Q: What is the I Ching?
A: The I Ching (also written Yijing) is an ancient Chinese book that became one of the world’s oldest and most enduring books. The core part of the book is the Zhouyi, dated to almost three thousand years ago, which was used for divination, moral guidance, and inspiration. In the Zhouyi are sixty-four hexagrams (six-line diagrams, see left), short interpretive texts for each hexagram (the Judgment), and short texts that correspond to each hexagram line. Around two thousand years ago, a group of writings were appended to the Zhouyi; the whole book was then retitled the I Ching (Yijing). This group of writings is known as the Ten Wings. They include commentaries on the Zhouyi (The Commentary on the Judgments, The Great Images, The Small Images, The Comments on the Words), philosophy (The Great Treatise, The Explanation of the Hexagrams), and mnemonic poems (The Hexagrams in Sequence and The Miscellaneous Hexagrams). Note that not all I Ching editions include the Wings. You can find all of this material in editions by Richard Wilhelm, Wu Jing-Nan, and Richard Rutt, among others, as indicated below.
Q: How do I pronounce I Ching, the title of the book?
A: The I Ching can also be spelt Yijing (pinyin spelling). Both are pronounced “ee-jing” (tones are yì jīng) and are written 易經 in Chinese. They literally mean “change classic.” It is often called the Book of Change(s). The original core text is the Zhouyi (Chou-i, pronounced “joe-ee”).
Q: Why are there two different spellings for it?
A: There are a number of systems for writing out the sounds of Chinese words in roman letters (i.e., romanization). The title “I Ching“ is written using the nineteenth-century Wade-Giles system, and “Yijing” uses the twentieth-century pinyin system, which is now the international standard. Because many English-language books about the I Ching use Wade-Giles, we have used that version on this web page, but in general, we use pinyin.
Q: How do I figure out what to read in the I Ching?
A: Many people select a reading by casting, using coins (see our Basics page) or other techniques. An even older technique uses yarrow stalks. The I Ching can also be read informally or in a planned-out manner.
Q: What I Ching edition should I buy?
A: There are scores of different versions available. You can select one based on your interests, and whether or not you feel the translator or interpreter has done a decent job. Some include only the core Zhouyi section. Others include both the Zhouyi and the Ten Wings. The Wings are sometimes grouped separately, and sometimes are sectioned up to be placed with their relevant hexagram. Here are some popular, reliable versions, with an asterisk indicating ease of use for beginners:
*Anthony, Carol: A Guide to the I Ching, 1980. Meant to accompany Wilhelm.
*Balkin, Jack: I Ching, 2002
*Barrett, Hilary: I Ching, 2010
*Blofeld, John: I Ching, 1968
CH’ENG I (Cheng Yi, eleventh century), The Tao of Organization (Yi zhuan), trans. by Thomas Cleary, 1988.
*DENG Ming-Dao: The Living I Ching, 2006
*Huang, Alfred: The Complete I Ching, 1998
*Huang, Kerson and Rosemary: I Ching, 1985
*JOU Tsung Hwa: The Tao of I Ching: Way to Divination, 1983
*Legge, James: I Ching (numerous editions) 1899. Includes Ten Wings.
Minford, John: I Ching (Yijing): The Book of Changes, 2014
*Moran, Elizabeth and Joseph Yu: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to I Ching, 2001
*NI Hua Ching: The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth, 2002
OU-I Chih-hsu (Ouyi Zhixu, seventeenth century), The Buddhist I Ching, (Zhixu chan jie), trans. by Thomas Cleary, 1987.
*Palmer, Martin, Kwok Man Ho, and Joanne O’Brien: The Fortune Teller’s I Ching, 1986.
*Pearson, Margaret. The Original I Ching, 2011.
Rutt, Richard: Zhouyi: Book of Changes, 1996, includes Ten Wings
Shaughnessy, Edward: I Ching, the Mawangdui version, 1997, includes Chinese
WANG Bi: I Ching: Classic of Changes, trans. by Richard Lynn, 1994. Highly influential early philosopher.
*Whincup, Gregory : Rediscovering the I Ching, 1996
Wilhelm, Richard: I Ching, translated by Cary Baynes, 1950. Includes Ten WIngs. Considered the English “classic” translation.
*WU Jing-Nan: Yi Jing ,1991, includes Chinese for hexagram texts. Includes Ten Wings
Q: What makes a good I Ching translation (or interpretation)?
A: Ultimately, selecting a version of the I Ching depends on personal preference. An I Ching translation or interpretation should be accurate, reliable, coherent, consistent, and meaningful. Ideally it will explain how and why the work was created, what it was translated from, whether it’s a translation or an interpretation of someone else’s work, etc. Its layout and format should be clear to make navigation easy, with hexagram numbering and names visible, and original text and commentary distinct from one another. Ideally the edition should have a number of “tools” (e.g. hexagram lists, notes, reading lists, glossaries, indexes) appropriate to the goals of the book. Attention should be given to editing and proofreading—not an easy task with a book as complex as the Yijing. Some readers may also want Chinese pronunciation and original texts provided. Last, since the I Ching is meant to be actually used, not read just once, the book should be well-constructed with a strong binding and cover, with sturdy paper that can hold up over years of repeated use.
Q: Where can I learn more about the I Ching?
A: See our LINKS page for teachers and other materials. If you are interested in studying the Chinese text, one of the best resources is the Chinese Text Project. This group project includes James Legge’s I Ching translation and the original Chinese, with a parallel page providing pop-up dictionary and pronunciation for each character. The site provides dozens of other texts similarly formatted.
Other resources about the I Ching include:
- Online Clarity. How-to, community forum, classes, and more.
- Redmond, Geoffrey and Tze-Ki Hon. Teaching the I Ching (Book of Changes). Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Rutt, Richard. The Zhouyi: Book of Changes, Curzon, 1996. An encyclopedic resource.
- Schorre, Jane, and Carrin Dunne. Yijing: Wondering and Wandering. Arts of China Seminars, 2004. Portions available online at Arts of China.
- Schöter, Andreas. Yijing online resources and links, particularly related to mathematical approaches.
- Smith, Richard. The I Ching: A Biography. Princeton University Press, 2012.
- Wilhelm, Helmut, and Richard Wilhelm. Understanding the I Ching: The Wilhelm Lectures on the Book of Changes. Princeton University Press, 1995
- Yijing Dao. resources, how-to, history, charts, reviews, and more, maintained by Steven Marshall.
- Yixue [Yi Studies] Bibliography—Extensive list of books and articles about the Yijing.
Q: Is the I Ching associated with any specific religion?
The I Ching is not associated with any religion. However, people from various religious traditions have used the I Ching. The Jesuits translated the I Ching into Latin in the eighteenth century. Daoists have used I Ching symbolism in their self-cultivation techniques.
Q: Where can I do advanced academic I Ching studies?
A: The Zhouyi Institute in Jinan, China has the most comprehensive program. Other opportunities can be found at colleges with well-rounded Chinese language and literature programs that have professors specializing in Yijing research.