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 work greatly influenced subsequent generations. L. Michael Harrington, a professor of philosophy, includes an introduction (written with colleague Robin Wang), notes on Cheng’s quotations of other material, extensive glossary, and a thorough index.  Harrington and Wang give a succinct overview of Cheng’s thoughts and his influence on subsequent generations, including our own. They note an important feature of Cheng’s commentary, that it offers full discussion of the hexagram components, rather than snippets of explanation and terse definitions appearing in in other commentaries. In addition, Cheng creates a “coherent conceptual structure: the principle that governs the interaction between different capacities and functions in any state of affairs.”

Understanding the Yijing is difficult, thus the need for commentaries such as Cheng Yi’s–which was by then already a 2000-year-old book. Translating the Yijing is also 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.

The Yi River Commentary is an excellent companion to I Ching editions of Richard Wilhelm (translated by Cary Baynes), and by 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, inparticular, see the roots of Richard Wilhelm’s work eight centuries later, both using a “teaching voice” that seeks to engage the student in depth.

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 he offers little clarity as to his methods or source material. In his translation of Cheng’s book, he 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 his or her own reading of the original Chinese to find what Cleary included or omitted, nor did he indicate what of Cheng’s text is actually quotes of other material.

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.

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 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.

Yijing Videos Available Online

Yijing maven Harmen Mesker has produced several Yijing videos that are now available on YouTube on his “YiTube” channel. These videos are introductions to the Yijing in general and specific topics such as the trigrams, embellished occasionally with Mesker’s sly wit. Mesker, who is based in the Netherlands, maintains an informative website, as well.