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Paul Fendos ‘Book of Changes’ review

Short review

Don’t buy this one. Buy Minford and Redmond instead – or save up for Field, which I feel is worth its somewhat eye-watering price.

Longer review

Here’s the publisher’s blurb for Paul Fendos’ new I Ching:

The Book of Changes: A Modern Adaptation and Interpretation attempts to breathe new life into the Book of Changes by making it relevant to the present time and day. It does so by using archaeological evidence to trace the origins of the Book of Changes, starting with numeric trigrams and hexagrams, making its way up to early divination manuals, and ending with the oldest extant version of the Book of Changes—usually referred to as the ‘received version.’ It also explains the development of the Book of Changes from a divination manual into a philosophical text dealing with change. However, its main focus is on delineating sixty-four patterns of change in the Book of Changes, patterns based on novel metaphorical interpretations of the line texts in the Book of Changes that serve as the foundation for a new handbook on change.’

On the one hand, that first sentence triggers some wheezy old alarm klaxons. Modern adaptation? Breathe new life? Make it relevant? Oh, dear – is this going to be another limp Wilhelm-derivative with all the ancient imagery removed?

But on the other hand, the rest sounds really promising. A version that’s both infused with knowledge of the history and motivated by a desire to make something usable is a rarity; ‘novel metaphorical interpretations’ based on in-depth historical understanding would be wonderful.The author’s bio (Ph.D in Chinese, doctoral dissertation on the Yi, 25 years university teaching ‘Chinese Studies’) suggests that he’s qualified to do this. (The impressive bibliography and footnotes in the book confirm it: he’s well-versed in both recent discoveries and traditional interpretations and seems to have read just about everything.)

I replied to the publisher’s email asking to see a sample of the translation, and in return they sent me a pdf review copy of the whole thing, and I dived in. The book divides into three parts: historical introduction, translation/interpretation, and a method to use the book.

1. Historical introduction

This is the best part of the book. Fendos gives a thorough account of what’s known of the ancient origins of the Yi through to its canonisation as Yijing. There’s a table of source materials, their likely dates and what they consist of, and a timeline of Yi’s development through to Wang Bi that I’m genuinely glad to have. The next chapter continues the story through yin/yang and Five Element theory and the Chinese understanding of harmony with the time, and the distinction between schools of thought in the Chinese tradition.

There are a few eyebrow-raising things, though. He seems to think that the moment when hexagrams were first written with solid/broken lines instead of odd/even numbers is also the moment when they became identified as yang and yin, with all the associated metaphysics. Of the Mawangdui manuscript, he says the lines were written as the numbers 1 and 8, ‘but referred to as 9 or 6’ – as if this were quite inexplicable. And then there’s,

“As is evidenced by the Commentary on the Trigrams section of the Book of Changes, by then Five Phases theory had become part of the basic Yin/Yang correlative structure of the Book of Changes.”

By ‘then’ he means the early Western Han, when the received Yijing text had come together. This is indeed a time when correlative theories were developed, but the only association with Five Phases/Elements in this Wing is that the order in which the trigrams are described follows the generative cycle, with the exception of gen being placed at the end: thunder and wind/wood (both correlated with the ‘wood’ phase), then fire, earth, lake and heaven (both ‘metal’), then water, and finally mountain (earth). This is the closest thing to a reference to the Five Phases anywhere in the Yijing; they’re never mentioned explicitly, even in the Shuogua‘s long lists of trigram’s associations. It seems to me that the most economical explanation for this almost-parallel is that the correlation of 8 trigrams with 5 elements – a thoroughly awkward thing to accomplish – was helped along by the order of the trigrams given in the Wing.

Anyway, Fendos, though he inexplicably includes tables of pre-Han rulers and their Five Phase identities, never actually explains what Five Phase/Element theory is, so this is a bit of a detour. The historical information is good to have; the conclusions he draws from it are occasionally a bit odd.

He goes on to ask the very good question of how best to approach translation and interpretation now, if you actually want to use the book – through the tradition, or through seeking original meanings, or trying to find a middle way? He will try to find the middle way, which seems wise.

Then he talks about the omen elements of line texts, and makes a distinction between recognising them as omens versus understanding them as imagery. As is apparent to anyone who’s consulted Yi as an oracle (I would guess that Fendos hasn’t), this distinction falls apart as soon as an omen becomes part of a divination text. You consult and receive a message about geese in flight, although you haven’t seen any wild geese. How can you possibly engage with this if not as the vehicle of a metaphor – an image for what a flight of geese represents to you?


2. Translation and interpretation

There follow the Chinese text and a translation of the Zhouyi line texts, with an interpretation and commentary, for each hexagram.

Yes – just the line texts. He has decided to omit the Judgement texts altogether. Here is the explanation he gives for the omission (in full, to give you a representative sample of his style of writing):

‘Though some have argued their placement near the head of a hexagram suggests a superior position and perhaps older age, hexagram texts generally serve to comment either on a hexagram as a whole or a theme being developed in its constituent line texts, leading to conjecture that they probably were added to what must have been an early version of a Zhouyi-like divination manual when that work was still being compiled from a collection of ad hoc divination texts originally attached to the lines of early numeric gua.’

… so now you know. He also omits the texts for all lines changing in hexagrams 1 and 2.

The translation itself is mostly fine. Perhaps because he omitted the hexagram text, he doesn’t always translate the name of the hexagram, sometimes substituting his own impression of the hexagram’s theme (eg 45 as ‘Anxiety’ and 50 as ‘Political Power’). But the line texts are largely translated in a straightforward, character-by-character way, with anything unusual explained in his commentary and/or footnotes. If he chooses to follow something other than the received text (as in Hexagram 58, which follows the Mawangdui version and becomes ‘Expropriation’), he will acknowledge and explain this, which is helpful.

An unfortunate exception is 6.5, where he’s substituted ‘No good fortune’ for ‘Great good fortune’ (in both Chinese text and translation). He gives no explanation for this, and since the expression ‘no good fortune’ exists nowhere else in the text, this seems a pretty obvious mistake.

I wonder whether it was caused by his guiding principle that the line texts can be read as a single essay on different aspects of a single situation/principle. This isn’t a bad idea, on the whole – it’s certainly better than reading lines in isolation from their hexagram. Thus in Hexagram 3 amidst difficulties you need help, not to marry a bandit (he has wangled the translation of line 3 accordingly) and not to go it alone (line 4) nor attempt too much (5) or you’ll be forced to backtrack (6). In Hexagram 4, you see the progression from allowing the young ignoramus to make his own mistakes at line 1 to giving him responsibility for his own home at line 2. Thus all lines are conveying a variant of the same unexceptionable message, and there’s really no place for a line – like 6.5 – that’s different from the rest.

With the lines amalgamated into a single block, the interpretations become bland. Hexagram 54, for instance (‘Binding Relationships’) becomes a homily on how to behave in a relationship when you are in an inferior position. He goes through the lines in turn, concluding,

‘In fact, the most perfect of unions is not always the one in which you enjoy the highest status or rank (54/5). Not to understand this could well leave one with no real advantage (54/6).’

The moon almost full, the shining silk, the historic moment with its ripples spreading throughout the book, the bitter emptiness of line 6… all reduced to that.

This is frankly baffling: he’s translated the text, he knows the richness of history and culture behind it, and he’s gone to the trouble of researching and writing a book… doesn’t he find any of it even a little bit interesting?

The promised ‘novel metaphorical interpretations’ are largely uncontentious, but similarly unexciting. There are some ideas I haven’t seen before – for instance, that Hexagram 55’s abundance of ‘curtains, banners, screens and canopies’ is sufficient to block out the light, and such abundance ‘is sure to create enmity among others unless one has their trust.’ Most, though, are familiar. A dragon in flight is a creative person seeking recognition. Hexagram 2 is acquiescence. Marriage, he observes in an introductory chapter, could mean ‘asking for a collaborative relationship [help]’; his interpretation of the two marriage-related lines in Hexagram 4 is as follows:

‘True learning begins to occur only when a student is freed from such restraints (4/1), given responsibilities, and allowed to make decisions on his own – as happens when a man takes a wife and starts a family (4/2). Nevertheless, care should be taken to avoid stepping outside the bounds of correct behavior: choosing, for example, a person who will not make a good spouse (4/3).’

That’s all.

Elsewhere, he can see that marriage can be a metaphor for other human relationships, but that’s as far as it goes. There is nothing, for instance, about marriage as a way to forge alliances between clans, or the different kinds of change marriage represents for men and women.

Another effect of reading six lines as a unit: the advice they can offer tends to boil down to, ‘Knowing how to do it right is good, and getting it wrong is not.’ The first two lines of 60, for instance:

‘Knowing the proper limitations of one’s behavior, for example, when to step back from things and withdraw to the privacy of one’s own home (60/1), or when to proactively get involved in the outside world (60/2), is essential to success.’

No doubt. So how are we to know when, or what time it is? A few thousand years ago in China, someone came up with a quite elegant solution to this, but Fendos has a different one:

‘Those general patterns of line text imagery and the situations they represent can be adopted in the real world to deal with circumstances faced there, as a way of both explaining how those situations develop and how best to react to them, with the decision on which set(s) of line texts best fit being intertwined with the personal dynamic of the involved person as well as that person’s subjective understanding of a situation he/she is facing and his/her interpretation of the line texts used to explain it. (All, as Chapter 5 will show, outside of the divination process.)’

3. Method of use

To summarise: the person asking the question, or someone they talk to, chooses a hexagram that best represents how they see their situation. This is the ‘original’ hexagram. (They thus need to be familiar with all 64 to start with.)

An advisor offers a different choice of hexagram. This is a ‘changing’ hexagram and offers an alternative course of action.

Do not misinterpret this to mean we then highlight the line texts that differ between the two hexagrams, thus deriving a clear and specific message. No: we read the whole sad, trite, magnolia-washed interpretation for both.

He gives examples.

A woman wondering whether to leave her marriage ends up being advised that it depends on what’s more important to her, continuity and economic security, or a meaningful relationship. A politician wondering how far to go with negative campaigning thinks he should take a measured approach, and ends up being advised to do more or less that, with the added observation that politics is about power, and if he wins he can use his power to make it up to his opponents.

And so on. The advisor looks through the book for hexagrams that fit their personal opinion, and the resultant advice is soporific.

Summing up…

I think this is the first time I’ve ever published a review that simply says, ‘Don’t buy the book,’ and I did hesitate about this one. But I had sort-of promised a friend to review the book, and Fendos is a well-established academic so I can’t really do him any personal harm, and I might just save someone the price of the book, which is worth doing.

Mostly, though, I would like to shout from the rooftops that Yi is everything this book is not: rich, complex, beautiful, profound, exquisitely succinct and concentrated, startling, challenging, exciting. I’ll get back to doing that.

13 responses to Paul Fendos ‘Book of Changes’ review

  1. Thank you, Hilary. I can see that this has “got under your skin”. What your review describes is an example of a tendency that is becoming all too prevalent – we have forgotten what education is for. Academics (and various experts in different fields) seem to believe that their erudition guarantees their authority and that they can ‘ex-plain’ (sic) it to the rest of us. Sad. But at least we have “Clarity” and you, Hilary, burning bright for the rest of us and long may your spirit of excitement throw light into our dim ponderings.

    • Thank you, that’s very kind. Also, oh dear, is it that obvious about it getting under my skin? I suppose it is…

      I don’t think Fendos is perching on an academic pedestal and looking down on the rest of us – far from it. He’s quite open about finding some of his own interpretations more satisfying than others, in a rather endearingly self-deprecating way. But the book still leaves me with this strange mix of frustration, disappointment and bewilderment, because I don’t understand how an obviously intelligent, erudite man can fail to be completely gripped and fascinated by everything Yi does – with subtleties of metaphor, for instance, or the relationships created through changing lines and the meaning encoded there. Argh…

  2. Hello:

    I am glad to see people are interested in the Book of Changes. As I wrote this book, perhaps I can make a few comments, including some on Hilary’s comments.

    1. My historical and philosophical account of the Book of Changes is not all that thorough, just basic facts and some reliable deductions from them. It seems more or less correct, though some might call it thin for not going into greater detail.

    2. It seems OK to separate the Yin/Yang hexagram lines from Yin/Yang philosophy itself–which I assume Hilary is trying to do when she seems to say that odd/even numbers could also have been early Yin/Yang thought. This is a good point. However, I prefer to talk in terms of a Principle of Opposites, something found in Chinese grammar, the formation of Chinese words, the oracle bones, and many other elements of Chinese culture–and all of which seems to have coalesced into, or at least influenced the development of, Yin/Yang philosophy and everything that goes with it. This Principle of Opposites was around for centuries–if not a millennium–before Yin/Yang philosophy (or so I believe). And it definitely was a part of the Book of Changes (though I believe that the Yin/Yang, a more complex form of this Principle of Opposites, was not incorporated into the Book of Changes until relatively late).

    3. I was not too interested in Five Phases thought, except as it reflected the incorporation of correlative thought into the Book of Changes. However, there is a short introduction to it on p. 22, an introduction which is related to the Tables on the Pre-Han rulers and Five Phase Identities. Notes 5-8 for that chapter also introduce some additional elements of Five Phases thought, but that was all I wanted to say.

    4. It is fair to say that Hilary is correct in saying I do not see the Book of Changes, specifically the basic text (the Zhouyi), as she does. I do not see it as a rich, complex, beautiful, profound, exquisitely succinct and concentrated, startling, challenging, exciting work. In fact, I find the basic text to be enigmatic, vague, confusing, and contradictory–more like a puzzle than the profound writing that we might find with some of the early Daoist, Confucian, Mohist, and even Legalist philosophers. I find the Ten Wings to be much more philosophically interesting than the Zhouyi, though even with that I question how much of it we can really apply in this, the 21 century. Still, it gives us great insight into Chinese culture and I enjoy looking at it closely and trying to find some meaning that I can apply in my everyday life.

    5. And though I understand what Book of Changes divination is, Hilary is again correct in pointing out that I do not find it to be a reliable barometer of future events–which I point out in the book. In fact, I am more interested in seeing how we can use this book outside of any type of divination. So I have tried to create a handbook for change, something that is the starting point for those looking for the wisdom or knowledge of the Book of Changes, especially as concerns how the book can be used to help one maximize benefit and minimize harm in one’s everyday life (because if the Chinese are anything they are practical). I say starting point, because it is in adapting to one’s own life the 64 Interpretations introduced in the book that one can really begin the process of self-discovery that the Book of Changes makes possible. (Though one could also adapt the many yi li and xiangshu type explanations of line and hexagram texts found in other commentaries in such a way too).

    6. I am writing an article for Translation Quarterly tentatively titled Metaphorical Translation: The Book of Changes. It aims to compare what I am trying to do in my book with what James Legge, Richard Wilhelm, Geoffrey Redmond, Stephen Karcher, John Minford, and Edward Shaughnessy do when they translate/interpret the Zhouyi text materials. I have not yet finished, but hope to get it published sooner than later. It should show how different people approach the Book of Changes.

    I will stop by this I ching with Clarity site from time to time. If anyone has any questions on anything I have written in my book, or any other Book of Changes questions, I will try to offer some kind of answer (though it is fair to say I am not the final arbiter on such questions, and there are often no clearly correct answers–I would just offer my opinion).

    Paul Fendos

    • Hello Paul,

      Thank you for your kind, thoughtful response to the review – I appreciate it. If your article on translation can be made available outside academia, I for one would love to read it. I’m very interested to see Karcher in your list of translators.

      About yin/yang and Yi – my concern was that you seemed to identify the solid/broken lines as equivalent to yang/yin. Clearly that’s what they came to represent, but as far as I know (which is obviously not that far), those ideas aren’t present in the early Yi at all. What you say about a Principle of Opposites, though, gets my attention – and sounds like what I’ve encountered in the language and structure of the Yi. Could you recommend some further reading?

      To experience the excitement and challenge Yi offers, it most certainly helps to have conversations with it, ie to consult it as an oracle. This does not have to involve predicting the future: most experienced users find it more useful to ask about the present. (Confusing divination with prediction is not uncommon, but records of the earliest readings – with oracle bones or with Yi – largely show people asking not, ‘What will happen in future?’ but ‘What about doing this now?’ And with Yi it also becomes possible to ask, ‘What best to do, or how best to be, now?’ Prediction may happen as a side-effect, of course.)

      To have a sense of the Zhouyi as something beautiful, subtle and complex – as literature – you need to look at the whole book. That is, not just the text but also the gua they belong with and the network of relationships they create. A whole lot of the meaning is found not in that ‘enigmatic, vague and confusing’ text but in the relationships between the texts. When working with a line text, I suggest people ask questions like, ‘Why would this be the Treading moment of Opposing?’ (38.5 – an example that Bradford Hatcher points out where the zhi relationship is part of the meaning.) This kind of question is a lot easier to answer when you’re looking at a reading of your own, but can still be enlightening in isolation.

      (And then, as I’ve been saying in other posts, there are also two line changes that clearly describe the relationship between the two hexagrams they join. The more of these I notice, the more I wonder how much I’m still failing to see.)

      Of course, if you only look at line texts as installments of a single essay, instead of as descriptions of the unique moment when each hexagram line changes, all this is lost.

      Anyway, thank you for visiting and replying, and for the rash offer to answer questions!

  3. Dear Mr Fendos,

    reading your answer to Hillary I noticed one thing which from time to time I have met in highly erudite scholars of a specific subject or matter, so I’d like to express my point of view and see whether it has any consistency or not.

    But first of all let me say something important:

    1) I have no competence in I-Ching or in Chinese culture or language (even if I have read few things) and I can define myself quite objectively to be a real ignorant.

    2) My mastering of the English language is quite poor and specifically I am at loss in academic discussions.

    So I hope you will forgive me if I talk in a very rough way.

    It seems to me that all the scholars, especially those dealing in liberal arts, have their minds focused on abstractions, that is they have the tendency of separate (or abstract) their matter of study from reality or more plainly we should say from real life. Now is yin or yang only a philosophical/cultural concept or it points to some actual, concrete thing found in the material world? If it’s only a philosophical concept then you are perfectly legitimated in saying that:

    “This Principle of Opposites was around for centuries–if not a millennium–before Yin/Yang philosophy (or so I believe). And it definitely was a part of the Book of Changes (though I believe that the Yin/Yang, a more complex form of this Principle of Opposites, was not incorporated into the Book of Changes until relatively late). “

    But if on the other hand yin/yang philosophy is only a way to organize, explain and communicate about a quality that can be found everywhere in the world then it’s perfectly legitimate to talk about Yin/Yang in I-Ching.

    Of course we might have some difficulty here to define what a quality is, because quality seems something which eludes definition and philosophers have not found a conclusive answer if it’s something inherent to the material world or is just a psychological response. To me even a psychological response belongs to the “material” world (if only we knew what matter is! (:-), or we could say it’s an actuality. So, as a consequence to a peculiar training I have followed in the past, I’m used to consider Yin/yang an actuality just like other qualities which have great importance in human life. This actuality of course can be called with different names in different cultures or in different times, but it remains the same actuality even if we call it differently.


    • Hi Donato,

      Thanks for the comment!

      I think it’s quite possible to say both,

      1) Yin and yang are a fundamental reality in the world, so they are described by the Yi
      and also
      2) People didn’t begin to talk in terms of yin and yang – to develop this as a philosophy/metaphysics – until Han times, and Yi is much older.

      …just as you can say that gravity is as old as the universe, but was first described by Isaac Newton in whatever-year-it-was.

      Calling the solid and broken lines of the Yi ‘yang’ and ‘yin’ is simultaneously tremendously helpful as a way to understand their changes in real-life readings, and also anachronistic if you are talking about the ancient Yi and its original meanings. (Which is a whole different project from understanding a reading cast now, of course…)

  4. Hi Hilary,

    yes, of course I agree with what you say. From the academic point of view that is an anachronism, but I was talking from a practical or as a matter of fact view. As you rightly say: “Calling the solid and broken lines of the Yi ‘yang’ and ‘yin’ is simultaneously tremendously helpful as a way to understand their changes in real-life readings,”. That is exactly what I meant. After all I-Ching is about change and Yin/Yang theory is an inclusive and functional way to describe this change. Really I think we cannot do without it in understanding the I-Ching responses. Change is essentially a change in the quality of a phenomenon or a thing and yin/yang gives sense to this change. If we stick to calling the lines “solid and broken” it is not immediately clear why a broken like may turn to a solid one, while it’s perfectly understandable if you use yin/yang (granting you really know what that means). Yin turns into yang, and yang turns into yin: it’s a nature law. If I don’t remember wrong the terms Yin/yang originally meant the shady side of a mountain and the sunny side. From that it embraced a quantity of other meanings which can intuitively understood – like cold, warm – and that have in common the quality of being complimentary (beside being opposite) and indissolubly related to each other. You cannot have light without shadow and of course a place which is now in shade will be illuminated in few hours. All the sequences in I-Ching seem related to natural cycles like day and night or the four seasons and that is a clear and simple example of how yin turns into yang and yang turns into yin. Now when Alfred Huang says “It’s a yang element at a yang place” to explain why the solid line at the fifth place is central correct it does make sense once you know the meaning of yin/yang, while it has none if you stick to solid and broken. And the same thing can be valid with qualities like “noble/ignoble” or other moral or behavioural qualities which can be contained in the terms yin/yang.

    We can consider I-Ching as a product of a certain culture at a certain time as the scholars do, that is fine from an historical point of view, but we can also consider I-Ching as a way to explore human mind with all its associations, and the human mind is the same in every culture and every epoch.

    Yin/yang shows the capacity our mind has to create associations among a quantity of qualities which might seem unrelated at a first glance, so I found that it is a tremendous useful tool to understand an I-Ching response. To me is unthinkable not to use this tool and I do believe that the ancient people who first created I-Ching had to know all the associations implied in the terms yin/yang even if that words (maybe) didn’t existed at that time. As your poet said “A rose is a rose even if you call it with a different name”.

    Have a nice day,

    • I’m sorry that the site keeps putting your comments in moderation, Donato – I have no idea why it does that.

      Anyway, yes, I see your point completely. History is one thing; how the oracle actually works and communicates and describes the world is something else. I have always been very happy using a host of ‘anachronistic’ tools – whatever is part of Yi’s language now.

      Simply seeing lines as ‘solid’ or ‘open’ isn’t as elegant or as complete as yang/yin, but it’s still interesting. For instance, Bradford has pointed out that the hexagrams that mention the tortoise (27, 41, 42) are all isomorphic to its shell, with solid lines enclosing an empty space.

  5. Hello again:

    Just a few comments.

    1. The Principle of Opposites can be seen operating in oracle bones, but also the language and culture of China. Learning Chinese allows one to see this very well.

    2.Divination is not just about the future, but about the unknown, including the present. I move away from divination in my book, offering a beginning step with a relatively easy to adopt way of dealing with questions that relies more on an individual’s state of mind as it relates to any set of circumstance than on the chance hexagram or hexagram line resulting from counting yarrow stalks or flipping a coin.

    3. As for whether the Yin/Yang is part of Nature or read into it, take the four seasons. They are a result of the movement (and tilt on its axis) of the Earth in relation to the sun. Those kinds of things do not easily relate to the Yin/Yang. However, many things can be better understood as being opposites, some more so than others (male vs female a good example; hot vs. cold not such a good example [after all, hot and cold are relative terms].

    4. Donato, we have to remember that the basic text or Zhouyi originated as divination material, long before the Chinese were establishing any kind of correlative system to better understand the world. That does not mean one cannot today use the later Yijing correlative philosophy as it developed to better understand change in the world. Many do.

    5. Concerning the statement that some hexagrams are isomorphic to the tortoise shell, one must remember that the original hexagrams were numeric gua (actually written numbers) and the line texts were attached to them first. Any attempt to find the shape of a tortoise shell in those numeric gua would not be possible (suggesting that the original authors of the line texts had no such idea in mind). I like to think of such ways of viewing things as reaching a little too far for patterns that do not really exist. Also, tortoise shells were used in oracle bones, and yarrow stalks were used in Yijing divination.

    6. I may seem like a skeptic about many things, and I am. However, I believe there is some wisdom and knowledge that can be found in the Yijing, and my book is an attempt to offer a way one can begin to better understand or tap this wisdom and knowledge.

    Besides, life is good, as is the search for meaning in it.

    Paul Fendos

    • 1. The Principle of Opposites can be seen operating in oracle bones, but also the language and culture of China.

      …and in the language of the Yi (eg ‘going/coming’) and especially its structures: on a small scale, the hexagram pairs – and might we put the bigger patterns of mirroring under the same heading?

      2.Divination is not just about the future, but about the unknown, including the present…

      Yes, I think that puts it very well. Would it be fair to say that your work continues a practice we first see in the Zuozhuan – using the Yi to describe something one already knows well?

      3. As for whether the Yin/Yang is part of Nature or read into it, take the four seasons. They are a result of the movement (and tilt on its axis) of the Earth in relation to the sun. Those kinds of things do not easily relate to the Yin/Yang…

      …not if you ask yin/yang to provide a causal explanation, no. But as a description of the experience, it works very well.

      5. Concerning the statement that some hexagrams are isomorphic to the tortoise shell, one must remember that the original hexagrams were numeric gua (actually written numbers) and the line texts were attached to them first. Any attempt to find the shape of a tortoise shell in those numeric gua would not be possible (suggesting that the original authors of the line texts had no such idea in mind). I like to think of such ways of viewing things as reaching a little too far for patterns that do not really exist. Also, tortoise shells were used in oracle bones, and yarrow stalks were used in Yijing divination.

      Ah, yes. I do see your point. (Reaching too far for patterns that don’t really exist is an occupational hazard in working with Yi – has been since Han times, I think.) The hexagrams as we draw them now give an immediate sense of shape and dynamic flow that would be a lot harder to perceive in a series of numbers.

      And yet… there are only three mentions of the tortoise in the Zhouyi text, and they are in those three hexagrams. Coincidence? Perhaps.

      Besides, life is good, as is the search for meaning in it.


      Should you ever be tempted to try Yijing divination as part of that search, I’d be happy to help. Suspension of scepticism is certainly not required.

  6. Hello:

    The article that I promised dealing with my book (The Book of Changes: A Modern Adaptation and Interpretation) will soon be out. Titled “Metaphorical Translation: The Book of Changes,” it will be found in Translation Quarterly 92: pp. 70-122 (a Hong Kong Journal). I give the abstract below. Do note that the five authors mentioned in the abstract are Legge, Wilhelm, Shaughnessy, Karcher, and Minford.

    ABSTRACT: This article is an attempt to clarify the author’s approach to interpretation and translation as applied in his recently published book, The Book of Changes: A Modern Adaptation and Interpretation. It does so in two main steps. First, reference is made to metaphor theory, a perhaps under-appreciated tool for framing Book of Changes text materials—especially the line texts. Two new terms are introduced, ‘adaptative interpretation’ and ‘reverse adaptative interpretation,’ concepts which help demonstrate how the same text materials in the Book of Changes can at times be seen functioning both as tenor and vehicle. Emphasis is placed on showing how the line text materials can be read as vehicle, with an analysis provided of the author’s translation and interpretation of the line texts for Hexagram #15, Qian 謙 (Humility). This analysis aims to demonstrate one way to uncover underlying meanings or patterns of change in these materials. Second, a comparison of the author’s translations with those of the same line text materials by five other translators is carried out. The goal of such a comparison is to show how this author’s approach to translation and interpretation of Book of Changes text materials measures up to others in the field, with very general conclusions suggesting that the author’s position, like those others in the field, might best be understood within the context of 1) whether one sees the Zhouyi more as a divinatory text or as part of a philosophical canon, and 2) whether one approaches it from the perspective of a Traditionalist or a Modernist.

    Paul Fendos

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PO Box 6945,
United Kingdom

Phone/ Voicemail:
+44 (0)20 3287 3053 (UK)
+1 (561) 459-4758 (US).