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(8 pages total)

Page 2 - The Eight Trigrams of the I-Ching (Yijing)


When researching any topic relating to Chinese history, philosophy, or religion, it is best to cross reference a variety of sources and even then keep in mind that, in many instances, the author is taking his best guess if he attempts to pinpoint the origin of a particular concept.

That having been said, I will give you my "best guess" at the eight trigrams.

In pre-dynastic times, China was ruled by the mythical Five Emperors (Wu Ti). The Five Emperors ruled in succession during the "golden age of antiquity" (prior to 2357 B.C.) and have traditionally been considered sages and cultural heros, if not semi-divine beings, by the Chinese. Thus we find that these Five Emperors; Fu Hsi (Subduer of Animals), Shen Nung (the Divine Farmer), Huang-Ti (the Yellow Emperor), Shao Hao, and Chuan Hsu, have each been credited with many inventions the I-Ching (as well as inventing hunting, fishing, and trapping) nearly 5,000 years ago. There are any number of stories that have been written pertaining to Fu Hsi's discovery of the Yellow River Map trigrams. One story says that Fu Hsi derived the eight trigrams from the Yellow River Map (Ho T'u). This map was revealed to him on the back of a supernatural animal called a "Dragon Horse" that rose from the waters of the Yellow River. Another story describes Fu Hsi as finding the trigrams hidden in the patterns on a tortoise shell. Still another tale states that he created the trigrams after careful observation and contemplation of the natural objects around him.

While accrediting the discovery of the trigrams to a mythical Emperor has a nice mystical flavor to it, there is no evidence that the trigrams existed prior to the Shang Dynasty (1766-1123 B.C.). Of course, actual archaeological existence of anything prior to the Shang Dynasty is scarce (within the last 15 years there have been Hsia Dynasty findings). However, analysis of inscriptions found in tortoise shell and bone from the Shang period leads some scholars to believe that the Shang people practiced divination using the tortoise shell, not the trigrams or hexagrams.

It is speculated that the Shang people heated the tortoise shell with fire until cracks appeared. The Diviner would read the cracks and be able to answer intuitively questions about one's future. It is thought that the patterns that typically reappeared when the shell was heated were given meaning, and this practice eventually led to the formation of the trigrams and hexagrams.

While tortoise shell divination could very well have led to the formation the trigrams and explain one of the Fu Hsi myths, I tend to believe that the formation of the trigrams and hexagrams came about through an evolutionary numerological process which started with the concept of yin and yang. This evolution could have occured prior to the Shang period and the trigrams adopted by the Diviners at a later time.


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