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Reviewed by:
  • The Essentials of the Yi Jing
  • Stephen L. Field (bio)
Chung Wu . The Essentials of the Yi Jing. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2003. lxix, 566 pp. Hardcover $24.95, ISBN 1-55778-827-8.

The Essentials of the Yi Jing is a new annotated translation of the Yijing, or Book of Changes, by Chung Wu, Ph.D., who was "privately tutored in the classics of Chinese literature," according to his publisher. It is a complete translation, including separate chapters on five of the Ten Wings: "Treatise on the Appended Words, Parts I and II" (chapters 1 and 2), "Treatise on the Discourses on the Trigrams" (chapter 3), "Treatise on the Sequence of the Hexagrams" (chapter 5 ), and "Treatise on the Non-Sequence of the Hexagrams" (chapter 6). The remaining five wings—"Treatise on the Judgments of the Hexagrams, Parts I and II," "Treatise on the Symbolism, Parts I and II," and "Treatise on the Elaboration of the Words"—are incorporated into the translation of the hexagram-and-lines texts (what Wu calls the "Yi Jing proper"), all of which forms chapter 4 of the book. In addition, there is a substantial Introduction, an Appendix of tables and charts, a Glossary, and an Index.

Literality is not the goal of Essentials. In the opening paragraph of the Preface readers may be surprised to learn of the author's apparent disregard for the literal meaning of the text:

For reasons indicated therein, the text was written largely in metaphors and euphemisms derived from images assigned to the pictographs (trigrams and hexagrams). There are links, of course, between the messages in the text and the images used for the metaphors and euphemism. Therefore, the literal meaning of text may not be the message.

(p. xiii)

In other words, the message that the reader should seek in this book is not the literal meaning of the text, which is a symbolic language of metaphor and euphemism. [End Page 198] Based as it is on trigram and hexagram imagery, literal meaning is always secondary to what Chung Wu idiosyncratically calls the "lineal pictographs" (p. xviii).

In his Introduction, he elaborates further:

Without the lineal pictographs, there can be no Yi Jing. What the lineal pictographs mean to us is the things, the attributes, and the ideas they represent. To interpret these symbols judiciously is the most important step in understanding the text.

(p. xxxvi)

It is therefore the author's duty to reveal the links that will enable the reader to move from the symbol to what is being symbolized. In his own words, he will provide the tools that are "essential in revealing how the literal meaning of a given passage can give rise to its true meaning" (p. xiii).

These tools are actually various manipulations of the graphic trigrams and hexagrams. Wu believes that "a study of the meanings of the 64 gua (hexagrams) and the 384 yao [lines] and their interrelationships forms the essence of the Yi Jing" (p. xix). The crucial term here is interrelationships:

A given hexagram not only is related to, but also can change into certain other hexagrams. The changes are governed by a number of rules of operation, such as complementarity, antiparallelism and derivation. . . . No doubt the writers of the Yi Jing had these relationships in mind. In other words, the pictographs had served as a blueprint for writing the original text. Hence, to gain a full knowledge of a passage under a given hexagram, it is often not enough to look at what that hexagram represents, but what other related hexagrams represent as well.

(p. xxxviii)

Fully convinced that "true meaning" is inexplicable without knowing the blueprint the writers used to construct their work, Chung Wu is shocked that "the various mathematical, structural, transformational, and dualistic tools" have been neglected by previous English translators, and believes that he has "the duty of stepping in to set things in proper perspective so that discerning readers will not be disfranchised" (p. lix).

Translators such as James Legge and Richard Wilhelm did not delve far into the arcana of symbolic encoding that had attached to the Yijing in its two-thousand-year history of commentary. These...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 198-205
Launched on MUSE
2005-01-18
Open Access
No
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