The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






I Ching

Alternative meaning: I Ching (monk)

The I Ching (Simplified Chinese: 易经; Traditional Chinese: 易經, Hanyu Pinyin: Y Jīng; Cantonese IPA: ; Cantonese Jyutping: jik6ging1; alternative romanizations include I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King) is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. It describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy which is at the heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. The philosophy 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, the I Ching is regarded by some as simply a system of divination, but, in fact it expresses the wisdom and philosophy of ancient China.


Implications of the title

  • 易 (y), when used as an adjective, bears the meaning of "easy" or "simple", while as a verb it implies "to change".
  • 經 (jīng) here means "classic (text)", which derived from its original meaning of "regularity" or "persistency", inferring that the text describes the Ultimate Way which will not change throughout the flow of time.

The conception behind this title, thus, is profound. It has three implications:

  1. Simplicity - the root of the substance. The fundamental law underlying everything in the universe is utterly plain and simple, no matter how abstruse or complex some things may appear to be.
  2. Variability - the use of the substance. Everything in the universe is continually changing. By comprehending this one may realize the importance of flexibility in life and may thus cultivate the proper attitude for dealing with a multiplicity of diverse situations.
  3. Persistency - the essence of the substance. Everything in the universe seems to be capricious, yet among the changing tides there is, always, a persistent principle--a central rule--that does not vary in space and time.

(易一名而含三義:易簡一也;變易二也;不易三也。, commented by Zheng Xuan (鄭玄 zhng xan) in his writings Critique of I Ching (易贊 y zn) and Commentary on I Ching (易論 y ln) of Eastern Han Dynasty)

Due to the profound ideas conveyed by the title itself, it is practically impossible to arrive at an unbiased translation which could preserve the original concepts intact. The translation of the title into English used to be "Book of Changes", though a slightly more accurate name, "Classic of Changes", appears more frequently in recent use.


Traditionally it was believed that the principles of the I Ching originated with the legendary Fu Hsi (伏羲 F Xī). In this respect he is seen as an early culture hero, one of the earliest legendary rulers of China (traditional dates 2852 BCE -2738 BCE ), reputed to have had the trigrams (八卦 bā ga) revealed to him supernaturally. By the time of Yu (禹 ), trigrams had been developed into hexagrams (六十四卦 lu sh s ga), which were recorded in the scripture Lian Shan (《連山》 Lin Shān; also called Lian Shan Yi). Lian Shan, meaning "continuous mountains" in Chinese, begins with the hexagram Bound (艮 gn), which depicts a mountain (::|) mounting on another and is believed to be the origin of the scripture's name.

After the Xia Dynasty was overthrown by the Shang Dynasty, the hexagrams were re-deduced to form Gui Cang (《歸藏》 Gūi Cng; 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 deduced the hexagram and discovered that the hexagrams beginning with Force (乾 qin) revealed the rise of Zhou. He than gave each hexagram a description regarding its own nature, thus Gua Ci (卦辭 gu c, "Explanation of Hexagrams").

When King Wu of Zhou, son of King Wen, toppled the Shang Dynasty, his brother Zhou Gong Dan created Yao Ci (爻辭 yo c, "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 wrote Shi Yi (十翼 sh y, "Ten Wings"), an introductory comment on the I Ching. By the time of Han Wu Di (漢武帝 Hn Wǔ D) of the Western Han Dynasty (circa 200 BCE), Shi Yi was often called Yi Zhuan (易傳 y zhan, "Commentary on the I Ching"), and together with the I Ching they composed Zhou Yi (周易 zhōu y, "Changes of Zhou"). All later texts about Zhou Yi were explanations only, due to the classic's deep meaning.

In the past 50 years a "Modernist" history of the I Ching has been emerging, based on context criticism and research into Shang and Zhou dynasty oracle bones, as well as Zhou bronze inscriptions and other sources (see below). These reconstructions are dealt with in a growing number of books, such as The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the I Ching, by S. J. Marshall, and Richard Rutt's Zhouyi: The Book of Changes, (see References, below). Scholarly works dealing with the new view of the Book of Changes include doctoral dissertations by Richard Kunst and Edward Shaughnessy. 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 BC 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 by the chances of history.

The tomb texts include additional commentaries on the I Ching, previously unknown, and apparently written as if they were meant to be 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, think Confucius had nothing to do with the Book of Changes, and contend that the hexagrams came before the trigrams.


The I Ching symbolism is embodied in a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams (卦 gu). These are each composed of six stacked horizontal lines (爻 yo); each line is either Yang (unbroken, a solid line), or Yin (broken, an open line with a gap in the centre). With six such lines stacked from bottom to top in each hexagram, there are 26 or sixty-four possible combinations and thus sixty-four hexagrams.

Each hexagram is considered to be composed of two three-line arrangements called trigrams (卦 gu). There are 23, hence 8, possible trigrams.

Each hexagram represents a state, a process and may represent a change happening. When a hexagram is cast using one of the processes of Divination with I Ching, each of the lines may be indicated as moving or fixed. Moving ("old", or "unstable") lines have a polarity in the process of reversal; a full reading will consider the hexagram that would result from the lines changing polarity.

The traditional methods for casting the hexagrams use biased random number generation procedures, so the 64 hexagrams are not equiprobable.

There are a few formal arrangements of the trigrams and hexagrams with a traditional context. The bā ga is a circular arrangement of the trigrams, traditionally printed on a mirror, or disk. Legend states that Fu Hsi found the bā ga on the scales of a tortoise's back.

The King Wen sequence is considered the authoritative arrangement of the hexagrams.

Components of Hexagrams

The solid line represents yang, the creative principle. The open line represents yin, the receptive principle. These principles are also represented in a common circular symbol (☯), known as taijitu (太極圖), but more commonly known in the west as the yin-yang (陰陽) diagram, expressing the idea of complementarity of changes: when Yang is at top, Yin is increasing, and the reverse.

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. Note, though, that the normal diagrammatic representation is to show the lines stacked vertically, from bottom to top (i.e. to visualize the actual trigrams or hexagrams, rotate the text counterclockwise 90).

There are eight possible trigrams (八卦 bāgu):

Trigram Name Nature Direction
1 ||| (☰) Force (乾 qián) heaven (天) northwest
2 ||: (☱) Open (兌 duì) swamp (澤) west
3 |:| (☲) Radiance (離 ) fire (火) south
4 |:: (☳) Shake (震 zhèn) thunder (雷) east
5 :|| (☴) Ground (巽 xùn) wind (風) southeast
6 :|: (☵) Gorge (坎 kǎn) water (水) north
7 ::| (☶) Bound (艮 gèn) mountain (山) northeast
8 ::: (☷) Field (坤 kūn) earth (地) southwest

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.

Chart of Trigrams



















1 34 5 26 11 9 14 43
25 51 3 27 24 42 21 17
6 40 29 4 7 59 64 47
33 62 39 52 15 53 56 31
12 16 8 23 2 20 35 45


44 32 48 18 46 57 50 28


13 55 63 22 36 37 30 49


10 54 60 41 19 61 38 58

The Hexagrams

The text of the I Ching describes each of the 64 hexagrams, and later scholars added commentaries and analyses of each one; these have been subsumed into the text comprising the I Ching.

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.


The hexagram symbols range from U+4DC0 – U+4DFF (19904 – 19967) in Unicode.


Gradations of binary expression based on yin and yang (old yang, old yin; young yang or young yin—see the divination paragraph below—are what the hexagrams are built from). Yin and yang, while common expressions associated with many schools known from classical Chinese culture, are especially associated with the Taoists.

Another view holds that the I Ching is primarily a Confucianist ethical or philosophical document. This view is based upon the following:

  • The Wings or Appendices are attributed to Confucius.
  • The study of the I Ching was required as part of the Civil Service Exams. These exams only studied Confucianist texts.
  • It is one of the Five Confucian Classics.
  • It does not appear in any surviving editions of the Dao Zheng.
  • The major commentaries were written by Confucianists, or Neo-Confucianists.

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 Sequence

In his article Explication de l'Arithmtique Binaire (1703) Gottfried Leibniz writes that he has found in the hexagrams a base for claiming the universality of the binary numeral system. He takes the layout of the combinatorial excercise found in the hexagrams to represent binary sequences, so that |||||| would correspond to the binary sequence 000000 and |||||: would be 000001, and so forth.

The binary arrangement of hexagrams was developed by 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 additions or subtractions.


The I Ching has long been used as an oracle and many different ways coexist to "cast" a hexagram with its dynamic relationship to others.

See main article : I Ching divination.


The flag of South Korea, with tijt in the center with four trigrams representing earth, air, fire, and water.
The flag of South Korea, with tijt in the center with four trigrams representing earth, air, fire, and water.

The Flag of South Korea contains the T'ai Chi symbol, or tijt, (yin and yang circling and merging into one another), representing the origin of all things in the universe. The taijitu is surrounded by four of the eight trigrams: earth, air, fire and water, similar to the four elements of Western mythology, representing the various states of existence.

Influence on Western culture

The I Ching has influenced countless Chinese philosophers, artists and even businessmen throughout history. In more recent times, several Western artists have used it.

  • John Cage - experimental musician who used the I Ching to decide the arrangements of many of his compositions.
  • Philip K. Dick - science fiction writer who used the I Ching to decide some of the plot movements in The Man in the High Castle. The I Ching is referred to several times through the plot of the book, and is consulted by certain characters at key points in the plot.
  • Dead Prez - an activist hip-hop group that refer to the I Ching in several of their songs. To them, the I Ching represents the change they want to bring about through revolution. The symbol in their logo is the seventh hexagram, sze, which represents an army - the "people's army".
  • The ABC soap opera Dark Shadows at one point featured a copy of the I Ching and yarrow sticks amongst its many mystical plot elements. Rather than using it as a tool of divination, the characters meditated on its hexagrams as a means for travelling into the astral plane.
  • George Harrison of the Beatles read the I Ching and decided he should surrender to chance. Following this, in his words, he "picked up a book at random, opened it, saw 'gently weeps,' then laid the book down again and started the song" (While My Guitar Gently Weeps).
  • In the late 1960s, the comic book Wonder Woman temporarily changed the title character from a superhero to a secret agent, and placed her under the guidance of an elderly mentor named "I Ching". The writer behind this change later expressed regret at potentially offending Asian audiences, and later the character was retconned so that "I Ching" was merely a code- or nickname.
  • British author Philip Pullman's book The Amber Spyglass (part of the His Dark Materials trilogy) features use of the I Ching by the character Dr. Mary Malone. The I Ching is presented as one of many divinatory methods by which individuals in Pullman's universe are able to communicate with Dust.
  • The song "Chapter 24" from Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper At the Gates of Dawn , written by Syd Barrett features lyrics adapted from the Book of Changes.


  • Marshall, S. 2001. The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the I Ching. Columbia University Press
  • Rutt, R. 1996. Zhouyi: The Book of Changes. Curzon Press.
  • Wilhelm, R. & Baynes, C., trans. 1967. The I Ching or Book of Changes, 3rd. ed., Bollingen Series XIX. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967, (1st ed. 1950).

External links

  • I CHING Bookmarks Includes full text translations of the I Ching.
  • Text Links: I Ching readings Includes full text translations of the I Ching and more.
  • Is your web browser capable of displaying the trigram symbols used on this page? Check out this Unicode test page.
  • I Ching or the Book of Changes Provides information about philosophy and practice of I Ching. Includes online course.
  • I Ching Discussion Forum Members are encouraged to discuss the philosophy of I Ching.
  • Yijing Dao: Calling Crane in the Shade A website by S J Marshall, author of "The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the I Ching". Reviews of books on the Yijing (I Ching), a complete 'Introduction to Yijing' for beginners, an accurate transcription of the 1935 Harvard-Yenching Zhouyi in pinyin and Chinese, original work on hexagram sequences including many animations, and an archive of scans of I Ching diagrams from old Chinese books.
  • Yijing in vertical traditional Chinese with English or French translation and ability to cast an hexagram.
  • I Ching, The Classic of Changes, The first English translation of the newly discovered second-century B.C. Mawangdui texts by Edward L. Shaughnessy, Ballantine, 1996. ISBN 0345362438.
  • I Ching discussion forum A discussion group on I ching.
  • Super I-ChingA modified version of I-Ching by Alex Chiu

The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy