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Introduction to the Online Edition

James Legge (1815-97) was a Scottish missionary who lived for many years in China and prepared translations of the major Chinese classics, including one of the earliest English translations of the I Ching, first published in 1882. Legge's translation is widely available in both printed editions (from Dover Publications) and online text (at the Sacred Texts website).

This edition is designed to make Legge's work more accessible without attempting to update or correct his original ideas. The chief feature of this edition is that the commentaries have been integrated with each hexagram description for ease of use.

Legge himself deliberately avoided this approach, because he wished to clearly distinguish the different layers of the I Ching:

  • The original text, commonly known as the Zhouyi, or Changes of Zhou, which consists of the hexagram and line judgments.
  • The later commentaries, called the Shi Yi, or Ten Wings. These were long attributed to Confucious, but are now generally thought to have been written by later followers of his.

Modern Sinologists emphasize this distinction even more than Legge did, arguing that many terms in the hexagram and line statements changed meaning between the time it was written and the time of the Ten Wings. (For more on such issues, refer to Zhouyi: The Book of Changes by Richard Rutt and Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World by Richard J. Smith.)

Legge was working too early to avail himself of these modern discoveries, so his translation of the hexagram and line statements probably does not reflect many of their original meanings. He is more successful at capturing what the I Ching came to mean to later users, and from that point of view his translation still has value. Legge's edition is also unusually complete, because it includes the text of all Ten Wings, which are seldom fully included in popular editions of the I Ching.

Depending on your attitude toward the I Ching, Legge's commentary can also be quite interesting because he points out the apparent inconsistencies and gaps in traditional interpretations. While his remarks are often disrespectful, they are also frequently thought-provoking.

However, Legge's organization of the material is a mixed blessing. In themselves, the original hexagram and line statements are often cryptic and archaic in their symbolism. If you have any interest in the various Ten Wings commentaries on a particular hexagram or line, Legge's version obligates you to flip through several appendixes to find the relevant portions and then collate them in your head. Then it takes additional work to locate Legge's footnotes for each passage.

The point of this reorganized edition of Legge's text is to save the reader from all that page-flipping and jumping around. However, it is equally important to identify the source of each piece of text. Within each hexagram description, the sources are identified by the following headings or labels:

Thwan, or Overall Judgment (Attributed to King Wan)

The judgment itself is presented in bold type. The judgment comes from the Zhouyi, the original text of the oracle. Modern editions refer to this as the Gua Ci.

Here and in all the later sections, any comments by James Legge are preceded by the label [Legge].

Comments on the Thwan

The text in this portion comes from Appendix 1, which Legge calls 'Treatise on the Thwan, or king Wan's Explanations of the entire Hexagrams.' Modern editions refer to this appendix as the Tuan Zhuan, or the 1st and 2nd Wings.

Explanation of the Sentences

The text in this portion comes from Appendix 4, which Legge calls 'Supplementary to the Thwan and Yao on the first and second Hexagrams, and showing how they may be interpreted of man's nature and doings.' Modern editions refer to this appendix as the Wen Yan Zhuan, or the 7th Wing.

Great Symbolism

The text in this portion comes from Appendix 2, which Legge calls 'Treatise on the Symbolism of the Hexagrams, and of the duke of Kau's Explanations of the several Lines.' Modern editions refer to this text as the Da Xiang, which comes from portions of the 3rd and 4th Wings.

Line Statements (Attributed to the Duke of Kau)

The original line statement itself is presented in bold type. The line statement comes from the Zhouyi, the original text of the oracle. Modern editions refer to this text as the Yao Ci.

Under each Line Statement can appear text with these labels:

[Smaller Symbolism]
The text in this paragraph comes from Appendix 2, which Legge calls 'Treatise on the Symbolism of the Hexagrams, and of the duke of Kau's Explanations of the several Lines.' Modern editions refer to this text as the Xiao Xiang, which comes from portions of the 3rd and 4th Wings.

[Great Appendix]
The text in these paragraphs comes from Appendix 3, which Legge calls 'The Great Appendix.' Modern editions refer to this appendix as the Da Zhuan, which consists of the 5th and 6th wings.

[Explanation of the Sentences]
The text in these paragraphs come from Appendix 4, which Legge calls 'Supplementary to the Thwan and Yao on the first and second Hexagrams, and showing how they may be interpreted of man's nature and doings.' Modern editions refer to this appendix as the Wen Yan Zhuan, or the 7th Wing.

Legge's comments were originally footnotes, and are here indented under the paragraphs to which they refer.

The hexagram descriptions here do not include any text from the following appendixes, which do not lend themselves to this scheme:

Several other features have been included to make this edition more accessible to the modern reader:

  • A Quick Reference to Hexagrams by Component Trigrams table is included at the start.
  • Translations are appended to the hexagram names, which Legge originally left untranslated. I have inferred Legge's understanding of the hexagram names from his notes and from the places where the hexagram names are reused as part of the line judgments.
  • Paragraph numbers have been added in some sections, to make cross-referencing easier. Cross-references to particular page numbers have been replaced with hyperlinked references to a specific section and paragraph. The original edition has some erroneous cross-references, and these have been silently corrected where possible or marked with comments where Legge's intent seemed unclear.
  • My own modifications to the text are identified by square brackets [ ]. Thus, when you see a phrase such as 9. Hsiao Khu [Small Restraint], you can assume that [Small Restraint] was added by the present editor. Similarly, when you see a bracketed cross reference such as [Appendix 6, Section 1, Parr. 8-11], you can assume that it was worded somewhat differently (probably with a page number reference) in the original. Square brackets are also used around the source labels for various types of commentary, as explained previously: [Legge], [Smaller Symbolism], and [Explanation of the Sentences].
  • Diacritical (accent) marks and italics have been removed from the Chinese words. Legge's original work appeared in a series called Sacred Books of the East, and adhered to the editors' very peculiar (and distracting) system of phonetic spelling. Note that hexagram names that are distinct in Chinese can have the same phonetic spelling (especially after the diacritical marks are removed); for example, hexagrams 1 and 15 are both spelled as Khien.
  • The title has been changed from The Yî King to the more recognizable I Ching: The Book of Changes. However, in the body of the text, references to the Yî King are given as Yi King, in keeping with the general policy of not modifying Legge's spellings except by removing the diacritical marks.
  • Roman numerals have been converted into arabic numerals, except where they are part of cross references to works by different authors.

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Editorial features of this edition © 2012 by Joseph F. Morales