Texts have lives. They grow, travel, transform, fade, and are reborn into new and other lives. In The I Ching: A Biography
(Princeton University Press, 2012), Richard J. Smith
has given us a wonderfully readable (and assignable, and shareable, and enjoyable) life of one of the most important texts in Chinese history.
In early chapters describing the origins of and mythology surrounding the Yijing (or I Ching, or Book of Changes, or Classic of Changes, among other names by which we know the text), Smith also introduces us to the intricacies and beauty of the text's language, and some surprising ways that it engages the histories of animal sacrifice and natural history. We watch as the text metamorphoses from a primarily divinatory to a rhetorical organism, seeing it grow Wings (Ten Wings, in particular) and mature into a classic, moving into and out of relationships with various commentators and analysts, emperors and officials, scholars and fortune tellers soon after. Smith offers tales of the text's travels in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet, and its translation into Western languages. He describes some of the many ways that the text was reborn in the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s, by writers and musicians and myriad artists and scholars. It is a fascinating life story, and one well worth reading.
In the course of the interview, Rich mentions this piece
for the Huffington Post:
His book Mapping China and Managing the World: Culture, Cartography, and Cosmology in Late Imperial Times
can be found here.
For more of Rich's thoughts on the Yijing, see his 2008 book Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World: The Yijing (I-Ching, or Classic of Changes) and Its Evolution in China.