Margaret Pearson’s The Original I Ching “recovers the Yijing’s oldest layer and gives a fresh look at questions of gender in Yi traditions. Pearson, a professor of Chinese and Japanese history, challenges existing views of ancient women’s roles, and the gendering of the concepts of yin and yang, which were originally geographically based and neutral. “Yijing tradition,” she argues, took on later overlays of Confucianism that came to dominate China for thousands of years. Its interpretation was particularly influenced by the important third century commentary by philosopher Wang Bi that emphasized the positive traits of yang (male), and the negative traits of yin (female). She also points out that not only were some women in early China in positions of power, but that they also consulted the Yi.
The Original I Ching includes Pearson’s introduction that covers the context of the Yijing, an explanation of translation strategy, and an extensive section on how to use the Yijing. Pearson gives a good overview of the choices made in her translation of this venerable text (e.g., pronouns in English are gendered, verbs are time-bound). She uses “you should” instead of “the superior man,” pointing out the lessons to be learned from the book. The translation is terse, like the original text, and she describes her process as one that reflects the occasional vagueness of the original. Various methods of casting and reading are given, along with how to take advice.
The translation itself includes the hexagram graphic, Chinese name in character and pinyin (with tones), English name, Judgment and line texts, Pearson’s interpretation of the hexagram, and the Image text. In a helpful gesture towards those who wish to do comparative readings, each entry is followed by page numbers for the Shaughnessy, Lynn, and Wilhelm/Baynes translations. The Chinese text is appended, a welcome feature. Pearson has used the traditional received text, but has added some changes based on recent archeological finds. Appended are a reading list, bibliography, and a clearly formatted finding chart on back endpaper. Pearson’s work can be complemented by the “Women in the Yijing” chapter in Teaching the I Ching (Book of Changes) by Redmond and Hon (previously reviewed here). The Original I Ching should not be lumped together with two earlier popular-market Yijing interpretations that had a “feminist” slant (Diane Stein’s Women’s I Ching and Barbara G. Walker’s I Ching of the Goddess), Pearson’s version in contrast is an actual translation, rooted in solid scholarship.
The book has a gentle but firm tone in terms of guidance, possibly influenced by Pearson’s many years of teaching undergraduates. She has a nice way of drawing lessons from the Yi for the average person’s life, all the while giving much historical background and capturing ideas in brief summary. Footnotes provide for further reading, though surprisingly lacking are citations in her comments where she occasionally refers to Confucius’ teachings. The Original I Ching is printed in a compact format with good binding and paper that will bear long use. Pearson’s comments have a welcome directness to them. This would be an excellent edition to use as an introduction to the Yijing in a Chinese literature or history class.