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The "I Ching"

The "I Ching": A Biography

Richard J. Smith
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The "I Ching"
    Book Description:

    TheI Chingoriginated in China as a divination manual more than three thousand years ago. In 136 BCE the emperor declared it a Confucian classic, and in the centuries that followed, this work had a profound influence on the philosophy, religion, art, literature, politics, science, technology, and medicine of various cultures throughout East Asia. Jesuit missionaries brought knowledge of theI Chingto Europe in the seventeenth century, and the American counterculture embraced it in the 1960s. Here Richard Smith tells the extraordinary story of how this cryptic and once obscure book became one of the most widely read and extensively analyzed texts in all of world literature.

    In this concise history, Smith traces the evolution of theI Chingin China and throughout the world, explaining its complex structure, its manifold uses in different cultures, and its enduring appeal. He shows how the indigenous beliefs and customs of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet "domesticated" the text, and he reflects on whether this Chinese classic can be compared to religious books such as the Bible or the Qur'an. Smith also looks at how theI Chingcame to be published in dozens of languages, providing insight and inspiration to millions worldwide--including ardent admirers in the West such as Leibniz, Carl Jung, Philip K. Dick, Allen Ginsberg, Hermann Hesse, Bob Dylan, Jorge Luis Borges, and I. M. Pei. Smith offers an unparalleled biography of the most revered book in China's entire cultural tradition, and he shows us how this enigmatic ancient classic has become a truly global phenomenon.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4162-2
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. The Hexagrams
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Chronology of Chinese Dynasties
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Preliminary Remarks and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    For those who think of themselves as secular, rational, and scientific, theYijingseems to be a work of “awesome obscurity,” full of unfamiliar symbols and cryptic sayings, and reflecting a worldview sometimes described as “mystical” or “prelogical.” And for those of a more religious disposition, the lack of a cosmology based on the willful actions of a god or gods seems equally puzzling. In either case theChangesappears to be little more than a series of briefly annotated broken and solid lines that have no meanings except for those arbitrarily imposed on them by centuries of often-conflicting Chinese...

  8. PART ONE The Domestic Evolution of the Yijing

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 15-18)

      What makes a classic? First, the work must focus on matters of great importance, identifying fundamental human problems and providing some sort of guidance for dealing with them. Second, it must address these fundamental issues in “beautiful, moving, and memorable ways,” with “stimulating and inviting images.” Third, it must be complex, nuanced, comprehensive, and profound, requiring careful and repeated study in order to yield its deepest secrets and greatest wisdom. One might add that precisely because of these characteristics, a classic has great staying power across both space and time. By these criteria, and by most other measures as well,...

    • CHAPTER 1 Genesis of the Changes
      (pp. 19-47)

      We often cannot say exactly when, where, or how ancient texts were born. Some of the reasons are obvious. The further away in time, the more likely a work’s origins will be obscure: memories fade, original materials disappear, alternative versions surface. Often, not least in the case of many of the world’s most sacred texts, diverse materials have accumulated over long periods, edited by different hands under different historical conditions. This is true, to a greater or lesser degree, of the Hebrew Bible (known, with some rearrangement of material, as the Old Testament), the Qur’an, the Hindu Vedas, and the...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Making of a Classic
      (pp. 48-74)

      Without the Ten Wings, it is extremely unlikely that the basic text of theChangeswould have become anything more than a technical divination manual, one of many such documents circulating in the late Warring States period. But as it turned out, this particular collection of commentaries, which evolved over several centuries, proved ideally suited to the political, social, intellectual, and cultural climate of China during the long and distinguished reign of Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty (r. 141–87 BCE). In the first place, the Ten Wings reflected the eclecticism, cosmology, and “Confucian” values that came to be...

    • CHAPTER 3 Interpreting the Changes
      (pp. 75-124)

      Approaches to theYijing—whether scholarly or divinatory—have naturally hinged on factors such as philosophical or religious affiliations, intellectual fashions, politics, social status, gender, personal taste, family ties, and other variables of time, place, and circumstance. As Chinese society evolved, new ways of thinking about the classic arose, inexorably expanding the scope of interpretive possibilities to include virtually every emerging realm of knowledge. Thus, over the course of more than two millennia, thousands of commentaries were written on theChanges, each amplifying the text and each reflecting a distinctive technical, philological, religious, philosophical, literary, social, or political point of...

  9. PART TWO The Transnational Travels of the Yijing

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 125-128)

      Everyone knows how rapidly religious ideas and works of art and literature circulate in the modern world. We sometimes forget, however, that the globalization of culture has been occurring for centuries, and without it there would obviously be no “world religions” or even the concept of “world literature.” How, we might ask, do texts and ideas travel across boundaries of space and time, and what happens to them in the process? Clearly, for an idea or a text to move from one culture area to another, and to have staying power, it must have some sort of intellectual, aesthetic, emotional,...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Changes in East Asia
      (pp. 129-169)

      Although the specific circumstances under which theYijingfound its way to various East Asian countries naturally differed, there seem to be certain similarities in the way that it traveled. In the first place, from the early centuries of the common era into the late nineteenth century, the classical Chinese written language was the lingua franca of virtually all literate elites in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, employed in a fashion roughly analogous to the scholarly use of Latin in the West; thus there was no need to translate it—except, on occasion, to render it in a more vernacular form...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Westward Travels of the Changes
      (pp. 170-210)

      In several respects the transmission of theChangesto the West parallels the process by which Buddhism and Daoism traveled to Europe and the Americas. In each case Western “missionaries” played a part in the process, and in each case there were varied responses over time, ranging from blind indiference to rational knowledge, romantic fantasy, and existential engagement.¹ But in nearly every instance, as in East Asia, there was an effort, often quite self-conscious, to assimilate and domesticate the classic. As with the Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Tibetans, Westerners sent missions to China, and they brought back all kinds of...

    • Concluding Remarks
      (pp. 211-224)

      Despite the great and often glaring differences separating theYijingfrom such religious classics as the Bible, the Talmud, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Lotus Sutra, it deserves to be considered one of the great works of spiritually inspired world literature. Why? In the first place, the life cycle of theChangeshas been surprisingly similar to that of the above-mentioned spiritually inspired books. In each case, for example, written commentaries have amplified, clarified, explained, and modified the meanings of the core text, ironing out inconsistencies and opening up new interpretive possibilities—including, of course, correlative and numerical...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 225-250)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-264)
  12. Index
    (pp. 265-278)