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Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World

The Yijing (I Ching, or Classic of Changes) and Its Evolution in China
Richard J. Smith

BUY Paper · 416 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813940465 · $35.00 · Jan 2018

Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World is the first full-length study in any Western language of the development of the Yijing in China from earliest times to the present. Drawing on the most recent scholarship in both Asian and Western languages, Richard J. Smith offers a fresh perspective on virtually every aspect of Yijing theory and practice for some three thousand years. Smith introduces the reader to the major works, debates, and schools of interpretation surrounding this ancient text, and he shows not only how the Book of Changes was used in China as a book of divination but also how it served as a source of philosophical, psychological, literary, and artistic inspiration.

Among its major contributions, this study reveals with many vivid examples the richness, diversity, vitality, and complexity of traditional Chinese thought. In the process, it deconstructs a number of time-honored interpretive binaries that have adversely affected our understanding of the Yijing—most notably the sharp distinction between the "school of images and numbers" (xiangshu) and the "school of meanings and principles" (yili). The book also demonstrates that, contrary to prevailing opinion among Western scholars, the rise of "evidential research" (kaozheng xue) in late imperial China did not necessarily mean the decline of Chinese cosmology. Smith’s study reveals a far more nuanced intellectual outlook on the part of even the most dedicated kaozheng scholars, as well as the remarkable persistence of Chinese "correlative" thinking to this very day. Finally, by exploring the fascinating modern history of the Yijing, Fathoming the Cosmos and Ordering the World attests to the tenacity, flexibility, and continuing relevance of this most remarkable Chinese classic.


A major contribution to the fields of Chinese intellectual history and religion. To my knowledge it is the first work in a Western language that attempts an overall picture of the place of the Yijing in Chinese history and culture.

Joseph A. AdlerKenyon College, author of Chinese Religious Traditions

Rather than focusing on the Qing period, Fathoming the Cosmos covers the entirety of Chinese history, from the beginning to the present. Instead of limiting analysis to the mantic practices, it includes all sorts of activity ranging from alchemy and the calendar to mathematics and metaphysics. In short, in the new book Smith offers 'a biography of the Yijing.'

Philosophy East and West

This is a most remarkable book about the history and philosophy of one of the most remarkable books the world has ever seen: the Yijing (I Ching) or The Book of Changes, as it is usually translated into English.... To paraphrase a traditional reading of Lunyu 7.17, one hopes Richard J. Smith will have fifty more years with which to produce more excellent scholarship on the Yijing.

The Journal of Asian Studies

Copious illustrations, a marvelous bibliography of sources in multiple languages, and three useful appendices round out this exemplary work of intellectual and religious history. Anyone interested in understanding the greatest single influence on traditional Chinese culture, which continues to shape life and thought in present-day China, should read this book.

Religious Studies Review

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