Art Essays

The I Ching

Published March 20, 2019



The I Ching, or Book of Changes

Translated into German by Richard Wilhelm, and from the German by Cary Baynes

Princeton U.P., New Jersey

Hardback, 1997 (orig. 1950), 740 pp


It’s not every day you finish reading the I Ching. It’s probably a peculiar thing to read it from cover to cover as this most famous of the Chinese Classics is really a book of divination, an oracle to be consulted when one wishes to find out about the future. Beyond that it’s full of useful psychology, analysing the myriad circumstances of life and the appropriate actions one must take. At some stage I’ll play around with the fortune telling aspect, although with no great belief in its efficacy.

In the meantime, what can we take from the I Ching that relates to contemporary life? The striking aspect is the emphasis on character. To be fit to rule the ancient Chinese believed one must be a ‘superior man’, with impeccable moral credentials. Hence: “If a man would rule he must first learn to serve”. Alas, I can’t imagine Donald Trump poring ever the I Ching between tweets. There’s a warning too for the extreme nature of today’s politics: “To carry on conflict to the end has evil effects”.  There are also lines that sound like witticisms: “Even modesty can be carried too far”. And a memorable description of music as “a bridge to the world of the unseen’. As a reader one has to work pretty hard between such nuggets of wisdom, but if I’ve absorbed a little of the Confucian outlook the effort will have been worthwhile.