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I Ching


The I Ching (易經 pinyin yi4 jing1; alternately I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King), the "Book of Changes" or more accurately "Classic of Change", is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts.

It describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy which is at the heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change. See the Philosophy section below for more.

The book is also known as Zhou Yi (周易 zhou1 yi4; alternately Chou I), the "Changes of Zhou", in ancient Chinese literature which indicates the book was based on work from Zhou Dynasty. See the History section below for more.

In the Western cultures, it is known mostly as a system of divination.

Table of contents
1 Structure
2 Philosophy
3 History
4 Divination
5 External links and references


The I Ching symbolism is embodied in a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams (卦 gua4). These are each comprised of six horizontal lines (爻 yao2); each line is either unbroken (a solid line), or broken (an open line with a gap in the centre). With six such lines stacked in each hexagram, there are 26 or sixty-four possible combinations and thus sixty-four hexagrams.

Each hexagram represents a process, a change happening at the present moment. To further express this, it is possible for one, many or all of the lines to be determined to be moving lines, i.e. their polarity is in the process of reversal and thus the meaning of the hexagram radically altered.

Note that because the lines in the hexagrams are traditionally determined by biased random-number generation procedures, the 64 hexagrams are not equiprobable if generated in these ways.

Components of Hexagrams

The solid line represents yang, the masculine, creative principle. The open line represents yin, the feminine, receptive principle. These principles are also represented in a common circular symbol (☯), called Tai Ji, but more commonly known in the west as yin-yang (陰陽), expressing the idea that everything contains its opposite.

In the following lists, the trigrams and hexagrams are represented using a common textual convention: horizontally from left to right, using '|' for yang and ':' for yin. Note, though, that the normal diagrammatic representation is to show the lines stacked vertically, from bottom to top (i.e. to visualize the actual trigrams or hexagrams, rotate the text counterclockwise 90°).

Each hexagram can be considered composed of two trigrams (卦 gua4) of three lines each. There are eight possible trigrams (八卦 ba1 gua4).

  1. ||| Force (☰ 乾 qian2) = heaven (天)
  2. ::: Field (☷ 坤 kun1) = earth (地)
  3. |:: Shake (☳ 震 zhen4) = thunder (雷)
  4. :|: Gorge (☵ 坎 kan3) = water (水)
  5. ::| Bound (☶ 艮 gen4) = mountain (山)
  6. :|| Ground (☴ 巽 xun4) = wind (風)
  7. |:| Radiance (☲ 離 li2) = fire (火)
  8. ||: Open (☱ 兌 dui4) = swamp (澤)

The first three lines, the lower trigram, are seen as the inner aspect of the change that is occurring. The upper trigram, the last three lines, are the outer aspect. The change described is thus the dynamic of the inner (personal) aspect relating to the outer (external) situation. Thus, hexagram 04 :|:::| Enveloping, is composed of the inner trigram :|: Gorge, relating to the outer trigram ::| Bound.

The Hexagrams

The text of the I Ching describes each of the 64 hexagrams, and later scholars added commentaries and analyses of each one; these have been subsumed into the text comprising the I Ching.

The hexagrams, though, are mere mnemonics for the philosophical concepts embodied in each one. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change.


The ambient and dualistic nature taoist thought matches with the nuances of binary possibility within each line of hexagrammatic representation.

Another view holds that the I Ching is a Confucianist document. This view is based upon the following:

Both views may induce that I Ching is at heart of Chinese thought, feeding together its Confucianist and Taoist sides. Partly forgotten because of the rise of Chinese Buddhism during Tang dynasty, the I Ching came back in thinkers focus during the Song dynasty with confucianism regeneration, known in the West as Neo-Confucianism. This book, unquestionnably an ancient Chinese scripture, helped Song Confucians thinkers to synthesize Buddhist vacuity and Taoist voidness and Confucian positivism into a new kind of cosmogony, that could be linked to the said lost Tao of Confucius and Mencius.


It was believed that the principle of I Ching was originated from Fu Hsi (伏羲 Fu2 Xi1). He was one of earliest legendary rulers (2852 BC-2738 BC), reputed to discover the trigrams (八卦 ba1 gua4). Before Zhou Dynasty, there were other literature on the "Change" philosophy, e.g. Lian Shan Yi (『連山易』 Lian2 Shan1 Yi4) and Gui Cang Yi (『歸藏易』 Gui1 Cang2 Yi4). The philosophy heavily influenced the literature and government administration of the Zhou Dynasty. It was refined over time and I Ching was completed around the time of Han Wu Di (漢武帝 Han4 Wu3 Di4) in Han Dynasty (circa 200 BC).

(NOTE: In the past 50 years a "Modernist" history of the Yijing has been emerging, based on context criticism and research into Shang and Zhou dynasty oracle bones, as well as Zhou bronze inscriptions. This reconstructed and more scholarly history is dealt with in a handful of books, such as "The Mandate of Heaven: Hidden History in the I Ching", by S J Marshall, Columbia University Press, 2001, and Richard Rutt's "Zhouyi: The Book of Changes" from Curzon Press, 1996. Scholarly PhDs dealing with the new view of the Book of Changes include the dissertations by Richard Kunst and Edward Shaughnessy. When talking about the history of the Book of Changes it is important to distinguish between the traditional but anachronistic history passed down over the centuries and the more recent scholarly history. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but, for instance, Modernist scholars doubt the actual existence of Fuxi, think Confucius had nothing to do with the Book of Changes, and that the hexagrams came before the trigrams.)


The process of consulting the oracle involves determining the hexagram by some random method, and then reading the I Ching text associated with that hexagram.

Each line of a hexagram determined with these methods is either stable ("young") or changing ("old"); thus, there are four possibilities for each line, corresponding to the cycle of change from yin to yang and back again:

Once a hexagram is determined, each line has been determined as either changing (old) or unchanging (young). Since each changing line is seen as being in the process of becoming its opposite, a new hexagram can be formed by transposing each changing yin line with a yang line, and vice versa. Thus, further insight into the process of change is gained by reading the text of this new hexagram and viewing it as the result of the current change.


Several of the methods use a randomising agent to determine each line of the hexagram. These methods produce a number, which corresponds to the numbers of changing or unchanging lines discussed above, and thus determine each line of the hexagram.

Cracks on turtle shell

The turtle shell oracle is probably the earliest record of fortune telling. The bottom of a turtle shell was roasted in fire. The resulting cracks were interpreted for divination. The cracks were annotated with inscriptions which are considered the oldest Chinese writings discovered.

Actually the oracle predated the Book of I Ching by over 1000 years. Some oracles unearthed dated back to 1200 BC. The writings on them were already highly developed which indicated that there may be much older oracles to be found. See History section.

Yarrow stalks

The following algorithm is traditionally used to generate biased random numbers for the I Ching using yarrow stalks:

This is the most common "traditional" method for casting a hexagram. Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are as follows:


This is the most common "quick" method for casting a hexagram. Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are as follows:


This method is a recent innovation, designed to be quick like the coin method, while giving the same probabilities as the yarrow stalk method.

Using this method, the probabilities of each type of line are the same as the distribution of the colours, as follows:

Rice grains

For this method, either rice grains, or small seeds are used.

One picks up a few seeds between the middle finger and thumb. Carefully and respectfully place them on a clean sheet of paper. Repeat this process six times, keeping each cluster of seeds in a separate pile --- each pile represents one line. One then counts the number of seeds in each cluster, starting with the first pile, which is the base line. If there is an even number of seeds, then the line is yin, otherwise the line is yang --- except if there is one seed, in which case one redoes that line.

One then asks the question again, and picks up one more cluster of seeds. Count the number of seeds you have, then keep subtracting six, until you have six seeds or less. This gives you the number of the line that specifically represent your situation. It is not a moving Line. If you do not understand your answer, you may rephrase the question, and ask it a second time.

Calligraphy brush strokes

Moment of birth

See also: Flag of South Korea

External links and references