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Skidmore College

Spanish edition of Pearson's "I Ching" published

January 15, 2015
Margaret Pearson's book, Spanish translation

Margaret Pearson, professor emerita of history, learned in 2014 that her book The Original I Ching (2011, Tuttle Publishing) was translated and published in a Spanish edition, I Ching Ancestral, by Albatros/Argentina in 2012.

Pearson will lead a discussion based on her scholarship and titled  “Starting the New Year Right:  Some Early Chinese Perspectives,” at 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16, in the Intercultural Center. The program is free and open to the public.

Pearson is the first woman with a PhD in Chinese history to translate I Ching, one of the world’s most influential books. Since its origin about 3,000 years ago, when it was used to guide the decision-making of kings and queens, it has become a compendium of wisdom used by people of many cultures and eras.  Pearson’s groundbreaking translation was based on the text created during the first centuries of the Zhou Dynasty, on a study of documents showing how it was used in the dynasty, and on recent archaeological findings, to remove centuries of encrusted inaccuracies and better reveal I Ching’s core truths for today’s readers.

Pearson’s work builds upon her teaching of this and other early Chinese texts for more than 30 years at Skidmore, the New School for Social Research, and the New York State maximum-security prison at Comstock. She began studying the Chinese languages in 1963, received her PhD in Chinese history in 1983, and published her first translation of a Chinese philosophical text in 1989. She began this translation of the I Ching while a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University, and continued it over the next 15 years, primarily at Clare Hall and at the Needham Research Institute, also in Cambridge, England.

Margaret Pearson, Department of History
Margaret Pearson

Unlike most other translations, Pearson’s distinguishes between the core text and its commentaries. In separating the text from commentaries, she discovered that bout 90 percent of the sexism other see in this text disappeared. According to Pearson, gender roles changed radically for elite Chinese women between around 1000 BCE and 240 CE, when the first extant commentary was written. These changes were unconsciously embodied in new definitions of yin and yang. Person explained, “Few outside the small community of early China scholars are aware of the evolution of this central concept or that yin’s original meaning was concrete, not abstract; topographical, not cosmic; positive, not negative.”

That is part of the beauty of this ancient text – its “myriad possibilities for interpretation,” said Pearson.

Not long ago a reader from Mexico emailed Pearson to tell her that he was using her edition of I Ching to make a business decision.  He wanted guidance from her. Explaining that she is a historian and translator, not a fortuneteller, she gave him the same answer that she shares with others who use the I Ching to predict the future. “I give people the data, the historical background of the words in the I Ching for them to interpret with regard to their own situations. The book evokes feelings that help people gain a better awareness of their hopes and fears.”

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