I-Ching: A Modern Visual Approach

Interactive Web on Desktop Computer, 2018 online - https://designviz.osu.edu/iching/
*Project Team Members: Peiyuan Tang, Dr. Han-wei Shen

Visualizing philosophy: A modern design approach to understand I-Ching @info+ Conference 2018, Potsdam, Germany


Yvette Shen - from Information+ Conference on Vimeo.

I-Ching (also called Yi Ching, Yijing, or Zhou Yi), published in the late 9th century BC, is one of the most important books in Chinese history. Yi means Change. Therefore, it is also known as the Book of Changes. I-Ching is a system to explain the nature of the world and how it acts in harmony with its patterns and processes. Although the most popular understanding of the book lies in its value as a divination manual, I-Ching has a direct influence on much of Chinese culture and philosophy including Confucianism and Taoism. It has also inspired thinkers of almost every intellectual persuasion: from the realms of philosophy, religion, art, politics, social study, to mathematics, physics, astronomy, and technology.

The main content of I-Ching has evolved throughout history. We are using the version formulated in the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1045-256 BCE) as the basis for this project. It contains 64 six-line (a combination of solid and broken lines corresponding to Yang Yao and Yin Yao) symbols known as Hexagrams. The hexagram is composed of upper and lower Trigrams - a set of eight three-line symbols. Each hexagram has a name, a brief statement known as the Decision or Judgement, and commentary texts to explain each of its six lines called Yao Text (figure 2).The statements and comments provide a vast set of possible interpretations for I-Ching. Although there have been many versions of translations, from modern Chinese (ancient Chinese language is known to be extremely concise with many possible interpretations) to western languages, it can be a lifetime endeavor to reveal the linkage among all elements and the sequences of structures in I-Ching.

Audiences and Goals

Ideas and concepts constantly evolve. The original I-Ching is a very “visual” book that is composed of symbols and their meanings. In a world where we communicate increasingly with images, a modern visual communication design approach may open new avenues of viewing and understanding I-Ching. We hope to overcome cultural and language barriers with text mining and interactive data visualization techniques.

The target audiences for this project are primarily non-specialists. We intend to reach out to those who are interested in I-Ching, and provide an alternative method to objectively display the rhythm and flow of the symbols and the commentary texts in a refreshing way. We hope to achieve a compelling visual expression in order to assist viewers to obtain an intuitive feeling with the abstract shapes and their correlations.

The objectives of the visual design methods are:

  • Reconfigure the symbol representations and organize them in such a way that the patterning structures and connections between the Yin/Yang positions of the 64 Hexagrams can be better presented and discovered.
  • Allow viewers to browse and locate frequently-occurred keywords that relate to disparate stages of divination from the commentaries. The distributions and the transitions reveal glimpse of the “correlative thinking” mode of Chinese philosophy.
  • Recognize common subjects from the commentaries and query these subjects at the scopes of identify, compare, and summarize.

Design Methods

The interactive functions (programed with D3) of this project enable viewers to explore this systematic yet organic structure from both a micro and macro level. The details of the design components are there to expand and support the system as it grows in richness and complexity. The research and design methods investigate the following aspects of I-Ching: an alternative visual representation of the Hexagram symbols, the occurrences of the key divinatory terms and the cyclical movements among them, the subject categories covered by the commentary texts, and the geometrical patterns of the Hexagrams.