Here shall some corn be left standing,
Here some sheaves unbound;
Here some handfuls shall be dropped,
And there some neglected ears;
These are for the benefit of the widow.”
The next of the pre-Confucian works, and possibly the oldest of all, is the famous I Ching, or Book of Changes. It is ascribed to Wên Wang, the virtual founder of the Chou dynasty, whose son, Wu Wang, became the first sovereign of a long line, extending from B.C. 1122 to B.C. 249. It contains a fanciful system of philosophy, deduced originally from Eight Diagrams consisting of triplet combinations or arrangements of a line and a divided line, either one or other of which is necessarily repeated twice, and in two cases three times, in the same combination. Thus there may be three lines ☰, or three divided lines ☷, a divided line above or below two lines ☱ ☴, a divided line between two lines ☲, and so on, eight in all. These so-called diagrams are said to have been invented two thousand years and more before Christ by the monarch Fu Hsi, who copied them from the back of a tortoise. He subsequently increased the above simple combinations to sixty-four double ones, on the permutations of which are based the philosophical speculations of the Book of Changes. Each diagram represents some power in nature, either active or passive, such as fire, water, thunder, earth, and so on.
The text consists of sixty-four short essays, enigmatically and symbolically expressed, on important themes, mostly of a moral, social, and political character, and based upon the same number of lineal figures, each made up of six lines, some of which are whole and the others divided. The text is followed by commentaries,