The far place

In the Yi the character you 攸 often occurs, 32 times to be exact (2-0, 3-0, 4-3, 14-2, 19-3, 22-0, 23-0, 24-0, 25-0, 25-2, 25-6, 26-3, 27-3, 28-0, 32-0, 32-1, 33-1, 34-6, 36-1, 37-2, 40-0, 41-0, 41-6, 42-0, 43-0, 44-1, 45-0, 45-3, 54-0, 54-6, 57-0, 64-6). Most often it is translated as ‘place’, or interpreted as ‘goal’, ‘do something’ or another vague expression. That has always annoyed me in most translations: something mysterious is made of this you 攸. Wilhelm says for instance “It is favourable to undertake something“. What is this ‘something’? I assume more can be said about it.

The character you 攸 already appears on the oracle bones from the Shang-dynasty (ca. 1750 – 1122 v. Chr.). As we see it know it referred to a specific place, city or area (Jiaguwen Zidian 甲骨文字典, p. 336). According to my historical Atlas it was a area in the current region of the Fei Huang river, in the North of the province Jiangsu (see map). However, when it comes to the Shang dynasty historical atlases are not always reliable, after all there is no material at hand which says ‘this place was there’, which makes filling in the Shang map a bunch of guesses.

On bronze inscriptions from the Zhou-dynasty (ca. 1122 – 221 BC) the character also often occurs, mostly in two meanings. One meaning doesn’t seem to be of interest to us, because in this case it is always used in combination with le 勒. It seems to refer to the bronze ring which kept the reigns of horses together. But this meaning only goes for this specific combination of characters, and we don’t find this in the Yi. The meaning which is of interest to us is that of ‘long (ago)’, or ‘far (in distance)’. On bronze inscriptions the character is often a synonym for xiu 修 or you 悠, and if you look closely you will see resemblances between the characters. If a character got more meanings in the course of time, making it difficult to understand which meaning was meant in a text, to add an extra component which pointed to the meaning the writer intended. On the Zhongshan Wang Ding 中山王鼎 tripod from the Zhanguo-period (481 – 221 BC), which was found in 1977, we find the character with the meaning of ‘far’. We also know texts where you 悠 with the meaning of ‘far’ is written as you 攸 (Jinwen Da Zidian 金文大字典 p. 430).

I suspect there is a connection between the Shang meaning of you 攸 and the Zhou meaning of you 攸. During the Shang dynasty it was a specific location, somewhat far from the (last) capital (see map, no. 1 is the last Shang capital), but not too far (about 300 kilometres). The Zhou capital however was far more to the West (no. 2), and much further from the You 攸 area – about 700 kilometres, assuming the historical atlas is right. Maybe you 攸 in the time of the Zhou did not refer to the location You anymore, but was used more general in the sense of ‘far away’. The Yi is supposed to be written during the Zhou dynasty, so maybe in the Yi you 攸 also means ‘far’. Let’s see what this gives us.

In the Judgment of hexagram 2 we read: 君子有攸往. Wilhelm says “If the superior man undertakes something…”, Huang says, “Superior person has somewhere to go”, Boering says “The student can undertake something“. But if we translate you 攸 as ‘far’, then a (somewhat literal) translation would be: “The Junzi has far to go”, in which we can see you 有 with a little enforcement, like ‘must’ or ‘sensible, good to’. You 攸 seems to refer to the areas far from the capital, the outer regions at the border of the land that was under control of the Zhou. This assumption seems to be confimred by The Judgment of hexagram 3, where it says 勿用有攸往. 利建侯: “not execute/use far travels, (more) favourable (is it) to appoint feudal lords”. In this case it seems better for the king to leave the far regions to helpers who do the work for him.

As said the character you 攸 appears 32 times in the Yi. Within these 32 instances we can discern 5 patterns:

1. 利有攸往: 24-0, (25-2,) 26-3, 28-0, 32-0, 41-0, 41-6, 42-0, 43-0, 45-0, 57-0, 22-0
2. 無攸利: 4-3, 19-3, 25-6, 27-3, 32-1, 34-6, (37-2,) 45-3, 54-0, 54-6, 64-0
3. 有攸往: (2-0,) 14-2, 36-1, 40-0, 44-1
4. 不利有攸往: 23-0, 25-0
5. 勿用有攸往: 3-0, 33-1

I see youwang 攸往 here as a journey to the borders of the empire. Wang means as much as “commence a journey” (Jinwen Changyong Zidian 金文常用字典; p. 197). In the bronze version of this character we find the component wang 王, ‘king’. Normally it is said that this component represents the pronunciation, but in my view it could also point to the meaning: it is the king who goes.

The examples below give the idea that it is only good to undertake a youwang when at the home front everything is in order.

Pattern 1: 利有攸往
“Favourable to have a youwang“.

For example

26-3: 良馬逐。利艱貞。曰閑輿衛。利有攸往。”A chase with good horses. Favourable to have a hard times divination. It is said, use chariots as blockade for defence. Favourable to have a youwang.”

Jian 艱 means ‘hard, difficult times’ (金文常用字典; p. 1097, Jiaguwen Zidian 甲骨文字典; p. 1464). A divination was not only done to know what would happen, but mainly to decide what would happen. It was an arrangements with your forefathers. You take care of their wellbeing by bringing offerings, they make sure there will not take place any calamities. This is also found in an additional meaning of jian 艱: mourning about the death of (one of) your parents (Hanyu Da Zidian 漢語大字典; p. 3171). After their death your parents are capable of sending you luck or disaster, therefore you have to be assured of their support.

A ‘hard times divination’ could be used in difficult times (or after the death of a parent) to get the support of the ancestors. With that support, and with good material, it can be favourable to have a youwang.

Pattern 2: 無攸利
“No profit from the you“. From the border regions comes no profit.

For example

4-3: 勿用取女。見金夫。不有躬。無攸利。”Do not use ‘taking the woman’. The bronze worker has to be seen. Do nothing personal. From the border regions comes no profit.”

Qu 取 mostly means ‘take, appropriate’. In Shang it was probably also the name of a offer ritual (甲骨文字典; p. 292). That would make a 取女 a woman who is being offered, probably to get something. In bronze inscriptions was qu 取 Also een shortening for zou 郰, the name of a city (金文常用字典; p. 292). This would make 取女 ‘a woman from Zou’, but this is unlikely.

Tsung-Tung Chang says in Der Kult der Shang-Dynastie im Spiegel der Orakelinschriften about qu 取:

ist identisch mit dem heutigen Zeichen 取. In Orakelinschriften hat es, außer der heute üblichen Bedeuting “nehmen”, auch die Bedeutung “Kulthandlung”. Hsü Shen erklärte die Struktuur dieses Zeichens met dem alten Brauch, das linke Ohr des erlegten Wildes oder des erschlagenen Feindes als Trophäe abzuschneiden. Daher bin ich der Ansicht, daß dieses Zeichen die Darbringung eines Ohrs als Symbopfer bedeutet.”
(p. 171)

勿用取女 also occurs in the Judgment of 44. It says there that the woman is zhuang 壯. Zhuang 壯 means ‘strong, powerful’, but earlier it also stood for the age of 30 years (漢語大字典; p. 428 ) . In the Li Ji 禮記 we read: “人生十年曰幼學,二十日弱冠,三十曰壯,有室.” “In a human life the ago from 10 years on is called ‘studying child’, from 20 years ‘young (but) with hat’ (=adult HM), from 30 years zhuang 壯, this is ‘marry’.” An man was expected to marry when he was about thirty, a woman when she was about twenty or preferably sooner. A woman who was zhuang 壯 was too old to ‘take’, to marry.

見金夫: jin 金 is metal, but was in Zhou time mostly used for ‘bronze’ (金文常用字典; p. 1111). Fu 夫 is a craftsman, a soldier, a bureaucrat, or someone who does manual labour (漢語大字典; p. 521).

不有躬: bu you 不有 literally means ‘not have’, but in the Yi this is expressed with wu 無. Bu you 不 seems te be a verb, a action, instead of a condition: ‘not be there’. Gong 躬 is ‘body’, but also ‘personally’, ‘from/for yourself’ (漢語大字典; p. 3808 ). Bu you gong 不有躬 could mean ‘without body’, but to me this sounds too weird.

The situation is here in such a way that there can not be taken a wife. This puts the survival of the family at risk. That is why first the bronze works have to be in order (ritual objects, gifts for the ancenstors). When this is not arranged you can not undertake anything. The outer regions cannot be of service to you (for instance they cannot serve you a wife).

Pattern 3: 有攸往
“Have a youwang“. Have a journey to the border regions.

For instance

14-2: 大車以載。有攸往。無咎。
“A large wagon for transportation. Have a journey to the border regions. No misfortune (is being sent).”

Jiu 咎 means ‘misfortune’, ‘blame’, or ‘punish the guilty’ (漢語大字典; p. 608 ), but in Shang time it stood for ‘misfortune sent from above’ (甲骨文字典; p. 896). I found this adds a nice ring to it, that’s why I kept it here. Beauty also has its merits.

Pattern 4: 不利有攸往
“No fortune in having a youwang“. It is of no use to have a journey to the outer regions.

For instance

23-0: 剝.不利有攸往。”Stripped. No fortune in having a youwang”.

Bo 剝 is ‘too strip’, ‘cut in pieces’, ‘wear out’, ‘flake off’, ‘break down’. These meanings have something of decay in them. Also: ‘remove with violent force’ (漢語大字典; p. 346). In times of bo 剝 it is not profitable to have far travels. A youwang was used for inspections, but also to impress, to show who is still in power and control. But a king can only safely leave the home front when all is in order there. In times of bo 剝 that is not the case.

Pattern 5: 勿用有攸往
“Do not use having a youwang“. A youwang is not the right means here.

For instance

33-1: 遯尾.厲.勿用有攸往。“Withdrawal at the tail. Disaster. Do not use a youwang.”

Wei 尾 was in Shang time probably the name of a feudal state (‘方國名’, 甲骨文字典; p. 945). The character from that time shows a man or animal with a tail, and ‘tail’ is therefore the common translation. But Wei 尾 also means ‘the mating of animals’, and that would make the translation ‘withdrawal during mating’. Nice thinking, but probably we are dealing here with a military action. Wei 尾 also means ‘that which is not yet finished, the last part, that which hangs at the end’ (漢語大字典; p. 967). This gives the impression that an army pulls back while the battle is not yet decided or won. Wei 尾 also means ‘country border’, which would make the translation ‘withdrawal at the border’. Of course that is not good in a war. Disaster!

The mare and the Heavenly Coach-And-Four

Here in the West we are not familiar with the work of 烏恩溥 Wu En-pu, but in China’s world of Yixue he is a well known name. His speciality is the discovery of astronomical phenomena in the Yijing, like for instance hexagram 22, which Wu sees as a comet. In the only book I have of him, 周易 – 古代中國的世界圖式 (‘Zhouyi – Ancient China’s design of the world’), he gives a lot of his findings. I find much of his arguments far-fetched. With Wu it looks like ‘I want to find it, therefore I shall find it’. But it is good to be acquainted with his ideas, even though you do not agree with them.

Let us take the mare from hexagram 2 as an example of Wu’s way of thinking. Because the word for mare, pinma 牝馬 is made up of two characters, ‘female’ and ‘horse’, and this is important for what will follow, I will speak of it as ‘the female horse’, however odd this may sound. Wu says about pinma 牝馬 (p. 52 of the forementioned book):

‘Female horse’ is a reference to Tianma, ‘The Heavenly Coach-And-Four’; Tianma is the constellation Fang 房.

This sentence already needs some clarification, otherwise it is hard to understand what comes next. Fang is a Chinese constellation, it is situated in our Western constellation Scorpio, and it is the name giver of the fourth xiu 宿, the fourth lunar mansion. It is part of the constellation qinglong 青龍 or canglong 蒼龍, the Azure Dragon.

《爾雅》:”天駟,房也”, 郭璞 (276-324) 注: “龍為天馬,故房四星,謂之天駟.”
The Erya says: “Tianma 天駟 is Fang 房”; Guo Pu (276-324) adds: “The dragon is the Heavenly horse; because the constellation Fang has four stars it is called ‘the Heavenly Coach-And-Four’.”

The constellation Fang consist of four stars and is the fourth lunar mansion in the Eastern constellation Azure Dragon, which covers seven lunar mansions; Fang represents the stomach of the dragon.

天駟或房星何以稱為 “牝馬” ? 《石氏星經》: “房南二星間為陽環,其南曰太陽道;北二星間為陰環,其北為太陰道.” 原來房四星是太陽道和太陰道的分界線,天駟而稱 “牝馬”, 正是分陰、分陽的標記。
Why is the Heavenly Coach-And-Four, the constellation Fang, ‘the female horse’? The Shi Shi Xing Jing (‘The Book of Stars from Mr. Shi’, written by Shi Shen 石申, around 300 B.C. HM) says: “The space which is formed by the two Southern stars of Fang is the yang circle, this South is called ‘the Way of Great Yang’; the space which is formed by the two Northern stars of Fang is the yin circle, this North is called ‘the Way of Great Yin’ “. Originally the stars of the constellation Fang are considered as the boundary between the Way of Great Yang and the Way of Great Yin; the ‘Heavenly Coach-And-Four’ is therefore called ‘the female horse’, because it is the demarcation between the yin and yang sides.

Wu means this: the word for mare is pinma 牝馬. Pin 牝 is ‘female’, that is what it means. But ma 馬 is ‘horse’, and a horse is yang 陽, male. In the Shuogua 說卦 we read, “乾為馬”: “Qian (yang) represents ‘horse’ “. With pinma 牝馬 we have female and male, and because of that it can serve as another name for the Heavenly Coach-and-Four, a constellation which in the old days was seen as the division between yin and yang.
By the way, taiyangdao 太陽道, ‘the Way of Great Yang’, and taiyindao 太陰道, ‘The Way of Great Yin’ can also be translated as ‘the sun’s course’ and ‘the moon’s course’. But I am not sure if that is meant here, therefore I chose to translate it literally.

Far-fetched? You decide. In any way this text taught me quite a lot about Chinese astronomy and astrology. If it really has something to do with the Yijing is not always important. Inessentials can contribute a lot to the understanding of what is essential.

The valley and the mare

When I was looking at the meanings of pin , the Daodejing came to mind. Pin  occurs in The Judgment of hexagram 2 (and in the Judgment of hexagram 30, but that does not concern us here):

“Favourable in a consultation for a mare”. If the oracle is consulted to know whether a mare (pinma 牝馬 = ‘female horse’) is carrying a young, then this is a favourable answer: the mare is carrying. In metaphorical sense this means that this hexagram is favourable for all female matters.

Pin  generally means ‘female, feminine’ (雌性的獸類,引申為雌性的), and this is how it appears in the oracle bone drawing of this character: an animal combined with the sign for  ‘woman’, in other words a female animal. But pin also has another meaning, namely ‘gully’ or ‘valley’ (溪谷). Already in ancient times is hexagram 2 linked with the feminine, and it is interesting to see that the meaning ‘valley’ makes a connection with other texts like the Daodejing 道德經, where we also find ‘valley’ combined with the feminine. In chapter 6 we read:

谷神不死, 是谓玄牝.

“The valley spirit never dies, it is called ‘the mysterious feminine’ “.

In old books like the Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記, ‘Notes regarding rituals, from Dai Senior’, it is said: 丘陵為牡,谿谷為牝 – “hills are mu masculine, valleys are pin feminine”. A link with the genitals is obvious. Earlier another meaning of pin was ‘the part of a lock that receives the key’ (古代鎖具容受鍵的部分). In the Liji 禮記, the Book of Rituals, we therefore read “the key is masculine, the lock is feminine” (鍵,牡; 閉,牝也).

Although the name of hexagram 2, kun , appears for the first time in the Yi en therefore we cannot look at other literature that can give a hint about the meaning of this character, we could speculate that it’s original meaning is ‘valley’. The character consists of two parts,  for ‘earth’ and  for ‘streched’ (according to Karlgren, GSR 421a). This could refer to a valley, and we can add that valleys are often fertile (= feminine) because of the rain water that flows to it. I am not very fond of speculating so I’d better stop here, nevertheless I found it worth to mention it in my diary.

The Chinese Icarus

At 1-6 it says “亢龍有悔”. Kang 亢 is often translated as ‘pride, arrogance’, but this is just one of the many meanings. If we look at some other meanings of this character we can adjust our translation a bit:

– 高 – high
– 舉- rise, go up
– 極,太過 – too (much)
– 強硬; 剛強 – strong, inflexible
– 遮蔽; 庇護- out of sight, hide

If we combine this with our dragon from 1-6 we get the picture of a dragon who without stopping goes up and up, and disappears out of sight (it is nice how sometimes all these meanings can be combined) . This is not an arrogant dragon,but a reckless dragon: a Chinese Icarus who overestimates his own powers and thereby will have hui 悔. Hui 悔 can mean

– 悔恨; 后悔 – regret, repentance
– 悔過; 改過 – correct your mistakes out of repentance
– 災咎; 災禍 – unavoidable misfortune
– 《易》卦有六爻,其上體即上三爻稱 “悔”,又稱外卦 – upper/outside trigram of a hexagram

If we stick to the image of Icarus, then I think the third meaning fits best. If you do not know your limits, or do not accept them, you will have unavoidable misfortune. Not from arrogance, but from recklessness. It are often the kind people, and not the arrogant people, who have to learn their lessons like this.

Wet clothes

Some time ago somebody asked me for advice with a Yi Jing interpretation. The hexagram she threw was 63, with the second and fourth line moving. Especially the fourth line bothered me, and bothers is what I would like to share with others.


There is a world of differences between many Yi translations, and because no one is 100% right (or 100% wrong) I always look at the original Chinese text of the Yi. It is also a way of finding interesting things. This was the case when I looked at the fourth line of 63. The first sentence of this line is translated by Wilhelm as ‘The finest clothes turn to rags’. But the Chinese text does not contain ‘turn to’, it talks about ‘have, (there) are’. When I noticed this Wilhelm’s translation didn’t satisfy anymore. But of course I had to find something else. That’s when the Great Search begins.

Coloured silk

The first character, ‘xu’ or ‘ru’ has basically just two meanings. The first one is easy: ‘coloured silk material’. The second meaning has to be described. In the old days, when you wanted to pass through important mountain passes or gates, you received one half of a metal seal. At the gate or pass was an official with the other half. If the two halves fitted you were allowed to pass through. According to the Hanyu Da Zidian this system was also used during the Han-dynasty (206 BC – 221) with written silk which was cut in two. One such half was called a ‘xu/ru’. Stephen Karcher uses this meaning in his (revised) ‘I Ching – The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change’. But the use of silk for this purpose, and writing on silk, was not practiced before the Han dynasty, which means that this second meaning of ‘xu/ru’ is not valid here. After all the Yi is written long before the Han dynasty.


The character is often equalled with another character which looks almost the same and is pronounced in the same way. This character means ‘short coat’ or ‘jacket’. This is the meaning which Wilhelm used, and it seems to be the best meaning because it fits the context of the sentence, as we will see below. Combined with the meaning of xu/ru as ‘coloured silk material’ we get Wilhelm’s ‘the finest clothes’.

In his Dutch Yi Jing translation ‘De I Tjing voor de 21ste eeuw’ (‘The Yi Jing for the 21st Century’) Han Boering translates the first character of 63-4 with ‘leak’, which makes the translation ‘the leak is plugged with rags’ (many more translate it like this – Cleary, Palmer, to name but two) . Han properly states that he is following Wang Bi (226-249) here. But where does Wang get it from? Nowhere in other old books have we found ‘xu/ru’ used for ‘leak’. If we look at the translation of Wang Bi’s Yi by Lynn, we can see what Wang actually does. Wang writes: “Xu (gorgeous clothes) should be read here as ‘ru’ (wet).” (p. 541)

What Wang is doing is interpreting: he interpretates xu/ru as ru, meaning ‘wet’ or ‘submerge’. According to the Hanyu Da Zidian Wang was the first to interpretate xu/ru like this, it isn’t found in earlier works. When this is the case, I am quite rigid: xu/ru cannot mean ‘leak’ in the Yi, simply because it was not used with that meaning in the time it was written. The second character means ‘have’ or ‘are’. The third character means ‘clothes’. This is a direct link with the first character xu/ru, which also deals with clothing. This link strengthens the meaning of xu/ru as some kind of garment. The fourth character means ‘worn out’. Roughly translated this makes the sentence Beautiful/coloured clothes – have/are – clothes – worn out. In somewhat better English: Between the beautiful clothes are worn out clothes.

The sentence contains a little bit of rhyme. Many Chinese sayings contain rhyme, and often they consist of four characters. It is possible to view this sentence as a saying with a deeper meaning. When a new dynasty was established the whole apparatus of ministers and other officials was taken over from the former dynasty. Most men promised loyalty to the new emperor and therefore where assured of their position. It was impossible for the new emperor to replace every single person, better it was to use experienced people of whom you knew they were up to their task. And as an official you had the choice between cooperation or a horrible death. But the emperor was not mad (not always). Promising loyalty to the emperor is one thing, to carry it out is something different. The emperor had to find betrayers who were still loyal to the old dynasty and could plan a revolt. When the emperor wondered if his ministry contained traitors and he consulted the Yi about this, he might get the answer ‘between the beautiful (=new) clothes are worn out (=old) clothes. Be careful all day long’. With such an answer the emperor knew what to do.