Education About Asia

The I Ching: A Biography

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The I Ching

A Biography

BY RICHARD J. SMITH

PRINCETON: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2012

278 PAGES, ISBN 978-0691145099, HARDCOVER

Author’s note: Smith uses the Wade-Giles spelling of “I Ching” in the title of his book, but uses the Pinyin “Yijing” in the text of the book. He includes a note about why he does this, and I will follow his choice in this review.

Richard J. Smith’s The I Ching: A Biography is a concise and well-written guide to the historical development and cultural contexts of this famous text. It is suitable for use by high school and undergraduate survey-level instructors as well as for higher-level instructors. The prose is accessible for those levels, and instructors wishing to incorporate Yijing-related content into history, religion, literature, or cultures classes should find it to be a most helpful resource.

Smith primarily approaches his explanation and analysis of the Yijingusing a chronological framework. Beginning with what can be reconstructed of its earliest layers and uses, he proceeds forward through history, showing in each age how it was understood and used. In addition to historical development, Smith examines the text’s geographical movement as well, explaining how the text comes to be valued first by East Asian cultures outside of its Chinese homeland and then by the Western world. As Smith succinctly writes,

My goal in this biography is to trace the evolution of the Yijing across space and time and to account for its broad reach and sustained appeal, not only in the country of its birth but also in distant and dissimilar lands.(11)