The I Ching (Wade-Giles), or “Yì Jīng” (Pinyin); also called “Classic of Changes” or “Book of Changes” is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. The book is a symbol system used to identify order in chance events. The text describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy that is intrinsic to ancient Chinese cultural beliefs. The cosmology centres on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change (see Philosophy, below). In Western cultures and modern East Asia, the I Ching is sometimes regarded as a system of divination. The classic consists of a series of symbols, rules for manipulating these symbols, poems, and commentary.
The I Ching is a "reflection of the universe in miniature." The word "I" has three meanings: ease and simplicity, change and transformation, and invariability. Thus the three principles underlying the I Ching are the following:
After the traditionally recorded Xia Dynasty was overthrown by the Shang Dynasty, the hexagrams are said to have been re-deduced to form Gui Cang (《歸藏》 Gūi Cáng; also called Gui Cang Yi), and the hexagram Field (坤 kūn) became the first hexagram. Gui Cang may be literally translated into “return and be contained”, which refers to earth as the first hexagram itself indicates. At the time of Shang's last king, Zhou Wang, King Wen of Zhou is said to have deduced the hexagram and discovered that the hexagrams beginning with Force (乾 qián) revealed the rise of Zhou. He then gave each hexagram a description regarding its own nature, thus Gua Ci (卦辭 guà cí, “Explanation of Hexagrams”).
When King Wu of Zhou, son of King Wen, toppled the Shang Dynasty, his brother Zhou Gong Dan is said to have created Yao Ci (爻辭 yáo cí, “Explanation of Horizontal Lines”) to clarify the significance of each horizontal line in each hexagram. It was not until then that the whole context of I Ching was understood. Its philosophy heavily influenced the literature and government administration of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE - 256 BCE).
Later, during the time of Spring and Autumn (722 BCE - 481 BCE), Confucius is traditionally said to have written the Shi Yi (十翼 shí yì, “Ten Wings”), a group of commentaries on the I Ching. By the time of Han Wu Di (漢武帝 Hàn Wǔ Dì) of the Western Han Dynasty (circa 200 BCE), Shi Yi was often called Yi Zhuan (易傳 yì zhùan, “Commentary on the I Ching”), and together with the I Ching they composed Zhou Yi (周易 zhōu yì, “Changes of Zhou”). All later texts about Zhou Yi were explanations only, due to the classic's deep meaning.
Scholarly works dealing with the new view of the Book of Changes include doctoral dissertations by Richard Kunst and Edward Shaughnessy and a 2008 study by Richard J. Smith. These and other scholars have been helped immensely by the discovery, in the 1970s, by Chinese archaeologists, of intact Han dynasty era tombs in Mawangdui near Changsha, Hunan province. One of the tombs contained more or less complete 2nd century BCE texts of the I Ching, the Dao De Jing and other works, which are mostly similar yet in some ways diverge significantly from the “received”, or traditional, texts preserved historically.
The tomb texts include additional commentaries on the I Ching, previously unknown, and apparently attributed to Confucius. All of the Mawangdui texts are many centuries older than the earliest known attestations of the texts in question. When talking about the evolution of the Book of Changes, therefore, the Modernists contend that it is important to distinguish between the traditional history assigned to texts such as the I Ching (felt to be anachronistic by the Modernists), assignations in commentaries which have themselves been canonized over the centuries along with their subjects, and the more recent scholarly history aided by modern linguistic textual criticism and archaeology.
Many hold that these perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but, for instance, many Modernist scholars doubt the actual existence of Fuxi, or think Confucius had nothing to do with the Book of Changes, and contend that the hexagrams came before the trigrams. Modern scholarship comparing poetic usage and formulaic phrasing in this book with that in ancient bronze inscriptions has shown that the text cannot be attributed to King Wen or Zhou Gong, and that it likely was not compiled until the late Western Zhou, perhaps ca. the late 9th century BCE.
Rather than being the work of one or several legendary or historical figures, the core divinatory text is now thought to be an accretion of Western Zhou divinatory concepts. As for the Shi Yi commentaries traditionally attributed to Confucius, scholars from the time of the 11th century A.D. scholar Ouyang Xiu onward have doubted this, based on textual analysis, and modern scholars date most of them to the late Warring States period (403/475 BCE-256/221 BCE), with some sections perhaps being as late as the Western Han period (206 BCE-220 CE).
The hexagram diagram is conceptually subdivided into two three-line arrangements called trigrams (卦 guà). There are 23, hence 8, possible trigrams. The traditional view was that the hexagrams were a later development and resulted from combining the two trigrams. However, in the earliest relevant archaeological evidence, groups of numerical symbols on many Western Zhou bronzes and a very few Shang oracle bones, such groups already usually appear in sets of six. A few have been found in sets of three numbers, but these are somewhat later. Note also that these numerical sets greatly predate the groups of broken and unbroken lines, leading modern scholars to doubt the mythical early attributions of the hexagram system.
Each hexagram represents a description of a state or process. When a hexagram is cast using one of the traditional processes of divination with I Ching, each of the yin or yang lines will be indicated as either moving (that is, changing), or fixed (that is, unchanging). Moving (also sometimes called “old”, or “unstable”) lines will change to their opposites, that is “young” lines of the other type -- old yang becoming young yin, and old yin becoming young yang.
The oldest method for casting the hexagrams, using yarrow stalks, is a biased random number generator, so the possible answers are not equiprobable. While the probability of getting either yin or yang is equal, the probability of getting old yang is three times greater than old yin.
The yarrow stalk method was gradually replaced during the Han Dynasty by the three coins method. Using this method the imbalance in generating old yin and old yang was eliminated. There is no theoretical basis for indicating what should be the optimal probability basis of the old lines versus the young lines. Of course, the whole idea behind this system of divination is that the oracle will select the appropriate answer, regardless of the probabilities.
There have been several arrangements of the trigrams and hexagrams over the ages. The bā gùa is a circular arrangement of the trigrams, traditionally printed on a mirror, or disk. According to legend, Fu Hsi found the bā gùa on the scales of a tortoise's back. They function rather like a magic square, with the four axes summing to the same value (e.g., using 0 and 1 to represent yin and yang, 000 + 111 = 111, 101 + 010 = 111, etc.).
The King Wen sequence is the traditional (i.e. “classical”) sequence of the hexagrams used in most contemporary editions of the I Ching. The King Wen sequence has been shown to contain within it a demonstration of advanced mathematical knowledge.
In the following lists, the trigrams and hexagrams are represented using a common textual convention, horizontally from left-to-right, using '|' for yang and '¦' for yin, rather than the traditional bottom-to-top. In a more modern usage, the numbers 0 and 1 can also be used to represent yin and yang, being read left-to-right.
There are eight possible trigrams (八卦 bāguà):
|Trigram Figure||Binary Value||Name||Translation: Wilhelm, others||Image in Nature||Direction||Family Relationship||Body Part||Attribute||Stage/ State||Animal|
|1||☰||111|| 乾 |
|the Creative, Force|| heaven, aether|
|2||☱||110|| 兌 |
|the Joyous, Open|| swamp, marsh|
|west||third daughter||mouth||pleasure||tranquil (complete devotion)||sheep|
|3||☲||101|| 離 |
|the Clinging, Radiance|| fire|
|south||second daughter||eye||light-giving, dependence||clinging, clarity, adaptable||pheasant|
|4||☳||100|| 震 |
|the Arousing, Shake|| thunder|
|east||first son||foot||inciting movement||initiative||horse|
|5||☴||011|| 巽 |
|the Gentle, Ground|| wind |
|southeast||first daughter||thigh||penetrating||gentle entrance||fowl|
|6||☵||010|| 坎 |
|the Abysmal, Gorge|| water |
|7||☶||001|| 艮 |
|Keeping Still, Bound|| mountain |
|northeast||third son||hand||resting, stand-still||completion||wolf, dog|
|8||☷||000|| 坤 |
|the Receptive, Field|| earth|
The first three lines of the hexagram, called the lower trigram, are seen as the inner aspect of the change that is occurring. The upper trigram (the last three lines of the hexagram), is the outer aspect. The change described is thus the dynamic of the inner (personal) aspect relating to the outer (external) situation. Thus, hexagram 04 ¦|¦¦¦| Enveloping, is composed of the inner trigram ☵ Gorge, relating to the outer trigram ☶ Bound.
| ||| (☰)|
| |¦¦ (☳)|
| ¦|¦ (☵)|
| ¦¦| (☶)|
| ¦¦¦ (☷) |
| ¦|| (☴) |
| |¦| (☲)|
| ||¦ (☱)|
| ||| (☰)|
| ¦|¦ (☵)|
| ¦¦| (☶)|
| ¦¦¦ (☷) |
| ¦ (☱)|
Each hexagram's common translation is accompanied by the corresponding R. Wilhelm translation, which is the source for the Unicode names.
The hexagrams, though, are mere mnemonics for the philosophical concepts embodied in each one. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change.
Another view holds that the I Ching is primarily a Confucianist ethical or philosophical document. This view is based upon the following:
Both views may be seen to show that the I Ching was at the heart of Chinese thought, serving as a common ground for the Confucian and Taoist schools. Partly forgotten due to the rise of Chinese Buddhism during the Tang dynasty, the I Ching returned to the attention of scholars during the Song dynasty. This was concomitant with the reassessment of Confucianism by Confucians in the light of Taoist and Buddhist metaphysics, and is known in the West as Neo-Confucianism. The book, unquestionably an ancient Chinese scripture, helped Song Confucian thinkers to synthesize Buddhist and Taoist cosmologies with Confucian and Mencian ethics. The end product was a new cosmogony that could be linked to the so-called “lost Tao” of Confucius and Mencius.
The binary arrangement of hexagrams is associated with the famous Chinese scholar and philosopher Shao Yung (a neo-Confucian and Taoist) in the 11th century. He displayed it in two different formats, a circle, and a rectangular block. Thus, he clearly understood the sequence represented a logical progression of values. However, while it is true that these sequences do represent the values 0 through 63 in a binary display, there is no evidence that Shao understood that the numbers could be used in computations such as addition or subtraction.
It should be noted that Shao Yung had been attributed with the original Segregation Table of the symbols of the book of changes Fu-Hsi Liu-shih-ssu Kua Tzhu Hsu from Chu Hsi's Chou I Pen I Thu Shou (reproduced in Hu Wei's I Thu Ming Pien ch.7, pp 2b,3a and elsewhere).
The oracular interpretation of the symbolic language based on trigram symbols formed from yang and yin components is well known. However, the inherent numerical language of line change and non-change is relatively unknown.
When the translated text reads "Nine in the beginning means...." this is the equivalent of saying: "When the positive line in the first place is represented by the number 9, it has the following meaning.....". If, on the other hand, the line is represented by the number 7, it is disregarded in interpreting the oracle. The same principle holds for lines represented by the numbers 6 and 8 respectively.
Thus, line transformation (change) or non-transformation (non-change) can be represented numerically, as follows:
A POSITIVE (unbroken line) transforming into a NEGATIVE (broken line) = 9
A POSITIVE (unbroken line) transforming into a POSITIVE (unbroken line) = 7
A NEGATIVE (broken line) transforming into a POSITIVE (unbroken line) = 6
A NEGATIVE (broken line) transforming into a NEGATIVE (broken line) = 8
This changes the ancient symbolic linear language of the I Ching into a simple numerical language that enables the practitioner to create sixteen numerical codes, which consist of three numbers, from each circular arrangement of eight trigrams.
John C. Compton suggests that these numerical codes represent specific codons of the Genetic Code.
The I Ching has long been used as an oracle and many different ways coexist to “cast” a reading, i.e., a hexagram, with its dynamic relationship to others. In China the I Ching had two distinct functions. The first was as a compendium and classic of ancient cosmic principles. The second function was that of divination text. As a divination text the world of the I Ching was that of the marketplace fortune teller and roadside oracle. These individuals served the illiterate peasantry. The educated Confucian elite in China were of an entirely different disposition. The future results of our actions were a function of our personal virtues. The Confucian literati actually had little use for the I Ching as a work of divination. In the collected works of the countless educated literati of ancient China there are actually few references to the I Ching as a divination text. Any eyewitness account of traditional Chinese society, such as S. Wells Williams The Middle Kingdom, and many others, can clarify this very basic distinction. Williams tells us of the I Ching, "The hundred of fortune- tellers seen in the streets of Chinese towns, whose answers to their perplexed customers are more or less founded on these cabala, indicate their influence among the illiterate; while among scholars, who have long since conceded all divination to be vain..." (The Middle Kingdom, vol. 1, p. 632)
The Flag of South Korea contains the Taijitu symbol, or tàijítú, (yin and yang in dynamic balance, called taegeuk in Korean), representing the origin of all things in the universe. The taegeuk is surrounded by four of the eight trigrams, starting from top left and going clockwise: Heaven, Water, Earth, Fire.
The flag of the Empire of Vietnam used the Li (Fire) trigram and was known as cờ quẻ Ly (Li trigram flag) because the trigram represents South. Its successor the Republic of Vietnam connected the middle lines, turning it into the Qián (Heaven) trigram. (see Flag of the Republic of Vietnam).
Abraham (1999) states that Confucius' ten commentaries, called the Ten Wings, transformed the I Ching from a divination text into a "philosophical masterpiece." It was this form of the I Ching that inspired the Taoists, Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu. It has influenced Confucians and other philosophers and scientists ever since. However, Helmut Wilhelm in his Change/Eight Lectures on the I Ching, cautions: "It can no longer be said with certainty whether any of the material—and if any, how much—comes from Confucius' own hand.
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