The Book of Changes

The featured photo on this page is a picture of my ancient, tattered, dearly loved, original first copy of the Chinese classic book the Yi Jing.  The Yi Jing is a divinatory oracle, a book of advice, a reading of the lay of the land, a text which despite it’s 3000 plus age is uncanningly accurate.  The Yi Jing responds to a question by describing a situation ( in terms  relevant to the ancient Chinese) – it captures the essence of the time or situation, and describes its movement into another moment.

WordPress Photo Challenge this week is MOTION.

There’s motion in photographs. There’s motion in books. Well, a book.

Actually, that should be THE book – The Book of Changes.

The Yi Jing ( previously phoneticised as the I Ching) is a ancient divination text which is based on 64 hexagrams and changing, or moving, lines.


Hexagram 1, Qian ( Chien) changes into


Heagram 2, Kun … that’s if all the lines are moving lines.

When one consults the Yi Jing, the answer comes in the form of a hexagram, usually with moving lines. it is precisely the change which is inherent in life, nature, and the Yi Jing that is captured by this ancient 经 jing, or Classic Text ( or even ‘bible’) that gives an assessement of the situation.

The   八卦 bagua   are the Eight Trigrams, which in their many combinations form the 64 hexagrams. The sequence of change of the hexagrams was orginally coded, as myth has it, by the legendary Fu Xi, and King Wen of the Zhou dynasty reordered them into the “King Wen sequence”. King Wen had a nephew, who was regent to his son after his death. The nephew was none other than Zhou Gong, our Duke of Zhou, who regular readers to this blog may recall. The Duke of Zhou is said to have written the commentary to the moving lines.

Wen Wang, King Wen of Zhou. photograph from

The Yi Jing has spawned many commentaries, starting from Zhou Gong himself and continuing throughout China’s long history, now supplemented by an incredible diversity of English language translations, commentaries, and retakes.

Before you start wondering what an ancient Chinese book might have to do with the meaning of life, the universe and everything ( if you don’t already know from reading Douglas Adams that the answer is simpy 42), consider the following:

1. Famous people from Bob Dylan, physicist Niels Bohr,  writers from  Phillip Dick to Herman Hesse, musicians from hiphop artists  to Pink Floyd have used the Classic, wrote and sung about it, and generally been influenced by it. George Harrsion reportedly saw the phrase “gently weeps” after he opened a copy of the Yi Jing and then wrote his famous song While My Guitar Gently Weeps…

2. The Yi Jing  in modern times has been assessed as the world’s greatest book on pyschology, a work of high mathematics, compared to the structure of DNA and used by scientists, painters and authers.

3. Carl Jung used the Yi Jing as reference when he developed his theory of synchroninity. Later some have called it the world’s greatest text on psychology. Earlier Chinese commentators referred to it as a “mirror on  the human mind”.

4.The Yi Jing  is related to the principle of Binary Numbers. Song Dynasty scholar Shao Yong developed this concept and German mathematician Gottfried Leibnitz developed similiar theories of binary numbers and their relation to the  Yi Jing in the 17th Century.

5. the Yi Jing  hexagrams are not linear, they are understood to be multidimensional, and have been compared – in serious scientific studies – to the structure of DNA and correlated with amino acids.

6. Many of the obscure images in the Yi  are now known to have been direct references to historical fact. Astronomical events such as solar eclipses, sunspots, and comets are said to be referenced in the text. Some scholars also correlate the moving lines with historical battles or incidents in the rise of the Zhou dynasty.

7 . Whilst most people who commentate upon it profess not to understand it, cynics inevitably come under its spell. Writer Will Buckingham dismissed it, until he found himself travelleing through China and writing a novel based on its hexagrams.

8 Whilst western culture has exploded with diverse retakes, re-translating it from various perspectives,  Chinese creatives have reinvented it in a huge art installation in Beijing’s Water Cube.

The Yi Jing encaptures the spirit of the moment, and its motion into new movements.

As many who have communed with it, it can be unerringly accurate.

There are many online sites to question the oracle. I chose this one, and asked for a hexagram for this post on Spaceship China. I got this:

Done tossing!

Your Question:

for the blog spaceship china

The Answer:

Hexagram 57

The Gentle (The Penetrating, Wind)

View Text

clicking on view text, i got this:

Winds following one upon the other.
Xùn (The Gentle, Wind, Wood) above, Xùn (The Gentle, Wind, Wood) below.
The Judgment Xùn intimates that (under the conditions which it denotes) there will be some little attainment and progress. There will be advantage in movement onward in whatever direction. It will be advantageous (also) to see the great man.
The double Xùn shows how, in accordance with it, (governmental) orders are reiterated.(We see that) the strong (fifth line) has penetrated into the central and correct place, and the will (of its subject) is being carried into effect; (we see also) the weak (first and fourth lines) both obedient to the strong lines (above them). It is hence said, ‘There will be some little attainment and progress. There will be advantage in movement onward in whatever direction. It will be advantageous also to see the great man.’
(Two trigrams representing) wind, following each other, form Xùn. The superior man, in accordance with this, reiterates his orders, and secures the practice of his affairs.

Hope that this brings you on a journey within the magical and wondrous mystery which is the Yi Jing!