I Ching

HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

The I Ching (『易經』 pinyin yi4 jing1; alternately I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King), the "Book of Changes" or more accurately "Classic of Change", is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts.

It describes an ancient system of cosmology and philosophy which is at the heart of Chinese cultural beliefs. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change. See the Philosophy section below for more.

The book is also known as Zhou Yi (『周易』 zhou1 yi4; alternately Chou I), the "Changes of Zhou", in ancient Chinese literature which indicates the book was based on work from Zhou Dynasty. See the History section below for more.

In the Western cultures, it is known mostly as a system of divination.


The I Ching symbolism is embodied in a set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams (卦). These are each comprised of six lines; each line (爻 yao2) is either a solid or unbroken horizontal line, or an open or broken horizontal line (with a gap in the centre). With six such lines stacked in each hexagram, there are 26 or sixty-four possible combinations and thus sixty-four hexagrams.

Each hexagram represents a process, a change happening at the present moment. To further express this, it is possible for one, many or all of the lines to be determined to be moving lines, i.e. their polarity is in the process of reversal and thus the meaning of the hexagram radically altered.

Components of Hexagrams

The solid line represents yang, the masculine, creative principle. The open line represents yin, the feminine, receptive principle. These principles are also represented in a common circular symbol (☯), called the yin-yang (陰陽), expressing the idea that everything contains its opposite.

In the following lists, the trigrams and hexagrams are represented using a common textual convention: horizontally from left to right, using '|' for yang and ':' for yin. Note, though, that the normal diagrammatic representation is to show the lines stacked vertically, from bottom to top (i.e. to visualize the actual trigrams or hexagrams, rotate the text counterclockwise 90°).

Each hexagram can be considered composed of two trigrams (卦) of three lines each. There are eight possible trigrams (八卦).

  1. ||| (☰ 乾 qian2) Force = (天) heaven
  2. ::: (☷ 坤 kun1) Field = (地) earth
  3. |:: (☳ 震 zhen4) Shake = (雷) thunder
  4. :|: (☵ 坎 kan3) Gorge = (水) water
  5. ::| (☶ 艮 gen4) Bound = (山) mountain
  6. :|| (☴ 巽 xun4) Ground = (風) wind
  7. |:| (☲ 離 li2) Radiance = (火) fire
  8. ||: (☱ 兌 dui4) Open = (澤) swamp or some translate as lake

The first three lines, the lower trigram, are seen as the inner aspect of the change that is occurring. The upper trigram, the last three lines, are the outer aspect. The change described is thus the dynamic of the inner (personal) aspect relating to the outer (external) situation. Thus, hexagram 04 :|:::| (蒙 meng2) Enveloping, is composed of the inner trigram :|: (坎 kan3) Gorge (or 水 water), relating to the outer trigram ::| (艮 gen4) Bound (or 山 mountain).

The Hexagrams

01. |||||| (乾 qian2) Force

(乾為天) heaven (top, outer) + heaven (bottom, inner)

02. :::::: (坤 kun1) Field

(坤為地) earth (top)+ earth (bottom)

03. |:::|: (屯 chun2) Sprouting

(水雷屯) water (top) + thunder (bottom)

04. :|:::| (蒙 meng2) Enveloping

(山水蒙) mountain + water

05. |||:|: (需 xu1) Attending

(水天需) water + heaven

06. :|:||| (訟 song4) Arguing

(天水訟) heaven + water

07. :|:::: (師 shi1) Leading

(地水師) earth + water

08. ::::|: (比 bi3) Grouping

(水地比) water + earth

09. |||:|| (小畜 xiao3 chu4) Small Accumulating

(風天小畜) wind + heaven

10. ||:||| (履 lu3) Treading

(天澤履) heaven + swamp

11. |||::: (泰 tai4) Prevading

(地天泰) earth + heaven

12. :::||| (否 pi3) Obstruction

(天地否) heaven + earth

13. |:|||| (同人 tong2 ren2) Concording People

(天火同人) heaven + fire

14. ||||:| (大有 da4 you3) Great Possessing

(火天大有) fire + heaven

15. ::|::: (謙 qian1) Humbling

(地山謙) earth + mountain

16. :::|:: (豫 yu4) Providing-for

(雷地豫) thunder + earth

17. |::||: (隨 sui2) Following

(澤雷隨) swamp + thunder

18. :||::| (蠱 gu3) Corrupting

(山風蠱) mountain + wind

19. ||:::: (臨 lin2) Nearing

(地澤臨) earth + swamp

20. ::::|| (觀 guan1) Viewing

(風地觀) wind + earth

21. |::|:| (噬嗑 shi4 ke4) Gnawing Bite

(火雷噬嗑) fire + thunder

22. |:|::| (賁 bi4) Adorning

(山火賁) mountain + fire

23. :::::| (剝 bo1) Stripping

(山地剝) mountain + earth

24. |::::: (復 fu4) Returning

(地雷復) earth + thunder

25. |::||| (無妄 wu2 wang4) Without Embroiling

(天雷無妄) heaven + thunder

26. |||::| (大畜 da4 chu4) Great Accumulating

(山天大畜) mountain + heaven

27. |::::| (頤 yi2) Swallowing

(山雷頤) mountain + thunder

28. :||||: (大過 da4 guo4) Great Exceeding

(澤風大過) swamp + wind

29. :|::|: (坎 kan3) Gorge

(坎為水) water + water

30. |:||:| (離 li2) Radiance

(離為火) fire + fire

31. ::|||: (咸 xian2) Conjoining

(澤山咸) swamp + mountain

32. :|||:: (恆 heng2) Persevering

(雷風恆) thunder + wind

33. ::|||| (遯 dun4) Retiring

(天山遯) heaven + mountain

34. ||||:: (大壯 da4 zhuang4) Great Invigorating

(雷天大壯) thunder + heaven

35. :::|:| (晉 jin4) Prospering

(火地晉) fire + earth

36. |:|::: (明夷 ming2 yi2) Brightness Hiding

(地火明夷) earth + fire

37. |:|:|| (家人 jia1 ren2) Dwelling People

(風火家人) wind + fire

38. ||:|:| (睽 kui2) Polarising

(火澤睽) fire + swamp

39. ::|:|: (蹇 jian3) Limping

(水山蹇) water + mountain

40. :|:|:: (解 xie4) Taking-Apart

(雷水解) thunder + water

41. ||:::| (損 sun3) Diminishing

(山澤損) mountain + swamp

42. |:::|| (益 yi4) Augmenting

(風雷益) wind + thunder

43. |||||: (夬 guai4) Parting

(澤天夬) swamp + heaven

44. :||||| (姤 gou4) Coupling

(天風姤) heaven + wind

45. :::||: (萃 cui4) Clustering

(澤地萃) swamp + earth

46. :||::: (升 sheng1) Ascending

(地風升) earth + wind

47. :|:||: (困 kun4) Confining

(澤水困) swamp + water

48. :||:|: (井 jing3) Welling

(水風井) water + wind

49. |:|||: (革 ge2) Skinning

(澤火革) swamp + fire

50. :|||:| (鼎 ding3) Holding

(火風鼎) fire + wind

51. |::|:: (震 zhen4) Shake

(震為雷) thunder + thunder

52. ::|::| (艮 gen4) Bound

(艮為山) mountain + mountain

53. ::|:|| (漸 jian4) Infiltrating

(風山漸) wind + mountain

54. ||:|:: (歸妹 gui1 mei4) Converting The Maiden

(雷澤歸妹) thunder + swamp

55. |:||:: (豐 feng1) Abounding

(雷火豐) thunder + fire

56. ::||:| (旅 lu3) Sojourning

(火山旅) fire + mountain

57. :||:|| (巽 xun4) Ground

(巽為風) wind + wind

58. ||:||: (兌 dui4) Open

(兌為澤) swamp + swamp

59. :|::|| (渙 huan4) Dispersing

(風水渙) wind + water

60. ||::|: (節 jie2) Articulating

(水澤節) water + swamp

61. ||::|| (中孚 zhong1 fu2) Centre Confirming

(風澤中孚) wind + swamp

62. ::||:: (小過 xiao3 guo4) Small Exceeding

(雷山小過) thunder + mountain

63. |:|:|: (既濟 ji4 ji4) Already Fording

(水火既濟) water + fire

64. :|:|:| (未濟 wei4 ji4) Not-Yet Fording

(火水未濟) fire + water

The hexagrams, though, are mere mnemonics for the philosophical concepts embodied in each one. The philosophy centres around the ideas of balance through opposites and acceptance of change.


Taoist thought is at the heart of the I Ching, and the ambient and dualistic nature of this school of thinking is perfectly demonstrated by the nuances of binary possibility within each line of hexagrammatic representation.


It was believed that the principle of I Ching was originated from Fu2 Xi1 (伏羲). He was one of earliest legendary rulers (2852|2738 B.C.), reputed to discover the trigrams (八卦 ba1 gua4). Before Zhou Dynasty, there were other literature on the "Change" philosophy, e.g. Lian2 Shan1 Yi4 (『連山易』) and Gui1 Cang2 Yi4 (『歸藏易』). The philosophy heavily influenced the literature and government adminstration of the Zhou Dynasty. It was refined over time and I Ching was completed around the time of Han4 Wu3 Di4 (漢武帝) in Han Dynasty (circa 200 B.C.).



Cracks on turtle shell

The turtle shell oracle is probably the earliest record of fortune telling. The bottom of a turtle shell was roasted in fire. The resulting cracks were interpreted for divination. The cracks were annotated with inscriptions which are considered the oldest Chinese writings discovered.

Actually the oracle predated the Book of I Ching by over 1000 years. Some oracles unearthed dated back to 1200 B.C. The writings on them were already highly developed which indicated that there may be much older oracles to be found. See History session.

Yarrow stalks



Rice grains

Calligraphy brush strokes

Moment of birth

Additional resources

Ref: Is your web browser capable of displaying the trigram symbols used on this page?