Book Review: The Original I Ching by Margaret Pearson

pearson i chingThe Original I Ching: An Authentic Translation of the Book of Changes
by Margaret Pearson
Tuttle Publishing, 2011, US$18.95
Hardcover, 258 pp
ISBN 978-0-8048-4181-8

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.

Review: Teaching the I Ching (Book of Changes)

Teaching the I Ching (Book of Changes)
by Geoffrey Redmond and Tze-Ki Hon
Oxford University Press, 2014, $78
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0199766819

Well-known I Ching scholar Tze-Ki Hon (author of many important research articles and a book on the I Ching’s intellectual history) has teamed up with physician Geoffrey Redmond to create this well-written and nicely formatted book. Teaching the I Ching provides a readable, thorough introduction to the Chinese Book of Changes. Ostensibly written for college professors who wish to include the I Ching in their classes, Teaching the I Ching covers a wide and thought-provoking range of topics, making the book of interest to a wide range of readers.

For anyone interested in Chinese civilization, humanities, literature, history, popular culture, or philosophy, but who does not understand the I Ching, Redmond and Hon’s book will be a welcome first step, as it surveys much of the contemporary questions being asked about the enigmatic, ancient I Ching. It even provides a short section on how to use the I Ching that can serve well in giving students a more multi-dimensional look. The book does not translate the I Ching, but rather serves as a resource. Chapters include:

Introduction: The Rewards and Perils of Studying an Ancient Classic
1. Divination
2. Bronze Age Origins
3. Women in the Yijing
4. Recently Excavated Manuscripts
5. Ancient Meanings Reconstructed
6. The Ten Wings
7. Cosmology
8. Moral Cultivation
9. The Yijing as China Enters the Modern Age
10. The Yijing’s Journey to the West
11. Reader’s Guide
12. Predicting the Future for the Yijing

A teacher preparing a unit on the Yijing can rely confidently on the material in this book. Its comprehensiveness and clarity will give a good breadth of issues and topics, with a substantial amount of depth. It can be paired with translations such as the Richard Wilhelm I Ching: Book of Changes for a complete set of material. While aimed at teachers, it is a pity that the book has such a high price; otherwise, Teaching the I Ching would have been a welcome addition to students’ reading lists. Perhaps the publisher can remedy this with a substantially cheaper softcover edition.
Highly recommended.