The Yi jing
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What's the Yi jing?

My general introduction to the Yi jing is here.

Why Yi jing rather than I Ching?

The two spellings derive from two different systems of transliterating Chinese. The Wage-Giles system (I Ching) was the standard when the classic translations into Western languages were made, but Pinyin (Yi jing) is the standard today.

Why are these renderings different from other Yi jings?

At the core of the Yi jing (I Ching) is a bronze age divinatory document. The first version as a coherent text is thought to date to the ninth century BCE; the hexagrams themselves are probably much older. Over the centuries layers of conventional Confucian philosophy accreted to the ancient text, so that until recently English translations have been based on Song dynasty (960-1279) documents.

Two recent translations have brought to English readers' attention early versions of the Yi jing. Richard John Lynn's The Classic of Changes: A New Translation of the I Ching as Interpreted by Wang Bi (Columbia University Press, 1994) is based on a version dating from the Three Kingdoms period (221-419). Richard Rutt's Zhouyi: The Book of Changes (Curzon, 1996) attempts to go back to the core Bronze Age document. (Zhouyi, which could be translated as "The Changes of the People of Zhou," is an alternate, oldername for the Yi jing, one that tends to refer to the older core document).

What are the components of a Yi jing section?

In the post-Song period the I Ching is traditionally thought to consist of "ten wings," or parts, but this gets extremely convoluted and confusing.

The hexagram names (guaming), the prefatory statements, usually termed "judgments" (tuan), and the line statements (yaoci) are the oldest parts of the Yi jing. In the line statements -- the part of the book that most interests me -- echos of ancient divinatory pronouncements can be heard; at times some of the lyrical quality of the Classic of Songs comes through. As Richard Rutt observes, "The literary content of the Zhouyi is to be found in the line statements, which are notoriously obscure."

Each line statement consists of up to four parts:

1. the imagistic base (shici),
2. a subsidiary comment, often prescriptive, usually called the "indication,"
3.a prognostic (duanci) consisting of variations on four standard words (auspicious, dangerous, bringing misfortune, and disastrous). Rutt believes these were the last of the four elements to be added to the text historically.
4. an observation (yanci), essentially an early commentary

Of these the first is clearly the core, and it is the only one I consistently attempt to reproduce in my renderings. But sometimes these sections are too fragmentary or enigmatic to provide raw material to work with, and at such times I have dipped into the other parts or drawn from the later commentaries.

How rigorous is your rendering?

It's not especially rigorous. That is why I call it a rendering rather than a translation. I'm not a scholar of Bronze Age China (neither were most of the Song commentators who were the sources for most Western translations), and my classical Chinese (based on some courses through the East Asian department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) is not nearly up to the task of deciphering this ancient material (I do have considerable experience with translation, however). Instead I've relied first on Richard Rutt's work, second on Richard John Lynn's, and finally on a few other translations. (Rutt has a good summary of the translation history.) As a result, I render a kind of ideal of the Yi jing -- a shadow seen on the wall of a cave -- rather than any single existing text. There is something in the nature of the book that lends itself to this approach:

There is no single Classic of Changes but rather as many versions of it as there are different commentaries on it. The text of the classic is so dense and opaque in so many places that its meaning depends entirely on how any particular commentary interprets it.
    -- Richard John Lynn, The Classic of Changes

Often I've filled in holes through the application of my own imagination, although I've tried to keep roughly to what I take to be the main gist of the ancient original. The distant original source was a divinatory tool that was probably used in military planning. I've stepped slightly back from its militaristic and sacrificial components a notch, simply to suit my own taste.

My primary goal has been to render the text by applying a consistent poetic strategy, the lack of which seems to me a deficiency in nearly all English translations of the Yi jing. Sometimes this has required eliminating some material from the lengthier line statements. The degree to which I've succeeded varies, and I''m continuing to refine these renderings. (Feedback welcome.)

What about the "Commentary" sections?

I've taken up the long tradition of adding original commentary to the core document. Certainly I draw on the work of others, but these sections are less the renderings of any particular text than they are my own remarks based on my readings and interpretations. (I've been a bit liberal with the introductory judgment sections as well.)

Some recent commentaries are preachy and pedantic. I hope I have, at least, avoided that.


The less one thinks about the theory of the I Ching, the more soundly one sleeps.
    -- Carl Jung

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