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The Brief History of I Ching

According to legends, the wise Fu-Hsi taught Chinese soothsayers the art of I Ching interpretation around 3000 BC; there is no way to ascertain that claim. What we know, though, is that sometime before 1000 BC King Wen and his son, Duke Tcheou, could codify and write comments in a corpus known as the I Ching - the "Book of Changes" - whose origin was already then lost in past centuries. Confucius himself, a few centuries later, could write on an I Ching not so dissimilar from the one we know today commentaries which have survived to this day and whose authenticity is not in doubt.

Although it cannot be proven that the I Ching is the oldest book of mankind, there is reasonable evidence that it antedates at least Homer and the Pentateuch: we are not introducing here last year's bestseller... ! Respect for the I Ching has always matched its antiquity; a pillar of Taoism, an inspiration for Chinese Ch'eng and Mahayana Bouddhism, the I Ching is the ONLY book known to have been saved from the notorious burning of all the books ordered by Emperor Shih Huang Ti some 2000 years ago. Amongst books, only the Bible, the Koran and the Vedas can claim an influence on par with that of the I Ching.

It was in 1697 that a French Jesuit missionnary in China, Joachim Bouvet, introduced the I Ching to German mathematician and philosopher Leibniz, who was amazed by the Book of Changes and its use of binary arithmetics, then unknown in Europe. Leibniz spread the good word, and thus our civilization was to hear for the first time of binary arithmetics, which is not only the cornerstone of the Book of Changes... but also the language of all our modern computers.

The fascination of great minds with the I Ching did not stop with Leibniz. Foremost among those who extolled its merit was no doubt Psychologist Carl C. Jung, who saw in the Book of Changes the most perfect illustration of his own Theory of Archetypes and referred to the I Ching as "the most profund book ever to come from the East".

Although translations of theI Ching from the Chinese to German, English, French, etc. have been available to the Western public in increasing number since the 17th Century - and even more adaptations of these translations as each fell in the public domain - "I Ching" and "Book of Changes" never became household names in Europe or America. It was, it seemed, an unsuperable challenge to convey the universal symbolism of the I Ching in words that most people would understand, so the use of the I Ching as a tool for decision making has remained very much, to this day, the privilege of an elite.