The New Chinese Classics
Before the Yi:
China's Oldest Divination Text
E Bruce Brooks and A Taeko Brooks


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The Japanese Sinologist Naitô Torajirô proposed in 1923 that behind the present 64-hexagram Yi ("The Book of Changes") there lay, still embedded in the text, an earlier and simpler 32-pentagram divination text, which we may call the proto-Yi. His suggestion was largely ignored by later scholars, but it is capable of being worked out into an almost complete reconstruction. This book presents that reconstruction.

The pentagram text, which we call the Proto-Yi since it is the core and direct ancestor of the canonical Yi, consists of only 32 basic situations, each of them symbolized by a five-line pentagram complex. Each line of the complex has its own text, and represents a stage or an aspect of the pentagram situation. It is, in effect, an Yi in miniature, but one having in view the needs of an earlier period, perhaps the middle and late 05th century, and being especially concerned with the interests of private traders and townsmen. It is a manual for the manager, whether of a commercial venture or of a community. Its concerns mirror the world of Warring States China before the state had extended itself beyond its capital into the commercial and residential hinterland. It is almost our only witness to that part of the classical past.

The expansion of the state, which gradually took over both the production of goods and the regulation of trade, had its counterpart in the expansion of the Proto-Yi into the Yi we know. The additions were characteristic of the highly ritualized and militarily advanced 04th century, and brought the text into conformity with the needs of the managers of that time: the state and its agents.

This book begins with the process of reconstruction, and presents the resulting pentagram text together with a brief commentary. It then shows how the hexagram expansion was achieved, and follows this with a complete text of the present Yi. There are also surveys of the early evidence for the Yi and its interpretation, which had reached a sophisticated level already in the late 04c, and a note on the earliest surviving Yi text, an early Han manuscript recovered from Mawangdwei. Why this system works, and what that means for intellectual life in general, is reviewed, again in comments from Warring States and Han writers, in the final chapter.

The result is a convenient handbook of the Yi, its antecedents, and its final flowering in the classical period.

Extracts from Before the Yi:

Chapter 1: Recovery
Chapter 2: The Pentagram Text
Chapter 3: The Expansion
Chapter 4: The Hexagram Text
Chapter 5: Early Quotations
Chapter 6: The Mawangdwei Yi
Chapter 7: Early Commentaries
Chapter 8: Implications
Finding List
Subject Index

This is a volume in the New Chinese Classics series. For a chronological account of the classical period, in which both the Proto-Yi and the canonical Yi find a place, see our wide-audience book The Emergence of China, in the Ancient China in Context series.

E Bruce Brooks

E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese and A TAEKO BROOKS is Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Before the Yi: China's Oldest Divination Text

Approximately 352 pages.
Tentative $50.95 cloth. ISBN 978-936166-22-0
Tentative $27.95 paper. ISBN 978-036166-62-6
Tentative Release Date: February 2017

When announced, this book may be ordered from the University of Massachusetts Press


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