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Richard Wilhelm: The history of the Book of Changes

Rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes

In Chinese literature four holy men are cited as the authors of the Book of Changes, namely, Fu Hsi, King Wên, the Duke of Chou, and Confucius. Fu Hsi is a legendary figure representing the era of hunting and fishing and of the invention of cooking. The fact that he is designated as the inventor of the linear signs of the Book of Changes means that they have been held to be of such antiquity that they antedate historical memory. Moreover, the eight trigrams have names that do not occur in any other connection in the Chinese language, and because of this they have even been thought to be of foreign origin. At all events, they are not archaic characters, as some have been led to believe by the half accidental, half intentional resemblances to them appearing here and there among ancient characters.17

The eight trigrams are found occurring in various combinations at a very early date. Two collections belonging to antiquity are mentioned: first, the Book of Changes of the Hsia dynasty,18 is called Lien Shan, which is said to have begun with the hexagram Kên, KEEPING STILL, mountain; second, the Book of Changes dating from the Shang dynasty,19 is entitled Kuei Ts'ang, which began with the hexagram K'un, THE RECEPTIVE. The latter circumstance is mentioned in passing by Confucius himself as a historical fact. It is difficult to say whether the names of the sixty-four hexagrams were then in existence, and if so, whether they were the same as those in the present Book of Changes.

According to general tradition, which we have no reason to challenge, the present collection of sixty-four hexagrams originated with King Wên,20 progenitor of the Chou dynasty. He is said to have added brief judgments to the hexagrams during his imprisonment at the hands of the tyrant Chou Hsin. The text pertaining to the individual lines originated with his son, the Duke of Chou. This form of the book, entitled the Changes of Chou (Chou I), was in use as an oracle throughout the Chou period, as can be proven from a number of the ancient historical records.

This was the status of the book at the time Confucius came upon it. In his old age he gave it intensive study, and it is highly probable that the Commentary on the Decision (T'uan Chuan) is his work. The Commentary on the Images also goes back to him, though less directly. A third treatise, a very valuable and detailed commentary on the individual lines, compiled by his pupils or by their successors, in the form of questions and answers, survives only in fragments.21

Among the followers of Confucius, it would appear, it was principally Pu Shang (Tzú Hsia) who spread the knowledge of the Book of Changes. With the development of philosophical speculation, as reflected in the Great Learning (Ta Hsüeh) and the Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung),22 this type of philosophy exercised an ever increasing influence upon the interpretation of the Book of Changes. A literature grew up around the book, fragments of which — some dating from an early and some from a later time — are to be found in the so-called Ten Wings. They differ greatly with respect to content and intrinsic value.

The Book of Changes escaped the fate of the other classics at the time of the famous burning of the books under the tyrant Ch'in Shih Huang Ti. Hence, if there is anything in the legend that the burning alone is responsible for the mutilation of the texts of the old books, the I Ching at least should be intact; but this is not the case. In reality it is the vicissitudes of the centuries, the collapse of ancient cultures, and the change in the system of writing that are to be blamed for the damage suffered by all ancient works.

The Book of Changes escaped the fate of the other classics at the time of the famous burning of the books under the tyrant Ch'in Shih Huang Ti. Hence, if there is anything in the legend that the burning alone is responsible for the mutilation of the texts of the old books, the I Ching at least should be intact; but this is not the case. In reality it is the vicissitudes of the centuries, the collapse of ancient cultures, and the change in the system of writing that are to be blamed for the damage suffered by all ancient works.

After the Book of Changes had become firmly established as a book of divination and magic in the time of Ch'in Shih Huang Ti, the entire school of magicians (fang shih) of the Ch'in and Han dynasties made it their prey. And the yin-yang doctrine, which was probably introduced through the work of Tsou Yen,23 and later promoted by Tung Chung Shu, Liu Hsin, and Liu Hsiang,24 ran riot in connection with the interpretation of the I Ching.

The task of clearing away all this rubbish was reserved for a great and wise scholar, Wang Pi,25 who wrote about the meaning of the Book of Changes as a book of wisdom, not as a book of divination. He soon found emulation, and the teachings of the yin-yang school of magic were displaced, in relation to the book, by a philosophy of statecraft that was gradually developing. In the Sung26 period, the I Ching was used as a basis for the t'ai chi t'u doctrine — which was probably not of Chinese origin — until the appearance of the elder Ch'êng Tzú's27 very good commentary. It had become customary to separate the old commentaries contained in the Ten Wings and to place them with the individual hexagrams to which they refer. Thus the book became by degrees entirely a textbook relating to statecraft and the philosophy of life. Then Chu Hsi28 attempted to rehabilitate it as a book of oracles; in addition to a short and precise commentary on the I Ching, he published an introduction to his investigations concerning the art of divination.

The critical-historical school of the last dynasty also took the Book of Changes in hand. However, because of their opposition to the Sung scholars and their preference for the Han commentators, who were nearer in point of time to the compilation of the Book of Changes, they were less successful here than in their treatment of the other classics. For the Han commentators were in the last analysis sorcerers, or were influenced by theories of magic. A very good edition was arranged in the K'ang Hsi29 period, under the title Chou I Chê Chung; it presents the text and the wings separately and includes the best commentaries of all periods. This is the edition on which the present translation is based.

R.W.



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The history of the Book of Changes





17 Question has centered especially upon the trigram K'an, which resembles the character for water, shui.

18 According to tradition, 2205-1766 B.C.

19 According to tradition, 1766-1150 B.C.

20 King Wên was the head of a western state that suffered oppression from the house of Shang (Yin). He was given the title of king posthumously by his son Wu, who overthrew Chou Hsin, took possession of the Shang realm, and became the first ruler of the Chou dynasty, which in traditional chronology is dated 1150-249 B.C.

21 Some are in the section known as the Wên Yen (Commentary on the Words of the Text), some in the Ta Chuan (Great Commentary). [Cf. p. xix.]

22 he Great Learning presents the Confucian principles concerning the education of the "superior man," based on the view that innate within man are the qualities that when developed guide him to a personal and a social ethic. The Doctrine of the Mean shows that the "way of the superior man" leads to harmony between heaven, man, and earth. Both of these works belong to the school of thought led by Tzú-ssú, grandson of Confucius. They originally formed part of the Li Chi, the Book of Rites. Under the titles Ta Hsio and Kung Yung they can be found as bks. 39 and 28 in Legge's translation of the Book of Rites (The Sacred Books of the East, XXVII: The Li Ki, Oxford, 1885).

23 Fourth century B.C.

24 All three are Han scholars.

25 A.D. 226-249.

26 A.D. 960-1279.

27 Ch'êng Hao, A.D. 1032-1085.

28 A.D. 1130-1200.

29 A.D. 1662-1722.