Review: Richard Smith on the I Ching

The I Ching: A Biography
Richard J. Smith
Princeton University Press, 2012
ISBN 978-0691145099
Hardcover, 304 pp.
US$24.95
Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World
The Yijing (I Ching, or Classic of Changes) and Its Evolution in China
Richard J. Smith
University of Virginia Press, 2008, 2018 (paper)
Paper, 416 pp.
ISBN 9780813940465
US$35.00
Mapping China and Managing the World: Culture, Cartography and Cosmology in Late Imperial Times
Routledge, 2012
Paper, 288 pp.
US$55.95

Richard Smith, a professor of Chinese history from Rice University in Texas, has written several outstanding books about the Yijing that will be of interest to readers looking to learn about where the Yijiing came from, what it meant, and how it spread around the world.

The first, Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World: The Yijing (I Ching, or Classic of Changes) and Its Evolution in China is an in-depth look at almost every aspect of the Yijing: how it was used and by whom, the schools of thought that used and extended its meaning,  how its use evolved, the key personalities who wrote about it, and how it came to have such a global impact. Fathoming the Cosmos is a key starting point for any English-language Yijing research. Even a cursory look through it will demonstrate that dozens more volumes could easily be written on Yijing topics. The book has recently been reissued in paperback. In a companion volume, The I Ching: A Biography, Smith revisits the material of Fathoming the Cosmos, reworking it to create a volume for a general audience. Both books have thorough notes, indexes, and bibliographies.

 

Smith is author of several other highly regarded books that look at aspects of imperial Chinese history, culture, ritual, and ordering of the world. Fortunetellers and Philosophers: Divination in Traditional Chinese Society (1991) was his first foray into the Yijing, and also looked at topics such as fengshui, mediums, and face-reading.

Smith’s recent book, Mapping China and Managing the World (2013) revises a number of his lectures and articles. Several of these, updated into full chapters, are directly about the Yijing. “The Languages of the Yijing and the Representation of Reality,” is a thorough overview of Yijing studies. “Divination in the Qing” shows how involved the Qing dynasty rulers were with Yijing study and divination (remembering that the Qing themselves were Manchurians, not Chinese), while “Jesuit Interpretations of the Yijing in Global Perspective” covers the intriguing and complex interactions between European Christians and the Chinese during that dynasty. Smith’s introduction to the book also provides a good summary of current questions and issues about Chinese studies in general, and explains how he came to be interested in the Yijing. Central to this was comprehending that the Yijing is deeply connected with all aspects of Chinese culture and society.

Richard Smith’s books are excellent resources for anyone wishing to trace the Yijing’s history, whether for a class paper or for personal enrichment.


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Review: Cheng Yi’s Yi River Commentary of the Book of Changes

The Yi River Commentary on the Book of Changes
by Cheng Yi, edited and translated by L. Michael Harrington
Introduction by L. Michael Harrington and Robin R. Wang
Yale University Press, 2019
ISBN: 9780300218077
Hardcover, 576 pages
$85 USD

Cheng Yi (1033–1107) lived during the Song dynasty, and was one of the era’s great thinkers. His Yijing commentary greatly influenced subsequent generations. Understanding the Yijing was important, but difficult, it was by then already a 2000-year-old book. Translator L. Michael Harrington, a professor of philosophy, gives a succinct overview of Cheng Yi’s thoughts and his influence on subsequent generations, including our own. He notes an important feature of Cheng’s commentary, that it offers full discussion of the hexagram components, rather than the snippets of explanation and terse definitions common to other commentaries. In addition, Cheng Yi creates a “coherent conceptual structure: the principle that governs the interaction between different capacities and functions in any state of affairs.”

Translating the Yijing is a difficult task, and Harrington clearly describes methods used in his effort to see the Yijing through Cheng’s eyes. He explains translation choices, as well. One interesting choice, for example, is the name “Ebb” for Hexagram 59 渙, which is “Dispersion/Dissolution” in the classic Wilhelm/Baynes I Ching. Harrington includes an introduction (written with colleague Robin Wang), notes on Cheng’s quotations of other material, extensive glossary, and a thorough index.

The Yi River Commentary is an excellent companion to I Ching editions of Richard Wilhelm (translated by Cary Baynes), and Wang Bi (translated by Richard John Lynn). These are all dependable translations that introduce readers to particular strains of Yijing interpretations. In Cheng’s presentation, we can, in particular, see the roots of Richard Wilhelm’s work eight centuries later, both using a “teaching voice” that seeks to engage the student in depth.

Translating the Yijing is a difficult task, and Harrington clearly describes methods used in his effort to see the Yijing through Cheng’s eyes. He explains translation choices, as well. One interesting choice, for example, is the name “Ebb” for Hexagram 59 渙, which is “Dispersion/Dissolution” in the classic Wilhelm/Baynes I Ching. Harrington includes an introduction (written with colleague Robin Wang), notes on Cheng’s quotations of other material, extensive glossary, and a thorough index.

Avid Yijing readers will undoubtedly want to compare this translation of Cheng Yi’s work to others. Harrington’s is a model of transparency, detailing sources, methodology, and what material is included. The other English translation, by Thomas Cleary, is I Ching: The Tao of Organization. As with Cleary’s other Yijing translations, The Taoist I Ching, The Buddhist I Ching, and I Ching Mandalas  (all from Shambhala Books) he succeeds in his effort to reach an educated popular audience. However, in each book he offers little clarity about his methods or source material. In his translation of Cheng’s book, Cleary severely edited the original material, leaving out what Harrington estimates to be more than half of Cheng’s comments, in particular, on the Ten Wings related to each hexagram. An interested reader would have to do their own comparative reading of the original to figure out what Cleary included or omitted, and what of Cheng’s text is actually quotes of other material. Harrington’s translation includes all of this.

The Yi River Commentary is a well-made book physically, with a sturdy hardcover binding, though it weighs in at over two pounds. Unfortunately, the price for this book is set for libraries and specialists, not for the average Yijing reader, who would undoubtedly find this book of interest. The book is missing two key items for general readers: a hexagram finding chart and instructions for how to use the Yijing. Fortunately, these are easily found elsewhere (see our Basics and Resources pages for such).

The Yi River Commentary is highly recommended for Yijing readers who enjoy pondering the deeper meaning of this ancient book and what it meant to the philosophers of imperial China, and for those readers who may be interested in the sources of modern interpretations.

 

Analog Morals, Modern Tech

Image result for smartphone“As arrogant occupants of 21st-century Earth, who can rightly boast of creating exciting innovations, like the computer, talking paint, and the margarita blender, it serves us to believe we’re also the more enlightened generation.

….Alas, ethically and morally speaking, we moderns are merely the new models, not the better ones….”

Read this interesting article by Jim Blasingame about our human condition here. He mentions the I Ching as an important “analog” ancient source of wisdom.

Chinese Characters

chinese character etymology

Some early variations of “guo” (country).

Are you fascinated with how Chinese characters came about? Chinese etymology is a popular hobby. Visit Hanziyuan to learn more about individual characters. You can input characters or select random ones. Modern pronunciation and usage examples are given, too. You can click on characters to see a larger version, in case you also want to practice your calligraphy!

I Ching Workshop

Join Yijing researcher Harmen Mesker for Yijing workshops in USA:

March 23-24 in New York City – A two-day Yijing intensive

March 29 in Chicago– Yijing Workshop Chicago

March 30-31 in Chicago – Application of the Book of Changes as a Tool for Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

The Chicago workshop covers “the use of the hexagrams from the Yijing as a diagnostic tool in Chinese medicine. You will learn:

  • a short history of the Yijing
  • a short history of the Yijing and Chinese medicine
  • the components of a hexagram and their application:
    • trigrams
    • lines
    • …and their relationships
    • the value of these components for a diagnosis
  • The application of Wenwanggua 文王卦 for medical purposes:
    • the wuxing 五行, ‘the Five Phases’ and where to find them in a hexagram
    • the purpose of the liuqin 六親, ‘the Six Relationships’ and their mutual connections
    • the function of the Officer & Ghost line as indication of the illness and the Offspring line as indication of the cure
    • the application of the ganzhi 干支 Stems & Branches and where to find them in a hexagram
    • the weakness and strength of the wuxing, liuqin and ganzhi in a hexagram and what this means for your diagnosis
    • examples of medical Wenwanggua from classical and modern literature.

At the end of this workshop you have learned to use Wenwanggua as a tool that complements your own initial diagnosis.

The workshop comes with a workbook that contains all the material that will be covered during the day.”

Registration information can be found here.

Portraits of Fortunetellers

fortunetellerHong Kong is home to many fortunetellers. This article presents “The Fortune Market” a collection of portraits by photographer Kris Vervaeke of fortunetellers next to a Daoist temple.

“The fortune tellers have different backgrounds,” Vervaeke explained. “For some the job is passed on from each generation to the next within a family. Others learn it from a Master or through other means. The future of the shops is uncertain, however, as finding someone interested to take over is getting more and more difficult.” He also added that the rise of online fortune telling puts the physical institutions’ futures in jeopardy.

Divination in China Thesis

cropped-yi-hex-29-30-laiA new PhD dissertation related to the I Ching is available, “Divination And Deviation: The Problem Of Prediction And Personal Freedom In Early China” by Yunwoo Song, from the University of Pennsylvania. This interesting dissertation explores ancient methods and meaning of divination in early China through early imperial times. The dissertation can be viewed at UPenn’s site.

 

 

I Ching Diagrams Now Available

Curious about how people in past centuries envisioned the I Ching hexagrams? Visit our RESOURCES page to see some examples of charts organized by trigrams or  received order.

These handy diagrams were used to study characteristics and relationships between hexagrams, as mnemonics to help memorize hexagrams, and as hexagram finding aids.

The Nuclear Hexagram Chart by Qian Chengzhi (Qing dynasty) to the left is one example. Around the outside are the sixty-four I Ching hexagrams with their names, arranged by lower trigrams in the “Pre-heavenly” order (the same as the Fuxi/Shaoyong chart). The second ring inward are the nuclear hexagrams for the outer ring, formed from the inner four lines of the original hexagrams. The third ring repeats the process, in each case yielding one of the four “core” hexagrams.