Simpler divination with a hexagram browser

The Multimedia I Ching
February 14, 1997

Ever since its publication in 1950, Cary F. Baynes's English version of Richard Wilhelm's original German work (1923) has been widely regarded as the definitive English translation of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese classic which seeks to elucidate the processes of natural change through the modulation of 64 hexagrams.

Though in recent years other scholarly translations have appeared - as well as some more dubious publications - the Wilhelm/Baynes text has remained the standard point of reference for students of Chinese culture and for those with a more popular interest in "mysticism". Yet Wilhelm/Baynes has long been in need of a makeover: its cumbersome, dated layout can be fiddly and laborious even for the more experienced user. Princeton's CD-Rom version comes as a welcome relief, presenting the work in a fresh and more user-friendly way that is enjoyable while not detracting from the serious nature of Wilhelm's scholarship.

The program begins by positioning the reader amid a lake-scene, in which are situated two key buildings. The Oracle Pavilion, located on an island, contains tools for consulting the I Ching as an oracle, by the methods laid out in the appendices of Wilhelm's original: here one can pose a question, cast the computerised yarrow-stalks or coins and, faster than the deftest Chou dynasty diviner, generate a hexagram from which a prediction can then be interpreted and stored.

The much larger Library comprises five rooms which house different portions of Wilhelm's text. Two are so-called topic rooms, whose active wall-scrolls allow consultation and manipulation of the various hexagrams and trigrams. Most important of these scrolls is the Hexagram Browser in the Hexagram Room. Here the hexagrams may be consulted in alphabetical, numerical, or "house" sequences. Clicking on an individual hexagram reveals a screen reproducing in facsimile the relevant part of Wilhelm's text, with the Introduction, Judgement, Image, or Lines commentaries appearing individually as required. A further feature is that one may switch instantly from Book I of the Wilhelm text to Book III, where many of the Ten Wings commentaries on each hexagram are found. All this does much to simplify the task of consulting Wilhelm, although one might have welcomed further marking of the textual material, particularly in Book III, where unfamiliar readers may still find themselves confused as to just which commentary they are looking at.

The remaining three Library rooms ("text rooms") contain the text of Helmut Wilhelm's Change: Eight Lectures on the I Ching (normally published separately), the appendices and introductory material from the 1967 Wilhelm/Baynes edition, and the complete texts of the Ten Wings commentaries, a useful inclusion since in the original Wilhelm many of these cannot be consulted as continuous text. Three Wings, the Ta Chuan, Shuo Kua and Wen Yen, may further be consulted either with or without Wilhelm's own accompanying commentary; here, as with the Hexagram Browser, the greater flexibility of approach which the computerised text provides is welcome, though one wonders why Wilhelm's commentaries have not been reproduced here for the other Wings. Nor can one switch directly from the Wings to the relevant hexagrams.

Perhaps the most useful feature for less familiar users is the provision of "tours", which not only aim to make sense of this multitude of facilities, but also constitute miniature essays on each of the I Ching's differing components: the opening General Tour, to cite but one example, has a section entitled "Representing Change", which outlines key concepts at work in the classical text. Though their language sometimes borders on the pretentious ("As the next millennium turns, there may be more waiting within it for your discovery"), these tours are intelligently written, and though generalised, still manage to attain a measure of subtlety, as in an explanation in the Ten Wings Tour where users are advised that the formulation of the I Ching's dualisms in terms of yin-yang cosmological symbolism is a later interpretive development. If the soft, at-one-with-nature tones of the voice-over begin to cloy, text versions are available.

Princeton has generally succeeded admirably in making Wilhelm more accessible, both for students and general readers; even scholars needing to consult his translation may welcome the convenience this CD offers. Certain additional features could have been included, not least a "find" facility for searching out key words in the text, and a proper bibliography, which, though promised in the Introductions Room tour, seems nowhere to be found. One should remember also that Wilhelm's vision of the I Ching represents only one particular approach. The adulatory tour-introduction to the Wilhelm/Baynes project refers to Legge's Victorian translation as "problematic"; nothing whatsoever is said of the problems inherent in Wilhelm's own reading.

Robert Neather is Osaka Gakuin Research Fellow,Queens' College,Cambridge.

The Multimedia I Ching: A CD-Rom edition of The Wilhelm/Baynes Translation of the Book of Changes (Dual-platform Mac/Win CD)

ISBN - 0 691 01212 1
Publisher - Princeton University Press
Price - £29.95

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