The Yȋ King
1. Confucius is reported to have said on one occasion, ‘If some years were added to my life, I would give fifty to the study of the Yî, and might then escape falling into great errors 1:1.’
There was a Yî in the time of Confucius. The utterance is referred by the best critics to the closing period of Confucius’ life, when he had returned from his long and painful wanderings among the States, and was settled again in his native Lû. By this time he was nearly seventy, and it seems strange, if he spoke seriously, that he should have thought it possible for his life to be prolonged other fifty years. So far as that specification is concerned, a corruption of the text is generally admitted. My reason for adducing the passage has simply been to prove from it the existence of a Yî King in the time of Confucius. In the history of him by Sze-mâ Khien it is stated that, in the closing years of his life, he became fond of the Yî, and wrote various appendixes to it, that he read his copy of it so much that the leathern thongs (by which the tablets containing it were bound together) were thrice worn out, and that he said, ‘Give me several years (more), and I should be master of the Yî 1:2.’ The ancient books on which Confucius had delighted to discourse with his disciples were those of History, Poetry, and Rites and Ceremonies 2:1; but ere he passed away from among them, his attention was much occupied also by the Yî as a monument of antiquity, which in the prime of his days he had too much neglected.
2. Khien says that Confucius wrote various appendixes to the Yî, specifying all but two of the treatises, which go The Yî is now made up of the Text which Confucius saw and the Appendixes ascribed to him by the name of the ‘Ten Appendixes,’ and are, with hardly a dissentient voice, attributed to the sage. They are published along with the older Text, which is based on still older lineal figures, and are received by most Chinese readers, as well as by foreign Chinese scholars, as an integral portion of the Yî King. The two portions should, however, be carefully distinguished. I will speak of them as the Text and the Appendixes.
3. The Yî happily escaped the fires of Žhin, which proved so disastrous to most of the ancient literature of China in The Yî escaped the fires of Žhin B. C. 213. In the memorial which the premier Lî Sze addressed to his sovereign, advising that the old books should be consigned to the flames, an exception was made of those which treated of ‘medicine, divination, and husbandry 2:2.’ The Yî was held to be a book of divination, and so was preserved.
In the catalogue of works in the imperial library, prepared by Liû Hin about the beginning of our era, there is an enumeration of those on the Yî and its Appendixes,--the books of thirteen different authors or schools, comprehended in 294 portions of larger or smaller dimensions 2:3. I need not follow the history and study of the Yî into the line of the centuries since the time of Liû Hin. The imperial Khang-hsî edition of it, which appeared in 1715, contains quotations from the commentaries of 218 scholars, covering, more or less closely, the time from the second century B. C. to our seventeenth century. I may venture to say that those 218 are hardly a tenth of the men who have tried to interpret the remarkable book, and solve the many problems to which it gives rise.
4. It may be assumed then that the Yî King, properly The Yî before Confucius, and when it was made so called, existed before Confucius, and has come down to us as correctly as any other of the ancient books of China; and it might also be said, as correctly as any of the old monuments of Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, or Latin literature. The question arises of how far before Confucius we can trace its existence. Of course an inquiry into this point will not include the portions or appendixes attributed to the sage himself. Attention will be called to them by and by, when I shall consider how far we are entitled, or whether we are at all entitled, to ascribe them to him. I do not doubt, however, that they belong to what may be called the Confucian period, and were produced some time after his death, probably between B.C. 450 and 350. By whomsoever they were written, they may be legitimately employed in illustration of what were the prevailing views in that age on various points connected with the Yî. Indeed, but for the guidance and hints derived from them as to the meaning of the text, and the relation between its statements and the linear figures, there would be great difficulty in making out any consistent interpretation of it.
(i) The earliest mention of the classic is found in the The Yî mentioned in the Official Book of Kâu Official Book of the Kâu dynasty, where it is said that, among the duties of ‘the Grand Diviner,’ ‘he had charge of the rules for the three Yî (systems of Changes), called the Lien-shan, the Kweî-žhang, and the Yî of Kâu; that in each of them the regular (or primary) lineal figures were 8, which were multiplied, in each, till the), amounted to 64.’ The date of the Official Book has not been exactly ascertained. The above passage can hardly be reconciled with the opinion of the majority of Chinese critics that it was the work of the duke of Kâu, the consolidator and legislator of the dynasty so called; but I think there must have been the groundwork of it at a very early date. When that was composed or compiled, there was existing, among the archives of the kingdom, under the charge of a high officer, ‘the Yî of Kâu,’--what constitutes the Text of the present Yî; the Text, that is, as distinguished from the Appendixes. There were two other Yî, known as the Lien-shan and the Kwei-žhang. It would be a waste of time to try to discover the meaning of these designations. They are found in this and another passage of the Official Book; and nowhere else. Not a single trace of what they denoted remains, while we possess ‘the Yî of Kâu’ complete 4:1.
(ii) In the Supplement of Žo Khiû-ming to ‘the Spring and Autumn,’ The Yî mentioned in the Žo Khwan there is abundant evidence that divination by the Yî was frequent, throughout the states of China, before the time of Confucius. There are at least eight narratives of such a practice, between the years B.C. 672 and 564, before he was born; and five times during his life-time the divining stalks and the book were had recourse to on occasions with which he had nothing to do. In all these cases the text of the Yî, as we have it now, is freely quoted. The ‘Spring and Autumn’ commences in B.C. 722. If it extended back to the rise of the Kâu dynasty, we should, no doubt, find accounts of divination by the Yî interspersed over the long intervening period. For centuries before Confucius appeared on the stage of his country, the Yî was well known among the various feudal states, which then constituted the Middle Kingdom 5:1.
1:1:1 Confucian Analects, VII, xvi.
1:1:2 The Historical Records; Life of Confucius, p. 12.
2:2:1 Analects, VII, xvii.
2:2:2 Legge’s Chinese Classics, I, prolegomena, pp. 6-9.
2:2:3 Books of the Earlier Han; History of Literature, pp. 1, 2.
4:4:1 See the Kâu Kwan (or Lî), Book XXIV, parr. 3, 4, and 27. Biot (Le Tcheou Lî, vol. ii, pp. 70, 71) translates the former two paragraphs thus: 'Il (Le Grand Augure) est préposé aux trois methodes pour les changements (des lignes divinatoires). La première est appelée Liaison des montagnes (Lien-shan); la seconde, Retour et Conservation (Kwei-žhang); la troisième, Changements des Kâu. Pour toutes il y a huit lignes symboliques sacrées, et soixante-quatre combinaisons de ces lignes.'
Some tell us that by Lien-shan was intended Fû-hsî, and by Kwei-žhang Hwang Tî; others, that the former was the Yî of the Hsiâ dynasty, and the latter that of Shang or Yin. A third set will have it that Lien-shan was a designation of Shăn Năng, between Fû-hsî and Hwang Tî. I should say myself, as many Chinese critics do say, that Lien-shan was an arrangement of the lineal symbols in which the first figure was the present 52nd hexagram, Kăn consisting of the trigram representing mountains doubled; and that Kwei-žhang was an arrangement where the first figure was the present 2nd hexagram, Khwăn consisting of the trigram representing the earth doubled,--with reference to the disappearance and safe keeping of plants in the bosom of the earth in winter. All this, however, is only conjecture.
5:5:1 See in the Žo Khwan, under the 22nd year of duke Kwang (B.C. 672); the 1st year of Min (1661); and in his 2nd year (660); twice in the 15th year of Hsî (645); his 25th year (635); the 12th year of Hsüan, (597); the 16th year of Khăng (575); the 9th year of Hsiang (564); his 25th year (548); the 5th year of Khâo (537); his 7th year (535); his 12th year (530); and the 9th year of Âi (486).
The Yî King, Sacred Books of the East Vol. 16; The Sacred Books of China, Vol. 2 of 6, Part II of The Texts of Confucianism, trans. James Legge. Oxford, the Clarendon Press .