page 1 and 2 depict traditional Korean and Japanese 冠禮, but the 3rd page unfortunately depicts some kind of weird modern version of a coming of age ceremony in China.


    • Satsuki Shizuka
      Jul 27, 2009 @ 01:49:44

      Ah. That’d be the so-called “coming-of-age” ceremony that’s essentially high school graduation. Note their school uniforms (yes, those ugly track suits are Chinese national school uniforms). This article was actually compiled way early on (03-04), and was seen easily in sites like Hanminzu, to encourage people to realize how blatently flat Chinese “culture” was and to revive their own tradition.

      Of course, now we have plenty of pictures to prove back.


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