How the Book of Changes Arrived in the West
Smith, Richard J.
In several respects the transmission of the i ching (or book of changes) to the West parallels the process by which Buddhism and Daoism traveled to Europe and the Americas. In each case Western “missionaries” played a part in the process, and in each case there were varied responses over time, ranging from blind indifference to rational knowledge, romantic fantasy, and existential engagement. But in nearly every instance, as in East Asia, there was an effort, often quite self-conscious, to assimilate and domesticate the classic. As with the Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Tibetans, Westerners sent missions to China, and they brought back all kinds of useful information. But compared to their East Asian counterparts, these Western missions proceeded from very different motives and had a very different focus. Moreover, in contrast to the premodern spread of the Yijing and other texts to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, where elites were completely comfortable with the classical Chinese script, in the West the Changes required translation, raising issues of commensurability and incommensurability that are still hotly debated today.