Hegel and the Yijing (I Ching)


I was researching the Yijing on the Chinese language internet recently, and I came across this fascinating quote attributed to the 19th century German philosopher GW Hegel:


Presumably, this is a Chinese translation from the original German language text attributed to Hegel – possibly an extract from his ‘Philosophy of History – where he discusses the ‘I Ching’.  This extract can be translated as:

‘Hegel once said: “The Book of Changes represents the wisdom of the Chinese people, and it is a lofty undertaking to find out the reasoning of man as human beings (acting within a physical world), through the construction of graphs and images created by the human mind.”‘

Although I have not accessed a contemporary English translation of this extract, on the face of it, Hegel’s opinion of this ancient Chinese ‘wisdom’ text, seems to be both succinct and precise. Not only this, but Hegel appears to be highly respectful of Chinese culture, but further research on my part reveals quite a different picture. I have encountered Hegel primarily through the work of Karl Marx (a former Young Hegelian), who ruthlessly ‘critiqued’ Hegel as being a redundant ‘idealist’, who embodied the very essence of the bourgeois ‘inverted’ mind-set (which has its origin in the theology of the Judeo-Christian religion, and which specifies the material world miraculously emerged out of spirit).  Marx favoured the use of dialectics to establish reality, but stated that Hegel’s view of that reality was ‘distorted’ due to his historical Judeo-Christian conditioning (which he had failed to ‘breakout’ from). This judgement held true – Marx said – even if Hegel thought himself a ‘secularist’.

It transpires that Hegel was analysing the I Ching briefly, as part of his general policy of lecturing on the ‘supremacy’ of Eurocentric thought over that of other cultures, including India and China.  Obviously, this form of rhetorical racism, served as a philosophical underpinning of European imperialism and colonialism.  The fact that both Indian and Chinese culture is far-older in its sophistication and achievements than anything in Europe, has to be ignored for racism to be the defining aspect of interpretation. The Buddha’s use of a ‘pristine’ logic’, for instance, probably pre-dates its Greek equivalent, and may well have influenced the Greek development. If this is correct, then it was the Buddha’s ‘logic’ that spread to Greece and into Europe proper, eventually arriving at Hegel himself.  Even if this isn’t the case, alternative Asian and Chinese forms of ‘logic’ (like that found in ancient Egypt and other parts of Africa), must be judged within its own historical context, including the often stunning achievements such systems of thought encouraged and sustained.  In this regard, Hegel is wrong to label Chinese culture ‘superficial’ in its philosophical thinking, as it bears no association with the proper academic assessment of history, cultural development, politics, sociology or economics.  Despite explaining exactly what the Yijing is (quite ingeniously), Hegel, nevertheless, is uttering an ‘ahistorical’ statement which is deliberately ‘cut-off’ from the rest of world history.  Ironically, this example serves to expose the ‘irrational’ nature of Eurocentric racism (which is ‘illogical’ in the extreme).

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