on 20 November 2010
For many in the West, this book is the archetypal English translation of the 'I Ching' or 'Book of Change'. Its appeal continues, despite a plethora of modern, scholastic editions of this ancient Chinese text, as well as the enormous market for new age, or alternative interpretations of this book. Modern pinyin, (that is the Roman alphabet as used in China to spell Chinese words), the Book of Change is infact the 'Classic of Change', and is spelt 'Yijing'. That is, 'yi' equals 'change', and 'jing' equals 'Classic'. Wilhelm of course, wrote his original translation in German, where it was printed as the 'I Ging', which carries a pronunciation in German that approximates 'Yijing'. When the book was translated into English, Cary Baynes - the translator - kept the German 'I', in the title, which carries a different pronunciation in English, to that in German etc.
The 1950 English (first) edition of Wilhelm's work was not the first translation in this language. Prior to Wilhelm, there was the versions of James Legge (1882), and Thomas McClatchie (1876), the latter of which was published in Shanghai. For hundreds of years before this time, (the late 1800's), there had been a number of renderings into Latin by Catholic missionary priests sent to China, the earliest of which appears to be dated to 1658 (Couplet). Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930) was a missionary himself, with a profound interest in the study of Chinese culture. He was a friend of Carl Jung (1875-1961), who incidently, was the teacher of Cary Baynes (1883-1977). The German edition of Wilhelm's book was published in 1924. Cary Baynes translated a number of Jung's text into English, and following a request from Jung himself, she began translating the 'I Ching' just prior to 1930. It would not be completed until 1949, after which it was published in New York in 1950 and London 1951.
On the south coast of Shangdong province, there lies the place known as Qingdao. It was here that Wilhelm arrived in 1899 as a pastor. He met a Confucian scholar named Lao Naixuan (1843-1921), and the two became good friends. With Lao's urging, Wilhelm and Lao began translating around 1913. Wilhelm would listen to Lao's reading, translate the text into German, and then back into Chinese, to make sure the translation was correct. The translation was completed near to Wilhem's death in 1921. It is considered a more or less accurate translation of the Confucian Book of Changes as created by the Song Dynasty (960-1279), neo-Confucian scholars. Normally, the book of Changes has 64 chapters, each representing a Hexagram - or six lined structure. The lines may be broken or straight, etc. Attached to the Book of Changes, is the 'Ten Wings', or ten chapters of supplementary material, designed to aid the reader understand this classic book. Wilhelm's translation consists of:
1) The 64 Hexagrams.
2) The Material -a brief introduction to the Ten Wings and other commentaries.
3) The 64 Hexagrams with Commentaries.
According to Chung Wu (2003), Wilhelm took apart the 10th Wing, and distributed its sayings amongst the Hexagrams themselves. Richard Rutt (1996) is of the opinion that Wilhelm's organisation is repetitious, whilst Joseph Needham referred to it as a 'Sinological maze'. Interestingly, in 1967, Wilhelm's son - Hellmut (born 1905) - had a chance to tidy-up his father's translation and to acknowledge the latest research, but ultimately decided to leave it as it is. As a book of wisdom, Wilhelm's work is very interesting. Some commentators view his translation (taken from the 1715 Kangxi edition) as a representation of Manchurian rule in China. The Manchurian's had conquered China in 1644 and sought to control everything the Chinese did, including thinking. On the other hand, the book also conveys a Confucian view as prevalent in the early 1900's, a time that would soon be swept away, firstly by Republicanism, and then by Communism. As time goes by, this translation will become something of a living history. An inspiring introduction to the Book of Change.