INTRODUCTION TO THE I CHING*
by James Legge
THE YÎ KING FROM THE TWELFTH CENTURY B.C. TO THE COMMENCEMENT
OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA
1. Confucius is reported to have said on one occasion, 'If some
years were added to my life, I would give fifty to the study of
the Yî, and might then escape falling into great errors.'
There was a Yî in the time of Confucius
The utterance is referred by the best critics to the closing period
of Confucius' life, when he had returned from his long and painful
wanderings among the States, and was settled again. in his native
Lû. By this time he was nearly seventy, and it seems strange,
if he spoke seriously, that he should have thought it possible
for his life to be prolonged other fifty years. So far as that
specification is concerned, a corruption of the text is generally
admitted. My reason for adducing the passage has simply been to
prove from it the existence of a Yî King in the time of
Confucius. In the history of him by Sze-mâ Khien it is stated
that, in the closing years of his life, he became fond of the
Yî, and wrote various appendixes to it, that he read his
copy of it so much that the leathern thongs (by which the tablets
containing it were bound together) were thrice worn out, and that
he said, 'Give me several years (more), and I should be master
of the Yî 1:2.' The ancient books on which Confucius had
delighted to discourse with his disciples were those of History,
Poetry, and Rites and Ceremonies 2:1; but ere he passed away from
among them, his attention was much occupied also by the Yî
as a monument of antiquity, which in the prime of his days he
had too much neglected.
2. Khien says that Confucius wrote various appendixes to the
Yî, specifying all but two of the treatises, which go by
the name of the 'Ten Appendixes,' and are, with hardly a dissentient
voice, attributed to the sage. They are published along with the
older Text, which is based on still older lineal figures, and
are received by most Chinese readers, as well as by foreign Chinese
scholars, as an integral portion of the Yî King. The two
portions should, however, be carefully distinguished. I will speak
of them as the Text and the Appendixes.
3. The Yî escaped the fires of hin B. C. 213. In
the memorial which the premier Lî Sze addressed to his sovereign,
advising that the old books should be consigned to the flames,
an exception was made of those which treated of 'medicine, divination,
and husbandry 2:2.' The Yî was held to be a book of divination,
and so was preserved.
In the catalogue of works in the imperial library, prepared by
Liû Hin about the beginning of our era, there is an enumeration
of those on the Yî and its Appendixes,--the books of thirteen
different authors or schools, comprehended in 294 portions of
larger or smaller dimensions 2:3. I need not follow the history
and study of the Yî into the line of the centuries since
the time of Liû Hin. The imperial Khang-hsî edition
of it, which appeared in 1715, contains quotations from the commentaries
of 218 scholars, covering, more or less closely, the time from
the second century B. C. to our seventeenth century. I may venture
to say thatthose 218 are hardly a tenth of the men who have tried
to interpret the remarkable book, and solve the many problems
to which it gives rise.
4. The Yî before Confucius, and when it was made has come
down to us as correctly as any other of the. ancient books of
China; and it might also be said, as correctly as any of the old
monuments of Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, or Latin literature. The
question arises of how far before Confucius we can trace its existence.
of course an inquiry into this point will not include the portions
or appendixes attributed to the sage himself. Attention will be
called to them by and by, when I shall consider how far we are
entitled, or whether we are at all entitled, to ascribe them to
him. I do not doubt, however, that they belong to what may be
called the Confucian period, and were produced some time after
his death, probably between B.C. 450 and 350. By whomsoever they
were written, they may be legitimately employed in illustration
of what were the prevailing views in that age on various points
connected with the Yî. Indeed, but for the guidance and
hints derived from them as to the meaning of the text, and the
relation between its statements and the linear figures, there
would be great difficulty in making out any consistent interpretation
(i) The earliest mention of the classic is found in the Official
Book of the Kâu dynasty, where it is said that, among the
duties of 'the Grand Diviner,' 'he had charge of the rules for
the three Yî (systems of Changes), called the Lien-shan,
the Kweî-hang, and the Yî of Kâu; that
in each of them the regular (or primary) lineal figures were 8,
which were multiplied, in each, till the), amounted to 64.' The
date of the Official Book has not been exactly ascertained. The
above passage can hardly be reconciled with the opinion of the
majority of Chinese critics that it was the work of the duke of
Kâu, the consolidator and legislator of the dynasty so called;
but I think there must have been the groundwork of it at a very
early date. When that was composed or compiled, there was existing,
among the archives of the kingdom, under the charge of a high
officer, 'the Yî of Kâu,'--what constitutes the Text
of the present Yî; the Text, that is, as distinguished from
the Appendixes. There were two other Yî, known as the Lien-shan
and the Kwei-hang. It would be a waste of time to try to
discover the meaning of these designations. They are found in
this and another passage of the Official Book; and nowhere else.
Not a single trace of what they denoted remains, while we possess
'the Yî of Kâu' complete 4:1.
(ii) In the Supplement of o Khiû-ming to 'the Spring
and Autumn,' there is abundant evidence that divination by the
Yî was frequent, throughout the states of China, before
the time of Confucius. There are at least eight narratives of
such a practice, between the years B.C. 672 and 564, before he
was born; and five times during his life-time the divining stalks
and the book were had recourse to on occasions with which he had
nothing to do. In all these cases the text of the Yî, as
we have it now, is freely quoted. The 'Spring and Autumn' commences
in B.C. 722. If it extended back to the rise of the Kâu
dynasty, we should, no doubt, find accounts of divination by the
Yî interspersed over the long intervening period. For centuries
before Confucius appeared on the stage of his country, the Yî
was well known among the various feudal states, which then constituted
the Middle Kingdom 5:1.
(iii) We may now look into one of the Appendixes for its testimony
to the age and authorship of the Text. The third Appendix is the
longest, and the most important 5:2. In the 49th paragraph of
the second Section of it it is said:--
'Was it not in the middle period of antiquity that the Yî
began to flourish? Was not he who made it (or were not they who
made it) familiar with anxiety and calamity?'
The highest antiquity commences, according to Chinese writers,
with Fû-hsî, B.C. 3322; and the lowest with Confucius
in the middle of the sixth century B.C. Between these is the period
of middle antiquity, extending a comparatively short time, from
the rise of the Kâu dynasty, towards the close of the twelfth
century B.C., to the Confucian era. According to this paragraph
it was in this period that our Yî was made.
The 69th paragraph is still more definite in its testimony:--
'Was it not in the last age of the Yin (dynasty), when the virtue
of Kâu had reached its highest point, and during the troubles
between king Wan and (the tyrant) Kâu, that (the study of)
the Yî began to flourish? On this account the explanations
(in the book) express (a feeling of) anxious apprehension, (and
teach) how peril may be turned into security, and easy carelessness
is sure to meet with overthrow.'
The dynasty of Yin was superseded by that of Kâu in B.
C. 1122. The founder of Kâu was he whom we call king Wan,
though he himself never occupied the throne. The troubles between
him and the last sovereign of Yin reached their height in B. C.
1143, when the tyrant threw him into prison in a place called
Yû-lî, identified as having been in the present district
of Thang-yin, department of Kang-teh, province of Ho-nan. Wan
was not kept long in confinement. His friends succeeded in appeasing
the jealousy of his enemy, and securing his liberation in the
following year. It follows that the Yî, so far as we owe
it to king Wan, was made in the year B.C. 1143 or 1142, or perhaps
that it was begun in the former year and finished in the latter
But the part which is thus ascribed to king Wan is only a small
portion of the Yî. A larger share is attributed to his son
Tan, known as the duke of Kâu, and in it we have allusions
to king Wû, who succeeded his father Wan, and was really
the first sovereign of the dynasty of Kâu 6:2. There are
passages, moreover, which must be understood of events in the
early years of the next reign. But the duke of Kâu died
in the year B. C. 1105, the 11th of king Khang. A few years then
before that time, in the last decade of the twelfth century B.
C., the Yî King, as it has come down to us, was complete
5. The Yî is not the most ancient of the Chinese books.
It can thus boast of a great antiquity; but a general opinion
has prevailed that it belonged to a period still more distant.
Only two translations of it have been made by European scholars.
The first was executed by Regis and other Roman Catholic missionaries
in the beginning of last century, though it was given to the public
only in 1834 by the late Jules Mohl, with a title commencing 'Y-King,
antiquissimus Sinarum liber 7:1.' The language of the other European
translator of it, the Rev. Canon McClatchie of Shanghâi,
whose work appeared in 1876, is still more decided. The first
sentence of his Introduction contains two very serious misstatements,
but I have at present to do only with the former of them;--that
'the Yî King is regarded by the Chinese with peculiar veneration,
. . . . as being the most ancient of their classical writings.'
The Shû is the oldest of the Chinese classics, and contains
documents more, than a thousand years earlier than king Wan. Several
pieces of the Shih King are also older than anything in the Yî;
to which there can thus he assigned only the third place in point
of age among the monuments of Chinese literature. Existing, however,
about 3000 years ago, it cannot be called modern. Unless it be
the books of the Pentateuch, Joshua, and judges, an equal antiquity
cannot be claimed for any portion of our Sacred Scriptures.
Supposing them to be the work of Confucius, though it will appear
by and by that this assumption can be received as only partially
correct, if indeed it be received at all, the sage could not have
entered on their composition earlier than B.C. 483, 660 years
later than the portion of the text that came from king Wan, and
nearly 630 later than what we owe to the duke of Kâu. But
during that long period of between six and seven centuries changes
may have arisen in the views taken by thinking men of the method
and manner of the Yî; and I cannot accept the Text and the
Appendixes as forming one work in any proper sense of the term.
Nothing has prevented the full understanding of both, so far as
parts of the latter can be understood, so much as the blending
of them together, which originated with Pî Kih of the first
Han dynasty. The common editions of the book have five of the
Appendixes (as they are ordinarily reckoned) broken up and printed
side by side with the Text; and the confusion thence arising has
made it difficult, through the intermixture of incongruous ideas,
for foreign students to lay hold of the meaning.
6. Native scholars have of course been well aware of the difference
in time between the appearance of the Text and Labours of native
scholars on the Yî the Appendixes; and in the Khang-hsî
edition of them the two are printed separately. Only now and then,
however, has any critic ventured to doubt that the two parts formed
one homogeneous whole, or that all the appendixes were from the
style or pencil of Confucius. Hundreds of them have brought a
wonderful and consistent meaning out of the Text; but to find
in it or in the Appendixes what is unreasonable, or any inconsistency
between them, would be to impeach the infallibility of Confucius,
and stamp on themselves the brand of heterodoxy.
At the same time it is an unfair description of what they An
imperfect description of their labourshave accomplished to say,
as has been done lately, that since the fires of hin, 'the
foremost scholars of each generation have edited the Text (meaning
both the Text and the Appendixes), and heaped commentary after
commentary upon it; and one and all have arrived at the somewhat
lame conclusion that its full significance is past finding out
9:1.' A multitude of the native commentaries are of the highest
value, and have left little to be done for the elucidation of
the Text; and if they say that a passage in an Appendix is 'unfathomable'
or 'incalculable,' it is because their authors shrink from allowing,
even to themselves, that the ancient sages intermeddled, and intermeddled
unwisely, with things too high for them.
European Chinese scholars have made translations of the Yî,
and have, if possible, made confusion worse confounded,' he only
shows how imperfectly he had made himself acquainted with the
subject. 'The host of European Chinese scholars who have made
translations of the Yî' amount to two,--the same two mentioned
by me above on pp. 6, 7. The translation of Regis and his coadjutors
9:2 is indeed capable of improvement; but their work as a whole,
and especially the prolegomena, dissertations, and notes, supply
a mass of correct and valuable information. They had nearly succeeded
in unravelling the confusion, and solving the enigma of the Yî.
1:1:1 Confucian Analects, VII, xvi.
1:1:2 The Historical Records; Life of Confucius, p. 12.
2:2:1 Analects, VII, xvii.
2:2:2 Legge's Chinese Classics, I, prolegomena, pp. 6-9.
2:2:3 Books of the Earlier Han; History of Literature, pp. 1,
4:4:1 See the Kâu Kwan (or Lî), Book XXIV, parr.
3, 4, and 27. Biot (Le Tcheou Lî, vol. ii, pp. 70, 71) translates
the former two paragraphs thus: 'Il (Le Grand Augure) est préposé
aux trois methodes pour les changements (des lignes divinatoires).
La première est appelée Liaison des montagnes (Lien-shan);
la seconde, Retour et Conservation (Kwei-hang); la troisième,
Changements des Kâu. Pour toutes il y a huit lignes symboliques
sacrées, et soixante-quatre combinaisons de ces lignes.'
*James Legge, Translator. Oxford, the Clarendon
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