Review: The Living I Ching

deng living i chingThe Living I Ching: Using Ancient Chinese Wisdom to Shape Your Life
by Deng Ming-Dao
HarperOne, 2006, US$21.99
Paperback 408 pp

Deng Ming-Dao is the prolific author of several early popular English books on the Daoist lifestyle, compiled as Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master. He has since written the bestselling daily meditations 365 Dao, The Lunar Tao: Meditations in Harmony with the Seasons, and many other inspirational books.

In The Living I Ching, Deng has created an entire universe for readers by blending divination, meditations, artwork, history, and even the book design into a whole cloth. Deng’s writing is engaging, with powerful, densely written poetry worth reading on its own:

How can I ever soar
as high as this old tree
where the birds sing at dawn?

(from his interpretation of Hexagram 46)

Dissatisfied equally with the interpretations of Yijing masters who follow tradition without questioning, and with academics who question without engaging with the tradition, Deng asks, “What does the Changes mean? How can it be used? How can we hear it directly?” Indeed, his book is conceived as a pilgrimage: “we go to hear the Changes speak to us.”

Deng is not content to give a commentary from a remote distance, or to riff on existing interpretations. He has constructed an eight-layer set of musings set in original prose, poetry, and translation, from wu-wei to the entire group of sixty-four hexagrams.

Each hexagram entry has the graphic, character, number, name, trigrams, basic meaning, the Sequence of Hexagrams, a poetic rendition of the hexagram theme, a translation of the original text and image, and a two-page discussion of the meaning of the hexagram. The book’s ten appendices offer more detailed ideas related to current topics of interest in Yijing studies, such as translation, history, and the hexagram sequence.
Handsomely produced and printed on sturdy paper with a good binding, the book will hold up to repeated use. One confusing editorial problem: the book provides four eight-grid charts for reference, the Fuxi (which he numbers 0-63, on pages xv and 50), the received order (numbered 1-64, on page xvii), and, as an insert in the back, the Fuxi chart again, but this time numbered according to each hexagram’s received order number. This last chart, in fact, looks like an afterthought, possibly a page accidentally omitted in the production process. Readers may wish to photocopy it onto heavier paper.

The Living I Ching book is a grand meditation on the Yijing and life with solid grounding that will appeal to many.


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.

Review: Unearthing the Changes

Unearthing the Changes: Recently Discovered Manuscripts of the Yi Jing (I Ching) and Related Texts
by Edward L. Shaughnessy
Columbia University Press 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0231161848

A thorough study of the Zhouyi—the core of the I Ching (Yijing), the Chinese Book of Changes. Edward Shaughnessy, a professor at the University of Chicago, is one of the world’s leading specialists in early Chinese texts. He surveys the field and then hones in on several texts that have surfaced in recent decades: fragments of the legendary Guishan and bamboo-slat versions of the Zhouyi. These finds were significant as they provided the earliest extant Yi documents, the oldest of these being the so-called “Shanghai Museum” manuscript, from the fourth century BCE.

Shaughnessy provides for each text a facing-page comparitive translation of the “received text” and notes varients from sources such as the Mawangdui I Ching (which he translated and published in 1997). He gives discussion of the received order, use of early numerals, growth of the Yi tradition, and issues of archeology and conservation.

Unearthing the Changes will appeal to the archeologist in everybody. While this is a highly detailed and technical book that will serve specialists well, it is clearly enough written for non-specialists to enjoy. It is beautifully designed (though with a somewhat small font), and includes photographic examples of the excavated bamboo-slat texts. Shaughnessy’s attention to detail is admirable, and makes this an essential book for those interested in the history of the I Ching.