The Yijing as oracle bone’s sidekick – a study of ‘heng’ 亨

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The Yijing as oracle bone’s sidekick – Harmen Mesker

More than words

(Most of the oracle bone images in this article are from the site of Richard Sears. Quotes from classics are from the site of Donald Sturgeon.)

The Chinese character yan is one of the most common words in the Chinese language, it is among the characters that you learn at an early stage when you study the Chinese language. The Hanyu Da Cidian 漢語大詞典 dictionary lists more than 30 meanings for this character, meanings which mostly have to do with words and language in general (vol. 11, p. 1). But the early usage of this character can enhance our understanding of the meaning and usage of this word in the Yijing. Continue reading

Another take on ‘you fu 有孚’

(To see all Chinese characters in this article use Firefox with the Hanazono font.)

A few years ago I wrote an article about the meaning of fu. It was appreciated by many readers as it explained the usage of ‘trust’ and ‘confidence’ in the Yijing and what it could mean in a consultation. Some of these readers might not like the following article, in which I sketch an entirely different picture of the expression you fu 有孚. It will contradict some of the conclusions that I made in my former article. Advancing insights…

It always surprised me that the expression you fu only occurs in the Yi. We do not find it in other ancient books of China, which might imply that its usage is confined to the framework of the Book of Changes, or more generally said, to the framework of divination. When I was researching the character fu 孚 (again), I read the 戰國古文字典 dictionary which mentioned something which I found worth to investigate further. It says

孚, 由保所分化.
(戰國古文字典, p. 249; see image, click to enlarge)

Translated: fu 孚 is a differentiation/modification of bao 保.

The earliest version of bao does not look similar to the earliest form of fu, but the forms that we find on bronze inscriptions contain the same elements: a hand or person covering/protecting a child (see the forms marked in red in the image on the right). The right part 呆 of the character bao is the early version of the character (without the 亻part), it is another version of 孚 and 俘 is often written as 保. To be more precise, 呆 is written as 𤓽 in bronze inscriptions, which according to the Shuowen is an old form of 孚.

If 孚 is also written as 呆, and with all the information that we have now, we can construct the following picture (SW = Shuowen form):

I always feel a little bit uncomfortable with these constructions – it looks like a derivation of the Six Degrees of Separation, as if you can turn a Chinese character in any other character by following a trail of variant forms. But looking at the old forms of 孚 and 保 I think it is very well possible that 孚 can be read as 保.

We do not have 有孚 in old texts, but we do have 有保 on oracle bones. In several inscriptions it is said that (貞)有保, ‘(the divination) has bao 保’ (see image for an example; Heji 06572). What does bao mean? The 新编甲骨文字典 dictionary by Liu Xinglong 劉興隆 explains it as ‘保佑’, ‘保衛’: ‘to bless and protect’, ‘to safeguard’. It meant that the preceding offering to the ancestors or spirits was accepted and that therefore the ancestors would give there blessings and protection to the king – affairs in the (near) future would go smoothly.

You fu appears often in the Zhouyi (at 5-0; 0=Judgment text, 6-0, 8-1 2x, 9-4, 9-5, 17-4, 20-0, 29-0, 34-1, 37-6, 40-5, 41-0, 42-3, 42-5 2x, 45-1, 48-6, 49-3, 49-4, 49-5, 55-2, 61-5, 64-5). If we read it as you bao 有保 it implies a positive outcome: you have support of the spirits and things will go as planned. The oracle bones show that you bao can also mean that you have support of  allies. In ancient China the support of the ancestors, spirits or allies was essential, undertaking any action without their consent was doomed to fail. If you receive you bao it means you can proceed as planned, but if you do so you must acknowledge, respect and show gratitude to the forces that are aiding you in this. If you don’t do that you will loose their connection which makes it very difficult to accomplish anything in the future. With you fu/bao you are on the right track (literally in 17-4, 有孚在道, ‘there is protection on the road’) but you have to check the powers that guide you regularly to maintain the right course. Naturally the Yi is a great help in this.

The reading of fu as bao in relation to the Yijing is much better and more extensive explained by Xie Xiangrong 谢向荣 in his article 《周易》“有孚”新论 which can be downloaded here. Highly recommended.

The banner of Kun

The fifth line of hexagram 2 has the sentence


Most often this is translated as something like ‘yellow lower garment/skirt. Greatly auspicious’. The Mawangdui manuscript made me ponder about another translation for chang 裳, a translation which fits the imagery of hexagram 1 and 2 and which would be my favourite – if I would get rid of some disturbing facts that discredit this translation. Continue reading

The land bestowed is great

The first three characters of line 2 of hexagram 2, 直方大, are most often translated as ‘straight, square, great’ (Wilhelm, Wu Jing-Nuan, Huang, etc.). It is a sentence which has always baffled me because it did not make any sense to me at all. Continue reading