Studying the I-Ching

Reading Schedule for the SDCF I-Ching Study Group

This is an outline of texts for our discussions in the SDCF I Ching reading group. It is meant to appeal to readers with varied backgrounds and disparate interests, and to provide a sense of coherence as a sort of roadmap for our series.

The outline is based upon a key distinction found in Redmond and Hon’s Teaching the I Ching— a division is historically drawn between those interpreters who favored an “image and number” method, as opposed to those who preferred a “meaning and principle” methodology. These poles, interpreted broadly, provide a conceptual clearing that may yield not just a means to distinguish clearly between competing methods of relating to this text in, but also helps us sift through contemporary treatments in such a manner that, either by alternating or combining contrasting methods each week, we can develop a syllabus that, while hardly claiming completeness, still might offer every participant something of value– a little exposure to new ways of thinking about the text, and a sample of several of the many different angles of approach that are available in the literature.

Our outline also represents an inclusive approach to learning that accords with ideas that underlie the mission of the SDCF. whose goals include encouraging the study of the Chinese Classics– not as relics of merely historical interest, nor as being the sole provenance of experts in a few privileged scholarly disciplines, but rather as a living source of inspiration and insight, applicable in the present and in the future, as well as the past, and as a resource that, while uniquely Chinese in origin, bear messages of global significance, and are a part of our shared inheritance as human beings– of all of China’s numerous gifts to the world, perhaps the greatest. Accordingly, our syllabus aims for a balance between Classical and Contemporary sources, as well as between “theoretical” and “practical” approaches; we have also made a point of respecting the validity of traditional academic viewpoints and expertise while welcoming some more “artistic” or “visionary” vantage points as well; what the latter may sometimes lack in rigor, they often make up through the insights they provide and the discussions they spark.

According to Redmond and Hon, there have traditionally been thought to be two competing camps when interpreting, teaching, and learning about the Yijing:“…in popular accounts of the history of the Yijing commentaries, it is said that there had been two opposing commentarial traditions over the 2,000 years of imperial China: the xiangshu (image and number) tradition of the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) and the yili (meaning and principle) tradition of the Song dynasty (960–1279). Also known respectively as the “Han Yi” 漢易(studies of the Changes of the Han dynasty) and the “Song Yi” 宋易(studies of the Changes of the Song dynasty), the two commentarial traditions are described as constantly competing with each other. The competition was so intense that only one commentarial tradition remained dominant at a given time.1 Redmond and Hon consider this traditional view too restrictive, if taken as a complete history of I Ching interpretation; it lacks the nuance to see that both the “image and number” and the “meaning and principle” approaches have coexisted in some form throughout history. Thus, though not as an ideology, but as organizing principles, perhaps this dichotomy can still provide a reliable trellis to support our investigation.  In the outline below, then, the terms ‘Han Yi’ and ‘Song Yi’ are intended as potentially useful reference points for orientation purposes, and not as rigid historical designators. 

Han Yi¹ (image and number tradition)song yi² (meaning and principle tradition)
Chronological approach to the textBeginning w/ the Ten Wings (received order)
A Cosmological orientationA Self-cultivation orientation
Han sees Nature as dictating man’s actions Following Wang Bi³ (Third Century), text is read from “the perspective of human agency” 
(What ARE relevant ‘virtues” in this view?)Relevant virtues include timeliness
[Presumably, a Han reading would reverse the Wang Bi evaluation of Hexagrams 63 & 64.]Example: “After completion” is ominous for Wang Bi, despite its apparent order, while “Before completion⁴” is promising, despite its “disorder.”
¹ See ch. 7 of Redmond & Hon for Han Yi.
² See ch. 8 of Redmond & Hon for Song Yi.
³ See Hon’s article on Wang Bi and Human Agency.
 ⁴ Author’s notes: “See Wang Bi’s essay “Ming gua shi bian tong yao” (Clarifying how the hexagrams correspond tochange and make the lines commensurate with it). For a translation of this essay, see Lynn 1994: 29–31.”

Using these ideas as a starting point, here is a proposed list of readings, as a work-in-progress.

Weeks 1 & 2: Introduction

General background on the divination in China
M. Loewe’s Divination and Oracles, Chapter 2: “China”
(pages 38-62)
R. Smith’s The I-Ching: A Biography, Chapter 2: “The History of Commentarial Tradition”
(pages 101-148)

Weeks 3 & 4: How to Consult the I-Ching

Practicetheory (classical)
Redmond’s How to consult the I-Ching (Chapter, 8 pages)- A straightforward & credible instruction
Chu Hsi’s “Introduction to the Study of the Classic of Change”–a relatively short monograph (ADLER, translator)

Weeks 5 & 6: How to Consult the I-Ching, continued

practicetheory (classical)
From Anthology of I Ching Chapter 2 (pages 37-71) – Advanced Divination (Yearly predictions, Specific questions, Further possible examples of advanced divination, Divination without the use of coins or yarrow stalks, A simple method for obtaining ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers)

Weeks 7-10: Two Traditional Approaches to Understanding⁵


B. Neilson’s A COMPANION TO YIJING NUMEROLOGY AND COSMOLOGY This reference textmay provide  useful information on many elements of our study, but it will be most helpful as a guide to  the ‘image & number’ aspects of I Ching interpretation.
Wang Bi’s THE GREAT COMMENTARY (DAZHUAN大傳) OR COMMENTARY ON THE APPENDED PHRASES (XICI  ZHUAN繫辭傳), (R. Smith). Cont’d / Begin WANG BI’s Hexagram- by- Hexagram gloss on the I Ching
R J Lynn’s Wang Bi (commentary only)

Recommended: “Chinese Philosophy of Change (Yijing)” by Tze-Ki Hon in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at this point in the course.
CONTEMPORARY– [For Han Yi]- From AN ANTHOLOGY OF I CHING  Anthology of I Ching Chapter 3 (pages 71-177) – Astrologies Related to the I Ching (Animal symbolism in Chinese Astrology, Nine House, or Star, astrology, Tzu Pin astrology, Tzu Wei astrology, Astrology of the I Ching, Tai-I Number astrology)

Carol Anthony’s little book, The Philosophy of the I Ching, is meant to appeal to a general audience, though it is grounded in rigorous study. Although the first part covers territory that will already have been touched upon in earlier sessions, chapters on “Superior and Inferior Personalities,” “The Sage/Student Relationship”, and “Self-Development” appeal to broader interests than just analysis of the text itself. 
⁵  If we want to go further in depth on these two approaches, we could spend two weeks reading chapters 3 and 5 of  R. Smith’s Fathoming the Cosmos, “Han Dynasty Approaches (57-88)” and “The Song Dynasty ( 112-159).”

Weeks 11-14: Going Deeper

WEEKS 11 AND 12:
WEEKS 13 and 14:
WANG BI’s Hexagram- by- Hexagram gloss on the I Ching
R J Lynn’s Wang Bi (commentary only), Cont’d /
On-Cho-Ng’s article RELIGIOUS HERMENEUTICS: TEXT AND TRUTH IN NEO-CONFUCIAN READINGS OF THE YIJING is a good piece of work and might interest historically-minded “critical thinkers” particularly.
From THE INNER STRUCTURE OF THE I CHING: THE BOOK OF TRANSFORMATIONS Chapters 10-18 (pages 45-88) Mathematically stunning arrangements w/ analysis by Anagarika Govinda (aka Ernst Lothar Hoffmann)  a self-described “Tibetan Lama” of German extraction. This work is fascinating to behold, and should inspire colorful conversations pro and contra.
A really good piece is 
As a window into how philosophers in the West appropriated the I Ching, the short article by E. Nelson called THE YIJING AND PHILOSOPHY: FROM LEIBNIZ TO DERRIDA isa  good, manageable resource.

Weeks 15: Conclusion

(to be decided)

Reference Texts for Ongoing Consultation

☯ [SOME VERSION OF THE CORE TEXT THAT WE CAN ALL AGREE ON- perhaps G. Redmond’s The I Ching (Book of Changes)- A Critical Translation of the Ancient Text would work? For a version based on the latest archaeological evidence, I don’t know who to recommend.]
☯  B. Neilson’s A Companion to Yijing Numerology and Cosmology
☯  As a reference source, we should have this available continually. D. Bernardo’s YiJing (I Ching) Chinese/English Dictionary with  Concordance and Translation  (Full text.)
☯  As a continual resource, w/ an “ARTISTIC” approach, P. O’Brien’s  The Visionary I Ching: A Book of Changes for Intuitive Decision Making might possibly be of some use, due to the exposition in modern terms of each hexagram. (Full text).]

Call for Submissions: Looking for stories on Chinese classics

The Sinological Development Charitable Foundation (SDCF) aims to further worldwide awareness and knowledge of Chinese culture and civilization and to enhance the role of Greater China as a major platform for the global promotion of Sinology. It was founded in 2013 by Dr. Elizabeth Woo Li. Since 2016 Dr. Woo Li has organized a yearly Summer Program. 

For an upcoming project, SDCF is looking for stories in Chinese classics that can be made into educational video games. We are looking for stories with strong teaching points for youth learning in Chinese studies that can further understanding of Chinese culture and heritage. Interested participants must be prepared to teach and explain the learning points and teaching methods of selected stories.

If interested, please send a story, learning points and reasons for selection to us at More details on the project to follow.  

We’ll keep you posted on the latest events, updates and news.