Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching into German, and its subsequent translation into English by Cary Baynes, helped to spread the I Ching into a wider sphere. This film looks at his life and contributions.
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.
Richard Bertschinger, translation and commentary
Singing Dragon 2012
Hardcover/ebook, 336 pp.
US $30 / £25.00
Yijing, Shamanic Oracle of China is a nicely presented contemplative book. Richard Bertschinger, an acupuncturist and student of Gia-fu Feng, has done an engaging job of presenting his thoughts about the Yijing. With occasional cross-cultural philosophical comparisons, Bertschinger presents a translation of the core Zhouyi and selected Wings, enhanced with his comments, and including a helpful glossary.
“The Yijing can reveal the seeds of the future, but above all it teaches reverence for those small inklings in the present which determine the science of change. It encourages us all to be alive to the world, and take a stand on destiny.”
Bertschinger’s translation emphasizes finding one’s path. “You can transform those observing below, by observing the causes of your own life. Observe yourself within and contemplate the evens of your own life. At no time neglect to seek the middle path and at all times act properly” (from Hexagram 20).
This is a very accessible Yijing book, drawn from the author’s reading of traditional Chinese texts, accessible to beginners, but meaty enough for experienced users.
Chinese scholars are asking for help with deciphering thousands of oracle bones, and are offering rewards:
“The National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan province, has issued a worldwide appeal for help to decipher thousands of esoteric characters cut into bones and shells dating back more than 3,000 years to the Shang dynasty.
The inscriptions, resembling modern characters, are the earliest written records of Chinese civilisation and shed light on life and society at a time.
They were carved by fortune-tellers on turtle shells and ox shoulder blades known as oracle bones, and record questions on everything from weather to taxes.
So far, scholars have managed to crack the code to less than half of the roughly 5,000 characters found on excavated oracle bones. Around 3,000 of them remain a mystery.” Read the whole article here.
An interesting article in the Asian Times addresses how cultural viewpoints come to light in the logic behind artificial intelligence, nicely explaining Boolean logic that underlies modern computing.
Famed Yijing scholar Lai Zhide (Lai Chih-te, 1525–1604) of the Ming Dynasty was heralded for his in-depth investigation of the hexagram graphics and collection of a vast array of charts on the subject. His book has been in print, in many editions, continually since.
Dr. Larry Schulz wrote his dissertation on Lai, and has made his thesis “Lai Chih-te and the Phenomonolgy of the ‘Classic of Change’ (I Ching)” as well as more recent articles about the hexagram order available at his own website.
Routledge, 2003, paper 2015
Paper, 391 pp
Also available in hardcover and eboook
A better title for this splendid book might have been A Quite Comprehensive Encyclopedic Companion to the Yijing. Despite the focus on Han-Song dynasties, devotees of any era or type of Yijing studies will find this book invaluable. The author, Bent Nielsen, professor of Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen, has drawn from a good range of source material in covering the many schools of Yijing thought.
The book entries cover the gamut of Yijing topics, from the towering personalities such as Wang Bi and Yu Fan, to intriguing theories such as the Six Gateways (liu men), to obscure terms like the “Hexagrams of the Returning Souls” (gui hun gua), and to numerous explanatory charts and tables. The entries are in alphabetical order in pinyin, with traditional characters and translation.
A Companion assumes a certain level of familiarity with Yijing terms. One hates to quibble about such a wonderful book, however, given all the time periods, ideas, terms, and languages involved, a thorough index with cross-references would have been a nice addition. A small example: the word jing is explained as meaning “classic,” however, there is no entry or cross-reference under “classic.” Another example: the ideas of influential Ming dynasty Yijing writer Lai Zhide (1525–1604) feature in entries such as about hexagram order (guaxu) and “laterally linked hexagrams” (pangtonggua), yet there is no entry for Lai himself, presumably because he is from a later century beyond the scope of the book. We can only hope that Nielsen or another scholar will soon tackle creating the companion to this Companion, one that will cover pre-Han and post-Song Yijing topics.
This book is highly readable on its own, or as a companion to others. Nielsen’s work is to be commended, and the publisher is to be thanked for issuing these new, affordable paper and ebook editions.
The Essential Translation of the Ancient Chinese Oracle and Book of Wisdom
Viking, 2014 , $39.95
Hardcover, 855 pp
Also available in paperback, audio, and ebook
When it comes to the Yijing, it is wonderful to encounter translations and commentaries that are done with a love for the book, rendered in approachable ways, yet rooted in solid thinking and research. John Minford has created an Yijing that is monumental and multilayered in so many ways.
The book is constructed of two halves, each with its own translation. The first part is titled the “Book of Wisdom” and contains the complete Yijing text along with Minford’s extensive commentary. For this, Minford draws from a number of sources including the eighteenth-century Daoist Liu Yiming, contemporary philosopher and Daoist Chen Guying, and Professor Mun Kin Chok. Minford draws as well from Wang Bi, James Legge, and others, and from Chinese poetry. Minford uses Latin translations of the oracles (e.g., Transire magnum flumen for “To cross a Great Stream”) and the trigram descriptions within the Great Images (Coelum in medio montis for “Heaven within the Mountain”). He explains that he has done so in order to evoke a “timeless mood of contemplation” and to connect between Chinese and European traditions of self-cultivation. The hexagrams are here numbered with roman numerals.
The second part is the “Bronze Age Oracle,” and contains the Zhouyi core text and Minford’s comments. Hexagram names are given in ancient script and pronunciation, and numbered with arabic numerals. For this section’s distinct flavor, Minford draws on contemporary research into the ancient Zhouyi—pre-Daoist, pre-Confucian, pre-Buddhist. The translations are distinct from Part One, giving the reader a chance to mull on the lengthy history of the Yijing and the evolution of how people thought about it and used it. To contrast the two sections, here is Line One from Hexagram 6 Conflict:
Part One: The matter / Does not endure, / Non diu durabit / There is some slight talk. / Ultimately / All is Auspicious / In fine optimum.
Part Two: Service / Cut short. / Slight complaint. / Auspicious Conclusion.
Minford states that his is not “a scholarly translation for specialists” but for lay readers to use the book in consultation. However, this does not mean that it is superficial in any manner. It has the hallmarks of a mature scholar’s wide-ranging insights, and melds information from many commentary traditions, including Daoist and Confucian, into something unique.
The main sections of the book are supplemented by a very helpful annotated bibliography grouped by topic, a list of names and dates (without Chinese characters), an extensive glossary, and index.
Minford’s book is not perfect, though. With so much material, at some point book design becomes an issue. Citing the already great number of pages for his book, Minford elected to make seventy pages of detailed notes available online at the author’s website. Reading the notes is interesting in itself, to follow his thinking, or to read poems and other quotes that he decided to remove from the main work. In addition, while centered lines for the original text create a sense of poetry and great esteem for the original text, they are somewhat harder to read. Double-spacing is used to distinguish the Zhouyi layer and is enhanced by a seal-style graphic, but all of these conspire to use up lavish amount of space that further contributes to rendering this book a bulky 850 pages at 1.2 kg (close to three pounds).
In his I Ching: The Essential Translation, John Minford has created a multilayered, insightful work that deserves much contemplation.
Hidden behind this plain, yellow cover is an Yijing treasure-trove. Stephen Field, a professor of Chinese and an Yijing researcher, has created a book that will appeal to all levels of Yijing readers. He creates a compelling read out of viewing the Yi through the life of the Duke of Zhou, who, according to legend, was instrumental in its formation. This method leaves out the layers of later interpretation and commentary by focusing on the oldest layer, the Zhouyi. Others have used this approach (Richard Rutt’s Zhouyi, Greg Whincup’s Rediscovering the I Ching, and so on), but Field’s version stands out for creating what almost feels like a gripping historical novel about the epic story of the early Zhou dynasty.
Part One of The Duke of Zhou Changes is an introduction giving a concise history of ancient China, from prehistory through the Zhou; an overview of the field of divination and mythical and historical origins of the Yijing. Part Two consists of the Zhouyi hexagram texts, which Field has uniquely formatted in tables that inform the reader of the varied sub-elements within the texts. The head of each table has the Chinese name of the hexagram written in bronze script (jinwen), the hexagram number, the hexagram figure, and then the pinyin romanization and English translation.
The balance of each table is devoted to the hexagram texts. Field has numbered the Judgement text “0” and subsequent line texts 1–6. Additionally, a corresponding visual cue for each line is given: the numbers for yang lines are printed in black ink on a white square, and yin line numbers are white on a black square. The texts are then subdivided into three elements: Omen, Counsel, and Fortune, in the following manner for Hexagram 6:
Omen: There are prisoners, frozen with fear.
Counsel: It is time to see the great one. It is not good to ford the great river.
Fortune: There is good fortune now, but in the end there will be misfortune.
Field then gives explanations of the meaning of the hexagram name, along with historical and cultural information. For instance, “Bundle the offering” in Hexagram 12 is explained as “This omen depicts a common form of sacrificial offering: steamed food wrapped in leaves.” Field further explains the class differences between this kind of offering when done by a commoner versus that by a noble, done with a bronze cauldron.
Part Three of the book instructs the reader in how to cast and interpret hexagrams, whether using yarrow, coins, or an eight-coin method. Rounding out the book are a glossary, bibliography, index, and finding chart.
As Field’s translation of hexagram names differs from others, a cross-reference chart, or in the index by number in addition to name, would have been helpful. For example, Hexagram 36 is indexed as “Calling Arrow-Bird, The” followed by the Chinese characters, and then by the hexagram number (in Wilhelm/Baynes the hexagram is titled Ming I—Darkening of the Light). At first glance, the index seems good enough, but with use, lacks the level of detail one might wish for deeper research. An example: Hexagram 19 Wailing, is interpreted as being about mourning rituals, but that topic is not found in the index.
There is a lot to chew on in this book, particularly when compared with later “Confucian” commentaries. Hexagram 52, as an example, is dramatically different than traditional readings that take it to mean “stillness” and as inspiration for self-cultivation and meditation. Field instead takes the hexagram theme to be “obstructions” in various parts of the body.
The book is quite expensive, which will unfortunately limit its reach to academic libraries and to online purchases. It is deserving of a wider readership.
Stephen Field nicely captures the ancient layers of the Yijing in a way that makes it greatly useful for all audiences. The Duke of Zhou Changes is highly readable, clearly laid out, compact, well-organized, easy to dip into, and an interesting read.
There have been many trends in interpreting ancient Chinese books such as the Yijing. One is to view the text through the “lens” of a specific theme or occupation. The Designer’s Book of Change does just this, as have numerous other titles from the same publisher (formerly Humanics Press).
“Designer” in this case has nothing to do with the specifics of graphic art, fashion, or home decor trends. Rather, the author, C. G. Garant, a professor of design education, has given careful thought to how the Yijing conforms with meaningful and universal principles of design, from the cosmic to the local. He writes, “….design creates the structure upon which the expansion of awareness, i.e. consciousness, is experienced. Design is the vehicle that actively transports our consciousness from one symbol to the next and from one pattern to another across dimensions.”
The hexagram entries each take up two pages: on the left page, a large, handwritten character for the hexagram name, hexagram figure, number, name, trigrams and nuclear trigrams. On the right page is a poetic interpretation of the hexagram, followed by a discussion of the hexagram’s meaning.
The introductory thirty pages present Garant’s ideas on how design underlies everything. His interpretations of hexagrams are not formulaic in any manner, and offer thoughtful insights that nicely blend philosophy and practice. An example from Hexagram 41 Sun:
“It is imperative that designers attempt to refrain from immediate and self-centered gratification, but rather focus on cultivating the mind so that the harmony between meaning and purpose can be truly felt and experienced.”
Garant’s prior books are The Tao of Design and The Tao of Circles. The Designer’s Book of Change is a refreshingly interesting and relevant take on an ancient classic. While it may be of particular interest to those involved with creative, problem-solving kinds of work, it is worth taking a look at for those with general interest in the Yijing.