The month hexagrams of Hu Yigui 胡一桂

pdfI originally wrote this paper (in Dutch) for a friend, but I thought I might as well share it with the community. The article discusses the origin of the month hexagrams as found in Jou Tsung Hwa’s The Tao of I Ching and reiterates the error in this book as mentioned earlier in my article on the Eight Houses.

The month hexagrams of Hu Yigui

Hexagram 8, Judgement


Yuan 原: many old commentaries say that yuan should be read as zai 再, ‘again’. But this meaning of yuan is quite rare. The Shanghai Museum Manuscript has 备 (not to be read as the simplified character of bei 備) instead of yuan. It is an abbreviation of the character yuan 邍 which is a known loan character of 原 (see 戰國古文字典, p. 1014; 古文字詁林, vol. 2, p. 454-455 and the Multi-Function Chinese Character Database). This also narrows down the possible meanings of 原. Continue reading

Hexagram 2, surplus text


Yong zhen 永貞: long-term (長久) divination:

Crack-making on day 15, Heji-248-10-character divines for my long-term prognosis.
(Heji 合集 248)

Several oracle bone inscriptions end with a character or phrase denoting the auspiciousness of the received oracle, like ji 吉 or da ji 大吉 (see for examples Heji 合集 27013, 27020, 27041, 27973, 28142, 28663). Sometimes we find the character yong 永 as such an end note, probably denoting an auspicious long-term divination (Heji 合集 6108 臼, 6527 臼, 6855 反, 10199 反, 17555 臼, 21381).

Favourable long-term divination.

Hexagram 7, line 6


Dajun 大君: ‘great ruler’, respectful title for the king:

大君若不棄書之力… (…)  惟大君命焉.
O great ruler, if you have not forgotten the zealous duty of Shu… (…) It is for you, O great ruler, to issue your command.”
(Zuo Zhuan 左傳, tr. James Legge, p. 491)

Tang, as well as Tai Jia, Zu Yi and Wu Ding were the great rulers below heaven.
(Kongcongzi 孔叢子)

Compare with a similar sentence in Yanzi Chunqiu 晏子春秋:

Now Tang, Tai Jia, Wu Ding and Zu Yi were the grand rulers below heaven.

You ming 有命: receive an order or appointment, often as a reference to tianming 天命, a mandate of Heaven to the (self-titled) ruler, but also used in a more general sense, ‘to receive an order (from the king)’.

Kaiguo 開國: establish a feudal state (建立諸侯國). The Shanghai Museum manuscript and the Mawangdui manuscript have qi 啓 for kai 開. The Shanghai Museum manuscript has bang 邦 for guo 國:

For qi bang 啟邦, “to open the country,” R (=the received text HM) reads kai guo 開國, kai 開 replacing qi 啟 to avoid a Han-dynasty taboo on the name of Liu Qi 劉啟, Emperor Jing 景 (r. 156-141 B.C.), and guo 國 replacing bang 邦 to avoid a taboo on the name of Liu Bang 劉邦, Emperor Gaozu 高祖 (r. 202-195 B.C.). M (= Mawangdui manuscript HM) reads qi guo 啟國, observing the taboo on the name of Liu Bang, but not on that of Liu Qi, while F (= Fuyang manuscript) reads as does the Shanghai Museum manuscript.
– Edward L. Shaughnessy, Unearthing the Changes, p. 78

The phrase qi bang 啟邦 is also found in a bronze inscription, where it is read as ‘to expand the country’ (金文常用字典, p. 361; see image in 殷周金文集成 15.9734).

Cheng 承:  continue a heritage (秉承). The Shanghai Museum Manuscript has cheng 丞, a common loan for 承.

Jia 家: ‘family’, but might also refer to the nation or country.

Xiao ren 小人: people of lower standard – commoners, those that are ruled instead of the rulers, those with narrow minds & views.

The great ruler received the order to expand the country and continue the nation he inherited. People of lower standard should not be used (for this).

Hexagram 7, line 5


Tian 田: ‘to hunt’.

You qin 有禽: ‘there is a catch’.

These first three characters probably deal with the royal hunt, a theme which is often mentioned in the oracle bone inscriptions, and in these inscriptions the phrase tian qin 田禽, ‘at the hunt there will be a catch’ is mentioned frequently. In his influential paper Rising from Blood-Stained Fields: Royal Hunting and State Formation in Shang Dynasty China, Magnus Fiskesjö talks in detail about the meaning and usage of these two characters: Continue reading

Hexagram 7, line 4


Zuo 左: in its ordinary meaning ‘the left side’, but already on oracle bones used as a loan for zuo 佐, ‘to assist, to help’.  and you 佑, ‘to assist, to protect’. The 漢語大詞典 says, ‘用兵則居次方位': ‘in military operations it is the second position’. When you station an army ‘at the left’ you do not want it to attack directly, you only want it to support and protect the attacking division.

Ci 次: to station troops (軍隊駐扎).

The army is stationed at the left (the assisting/protecting side).
No curse from the ancestors.

Hexagram 7, line 3


Huo 或, ‘there is’. See also hexagram 1, line 4. The regular meanings of huo are ‘perhaps’ and ‘someone’. But in old texts it is often used with the meaning of you 又/有, ‘there is, to have’. That this is plausible is seen in the Chujian text of hexagram 58, line 1 and hexagram 17, line 1: the received text has huo while the Chujian text has you 又, a common loan for you 有, ‘there is’. Also, at the first line of hexagram 8 the Mangwangdui text says …冬來池, where the received text says …終來它. These examples show that reading huo 或 as you 有 is plausible and acceptable.

Yu 輿, ‘to carry by cart’. But also ‘many people’ (眾, 多). By extension ‘a cartload':

『吾力足以舉百鈞』, 而不足以舉一羽; 『明足以察秋毫之末』, 而不見輿薪…
My strength is sufficient to lift three thousand catties, but it is not sufficient to lift one feather; my eyesight is sharp enough to examine the point of an autumn hair, but I do not see a waggon-load of firewood…

金重於羽者, 豈謂一鉤金與一輿羽之謂哉?
Gold is heavier than feathers; but does that saying have reference, on the one hand, to a single clasp of gold, and, on the other, to a waggon-load of feathers?
(Mengzi 孟子, tr. James Legge)

They urged people on with the Dao and De, and tamed them with ren and yi. Cartloads of corpses and bloodstained knives—these were not of their doing.
(Yuan and Qian 淵騫, tr. Jeffrey S. Bullock)

Shi 尸, ‘corpses, dead bodies’.

The army has cartloads of corpses. Inauspicious.


Hexagram 7, line 2


Ximing 錫命: Appointments granted by the king.

Here the king three times grants an appointment. In the Zhouli 周禮 there are nine appointments mentioned, the jiuming 九命, each giving greater awards:

[The jiuming 九命 are] an array of official ranks ascribed to ancient times and often revived by subsequent Chou dynasties, in which the 9th honor (i.e., rank 9) was highest and the first honor was lowest.
(C. Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles In Imperial China, p. 176)

(…) The nine appointments were 受職 to receive official duties, 受服 to receive uniform, 受位 to receive rank, 受器 to receive equipments, 賜則 to bestow regulations,賜官 to bestow official title, 賜國 to bestow fief, 作牧 to be shepherd, and 作伯 to be leader.
(David Y. Hu, Chinese-English Dictionary of Chinese Historical Terminology; p. 469)

 The translations that Hu provides for each appointment are somewhat simplistic, for instance zuomu 作牧 does not mean that you are just a shepherd, you were governor of a state and were allowed to go on punitive expeditions without the king’s consent – ‘to be shepherd’ is merely a metaphor for this task.

Amid the army. Auspicious. There is no blame from the ancestors. Three times the king awards an imperial appointment.

Hexagram 7, line 1


Shi 師: army, armed forces.

Chu 出: to go out, set forth

 律: statutes, regulations; pitch-pipes.

In the field of Yi translators it isn’t decided whether  should mean ‘law, regulations, statutes’ or whether it should have the meaning of ‘pitch-pipes’. Both options are plausible within the context of the line text. The choice between both meanings is also found in the study of  in oracle bone inscriptions. There is a sample of an inscription in which shi, ‘army’ is linked with  just as in line 1 of hexagram 7 (click image to enlarge): Continue reading

Hexagram 7, Judgement

貞丈人吉. 無咎.

Zhangren 丈人: in early times a respectful form of address for elder people (古時對老人的尊稱).

There is difference between the pattern X貞吉 (like in the Judgement of hexagram 2) and 貞X吉 (as in the Judgement of hexagram 7): I believe X貞吉 is a divination about subject X, where 貞X吉 is a divination for subject X. See for pattern 貞…人吉 also Hexagram 32, line 5 (貞婦人吉, 夫子凶) and Judgement of hexagram  47 (貞大人吉).

Jiu 咎:
The Shuowen says that 咎 means 災, ‘disaster’. Duan Yucai 段玉裁 says in his 說文解字注, ‘Commentary to the Shuowen Explanation of Characters’,

It is thought that 災 originally was written as 烖, ‘calamities from Heaven, as floods, famines, pestilence, etc.’ (Unihan database HM). Fire of natural origin is called 災. By extension 災 means ‘disappointment from Heaven coming (to you) ‘.

See also hexagram 1, line 3.

Divination for elder people: auspicious.
There is no curse from Heaven (or the ancestors).