Yijing


Yijing
[Classic of Changes]
For more than two thousand years the Yijing or Classic of Changes (also transliterated I Ching and often known as Book of Changes) was viewed as the ‘first of the [Chinese] Classics’, a divination manual and repository of abstruse wisdom that had a profound effect on virtually every aspect of traditional Chinese culture—from language, philosophy, religion, art and literature to politics, social life, mathematics, science and medicine. In the twentieth century, however, the Changes came to be stigmatized as a ‘feudal’ relic that reflected ‘superstitious’ practices and reflected a discredited ideology (Confucianism). This was especially true after the Chinese Communists came to power in 1949.
But from 1978 onward, thanks to the ‘Open Policy’ inaugurated in that year, the Yijing has made a remarkable comeback. ‘Traditional’ beliefs and practices are no longer stigmatized in the way that they had been prior to Mao Zedong’s death, and China’s ongoing ‘spiritual crisis’ (jingshen weiji) has prompted many Chinese to look for intellectual stimulation, spiritual inspiration or divinatory guidance in the Yijing.
Meanwhile, the Changes emerged as an object of intense scholarly interest. An historic 1984 conference in Wuhan, for example, produced 120 papers and five specialized volumes, generating much enthusiasm and material for further research by Chinese and foreign scholars alike. Even the People’s Daily got into the act, publishing three successive articles (18, 19 and 21 November, 1988) designed to introduce readers to new developments in Yijing research. A year later, Professor Liu Zheng, writing in the journal Zhexue yanjiu [Philosophical Research], pointed out that ‘Within the last decade, our country’s publishers, large and small, have published and republished thirty to forty works on the study of the Yijing, and two to three hundred articles on the subject have… [appeared] in our scholarly journals.’ Such articles now number in the thousands.
One prominent theme in Chinese scholarship during the 1980s and 1990s was the idea that the Changes was a ‘scientific’ document, which anticipated many modern developments in mathematics, physics, biology and computer theory. Feng Youlan, for example, maintained that the Yijing contained an incipient ‘algebra of the universe’; and Xie Qiucheng went so far as to claim that the hexagrams of the classic were originally designed as a high efficiency information transfer system analogous to contemporary computer coding based on optimal units of two (the number of basic trigrams in each hexagram) and three (the number of lines in each trigram). Tang Mingbang, drawing on the writings of Xie and other contemporary Chinese scholars, asserted that the forms of atomic structure in nuclear physics, the genetic code in molecular biology, the eight-tier matrix in linear algebra, all seem to be related to the logic of the Yijing. These arguments seem to be motivated at least in part by Chinese national pride.
Liu, Zheng (1993). ‘The Dilemma Facing Contemporary Research in the I-ching’. Chinese Studies in Philosophy 24.4 (Summer).
Smith, Richard J. (1998). The Place of the Yijing (Classic of Changes) in World Culture: Some Historical and Contemporary Perspectives’. Journal of Chinese Philosophy (Winter): 391–422
Tang, Mingbang (1987). ‘Recent Developments in Studies of the Book of Changes’. Chinese Studies in Philosophy (Fall): 46–63.
RICHARD J.SMITH

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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