The

The "I Ching": A Biography

by Richard J. Smith
     
 

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The I Ching originated in China as a divination manual more than three thousand years ago. In 136 BCE the emperor declared it a Confucian classic, and in the centuries that followed, this work had a profound influence on the philosophy, religion, art, literature, politics, science, technology, and medicine of various cultures throughout East Asia. Jesuit

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Overview

The I Ching originated in China as a divination manual more than three thousand years ago. In 136 BCE the emperor declared it a Confucian classic, and in the centuries that followed, this work had a profound influence on the philosophy, religion, art, literature, politics, science, technology, and medicine of various cultures throughout East Asia. Jesuit missionaries brought knowledge of the I Ching to Europe in the seventeenth century, and the American counterculture embraced it in the 1960s. Here Richard Smith tells the extraordinary story of how this cryptic and once obscure book became one of the most widely read and extensively analyzed texts in all of world literature.

In this concise history, Smith traces the evolution of the I Ching in China and throughout the world, explaining its complex structure, its manifold uses in different cultures, and its enduring appeal. He shows how the indigenous beliefs and customs of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet "domesticated" the text, and he reflects on whether this Chinese classic can be compared to religious books such as the Bible or the Qur'an. Smith also looks at how the I Ching came to be published in dozens of languages, providing insight and inspiration to millions worldwide—including ardent admirers in the West such as Leibniz, Carl Jung, Philip K. Dick, Allen Ginsberg, Hermann Hesse, Bob Dylan, Jorge Luis Borges, and I. M. Pei. Smith offers an unparalleled biography of the most revered book in China's entire cultural tradition, and he shows us how this enigmatic ancient classic has become a truly global phenomenon.

Editorial Reviews

The Guardian

Smith's fascinating history of what he usually calls the Yijing—around 3,000 years old; first sanctioned by the Chinese state as a classic in 136 BCE—traces its influence on western artists such as Philip K Dick, Raymond Queneau, John Cage (who composed aleatory music with its help) and Jorge Luis Borges, as well as its enthusiastic reception by scientists (Leibniz saw in it his binary system confirmed), and its hermeneutic and political history in China itself.
— Steven Poole

Macleans Magazine

Foreigners, even foreign devotees—and they have been legion over the centuries—find The Classic of Changes fundamentally hard to engage with. . . . As Smith demonstrates, in a rather premature 'biography,' the Yijing remains vibrantly alive.
— Brian Bethune

Magonia Review of Books

[F]or its material on the (ironically) obscure history of a well-known text, it is to be highly recommended.
— Gareth J. Medway

Choice
Smith's book succeeds admirably in making the history and importance of this esoteric and enigmatic classic accessible and understandable to a wide audience. A must read for anyone interested in fathoming 'the Way' (Tao/Dao) in ancient China.
Los Angeles Review of Books
Smith's book demonstrates that if the Book of Changes is anything, it is alive.
— James Carter
Los Angeles Review of Books - James Carter
Smith's book demonstrates that if the Book of Changes is anything, it is alive.
Tablet - Jon Sweeney
His biography is, at every turn, full of scholarship.
From the Publisher
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012

"Smith's book succeeds admirably in making the history and importance of this esoteric and enigmatic classic accessible and understandable to a wide audience. A must read for anyone interested in fathoming 'the Way' (Tao/Dao) in ancient China."Choice

"Smith's book demonstrates that if the Book of Changes is anything, it is alive."—James Carter, Los Angeles Review of Books

"His biography is, at every turn, full of scholarship."—Jon Sweeney, Tablet

"One of the advantages to this book is Smith's prose; not only is it clear and accessible, but he writes in a way that brings the material to life. He is an engaging writer. . . . This 'biography' of the Yijing is an attractive and thorough resource. It should prove to be a useful addition to any library (academic or not) and a valuable help in any high school or college courses that incorporate study of the Yijing in any classroom context."—Robert Steed, Education About Asia

"[N]ever before in English has the substance of this vital text been explicated with such transparency, lucidity, and—on balance—objectivity. However, even in charitably demystifying it, Smith has simultaneously retained and even enhanced the compelling attraction of this ever-tantalizing essentialist work for the would-be initiated. Such is a balancing act deftly executed, for which we should commend the author lavishly."—Don J. Wyatt, Journal of Chinese Religions

"Smith's biography does what an introduction should do: encourage the reader to want to know more and provide a smooth over-arching conceptual framework, in economic fashion, through which one may understand the details. It would, therefore, be a helpful tool in a university course on Eastern or World religions and is highly recommended."—Stephanie L. Derrick, Relegere

"Smith offers an unparalleled biography of the most revered book in China's entire cultural tradition, and he shows us how this enigmatic ancient classic has become a truly global phenomenon."—RSR, Buddhism Now

"This work serves both as a sinologically sound exposition of East Asia's Yijing, and a fearless foray into the West's endless fixations on the Yi's malleable meanings."—Russell Kirkland, Religious Studies Review

"To all [I Ching] aficionados and many others, Richard J. Smith's book, The I Ching: A Biography, will be usefully informative."—Yu Liu, European Legacy

Library Journal
Smith (humanities, Rice Univ.; Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World) adds a welcome volume to Princeton's ambitious series. Most writing on the hexagrams of the I Ching, however well intentioned, is either too abstruse or too enthusiastic for the Western or nonexpert reader. Smith approaches the I Ching from the perspective of its history, development, and interpretation, creating perhaps the most interesting book in English about this Chinese classic. VERDICT Essential for academic libraries, this also makes a first-rate introduction to Chinese spirituality for nonacademic readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691145099
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
03/25/2012
Series:
Lives of Great Religious Books Series
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
1,200,005
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.10(d)

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Meet the Author

Richard J. Smith is the George and Nancy Rupp Professor of Humanities and professor of history at Rice University. His many books include Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World: The Yijing (I-Ching, or Classic of Changes) and Its Evolution in China.

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