Introduction to the Q-Ching

Scattered throughout the mystical literature of ancient China are vague, but tantalizing references to an oracle called "the Q-Ching", written by a legendary figure known only as Lao Tse Kaud. Nothing tangible seemed to have survived over the ages and so historians have tended to relegate these hints to the status of mere footnotes. In fact, many scholars were of the opinion that Lao Tse Kaud was only a mythical being, not a real person at all. There seemed to be no credible historical evidence to support these wild stories.

The situation changed radically in the late 1980's when archeologists stumbled upon the site of the Palace of the Golden Emperor. Work proceeded slowly at the site at first, especially given the sheer size of the palace compound. In 1991, a small and unimposing building on the perimeter of the compound was uncovered and excavation commenced. This structure has proved to be one of the most exciting finds of the entire Golden Emperor site. We now call this building the Oracular Temple.

Even after the first season of digging in the temple, it was apparent that this place was a treasure trove of unimagined wealth for understanding the nature and scope of divinatory practices in the Emperor's court. The reading of oracles was a full time, industrial scale activity occupying the attention of well over a hundred priests, overseen by ministers from the court. In addition to the more conventional tools of soothsaying (yarrow sticks, pieces of turtle shells, etc.), a wide variety of odd machines that resembled primitive computing devices were also found within the temple. Apparently, these priests were attempting to push the envelope when consulting their oracles.

The next season's excavation started work in another part of the temple that appeared to be the "office space" for the priests. Besides the expected material objects of such a setting (such as tea cups, furniture, black boards, incense burners and abacuses), the tiny work cubicles were stuffed with old parchments up to the rafters and as far as the eye could see. An adjacent "library" contained even more documents. Due to the difficulty of preserving and translating these texts, their release in publication has been slow and tedious. Understanding these texts, which are written in an obscure Chinese dialect and often highly laden with technical jargon and the calligraphic equivalent of acronyms, has produced new intellectual disciplines and generated much debate. For the content of these texts challenges much of our prior "knowledge" about this priestly caste. Many of the parchments are on omens and oracles and other "superstitious nonsense", but a vast number of them cover more technical areas. These include operating manuals for many of the computing machines found in the main temple area, as well as programming manuals for creating the operating systems for these machines. The devices that were found in the temple were oracular computers, the "priests" were the operators and programmers! With such obvious evidence staring us right in the face, the field of "archeocomputing" quickly emerged as a new and rapidly developing discipline.

Also found in the piles of parchments were references to a private oracle, known only to the programmer-priests themselves. Bits and pieces of this oracle have been translated, as well as many secondary "commentaries" on the primary document, although to date, we have yet to find a complete copy of the text.

In the opinion of many people working in the field of archeocomputing, we are witnessing the reemergence of the Q-Ching after more than 3000 years of being lost. And that large corner cubicle, the one with the small window overlooking some garden space in the palace courtyard, shows unmistakeable evidence of being occupied by the lead programmer of the Oracle Temple staff. The most illustrious person to ever gaze out that window, the "Wise One" that all programmers tried to emulate, was none other than Lao Tse Kaud himself!

The Q-Ching

For all its sparse simplicity, the Q-Ching is a complex and multi-faceted document. On the surface, it's "just another oracle" with many similarities to its more renowned cousin, the I Ching. While both use a system of yin and yang lines arranged into "hexagrams" (6 lines in a vertical stack), the interpretations reached are radically different. It seems the Q-Ching was more intended for the training and meditations of the programmer-priests than it was for general consumption. In fact, it was probably one of the most crucial texts for a young initiate programmer to study when he first entered the Oracle Temple.

The oracle consists of 64 hexagrams and their associated interpretive texts. These texts include a title or name, an "Image" (an often poetic picture describing the hexagram), a "Judgement" (a deeper interpretation of the figure), and a series of 6 "Moving Line" readings for each of the lines. Each hexagram represents some archetypal situation in the lives of the priests, while the moving lines generally describe how the situation evolves over time, indicating the pitfalls and options present at each stage. By following these often moralistic warnings in a creative manner, the initiate is led out of his foolish ways into the path of being a "Wise One" or master.

Not so evident on first reading of this simple text is the profound depth and subtlety of the philosophy that underpins it. In fact, many modern readers who pick up the Q-Ching for the first time laugh and think it is all a big joke. Prolonged exposure to this oracle and its ways of thinking have a deep effect on the reader, however. There's a "spirit" to this book, one filled with laughter, yes, but also one prone to quiet contemplation as well. In all senses of the word, the Q-Ching is an initiation.

For those of you who are interested in understanding the symbolism better, a good starting point is the reprint of the article The Mythos of the Q-Ching. The bibliography of books and articles also contains links to other studies. The Translator's Notes for each hexagram are a good source of background information about many of the more obscure references and shades of meaning within the main text.

The Q-Ching Project

The Q-Ching Project is an informal association of institutions and scholars working to understand this oracle and present the results to the public. This web site was created by the Project to deliver some of these studies, even in their preliminary and incomplete form, in a popular format. Work on this Project has been slow, primarily due to lack of adequate funding for the studies and the press of other commitments. However, we hope that these studies can reveal the depth and beauty of the Q-Ching to a new generation, after being silenced for so many centuries.