I Ching

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The I Ching (Simplified: 易经; Traditional: 易經; Hanyu pinyin: Yì Jīng), or Book of Changes is one of the Chinese Classics. It was used as a means of divination.


The history of the book is complicated. Around 2600 BC, the philosopher Fu Xi made diagrams of natural formations. These diagrams were the basis of the trigrams, the basis of I Ching. During the Qin Dynasty, an unknown government scribe found Fu Xi's diagrams and assembled them into the first version of I Ching. However, at this point the I Ching was not used for divination, but rather as a guide for recording natural events. Only members of the bureaucracy even knew that it existed. During the Han Dynasty, record keepers released the book to public repositories. From there, Daoists developed the divination system. The first recorded I Ching reading was in 59 AD.

Outside of China

The I Ching was used widely in Korea from the 2nd century to today; trigrams appear on the South Korean flag. It was brought to Japan during the 15th century, but it was never used for divination, only record keeping.

Some historians suggest that the I Ching inspired divination techniques in the pre-Islamic Arab world, however this is controversial as there is no solid evidence that the book was translated that early.


I Ching divination is performed with stalks of the yarrow flower, though today coins are often used instead. The stalks are cast into the air and based on how they land, the reader draws two trigrams - diagrams containing broken and unbroken lines. The first represents the subjects personal state, while the second represents the worldly problem. The trigrams are compared to the I Ching to determine the meaning.


Trigram Character Natural Feature Element Interpretation
Sky Heaven Change, revolution
Marsh Wood Restraint, introspection
Desert Fire Exploration, struggle
City Thunder Retreat, loss
Forest Wind Servitude, prosperity
River Water Personal growth, solitude
Mountain Metal Ambition, rashness
Grassland Earth Tradition, deference