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):

7-1, “律”

In this sample we have the sentence 師惟律用 (in this picture 惟 is read as 叀) which by the authors of 甲骨文精粹釋譯, the book in which I found this sample, is interpreted as

Should the army act according to the directions given by the temperament (of the drums and bells)?

The authors add as comment,

There are scholars who explain  as the temperament of drums, bells etc. to direct the movement of armed forces, there are others who explain it as ‘laws, decrees’. We follow the former.
(甲骨文精粹釋譯, p. 1662)

Liu Xinglong 劉興隆 however reads it as ‘laws, regulations’ (新编甲骨文字典, p. 100).

Needham also discusses the connection between laws, pitch-pipes and the military when he talks about :

We have often noticed it in the paragraphs on the development of Chinese legal codes, where, with its usual dictionary meaning, it stands for ‘statutes’ and ‘regulations’. This sense is undoubtedly quite old, as the phrase in Guanzi may witness: ‘the laws serve to distinguish each person’s portion and place, and to put a stop to quarrels’ (律者所以定分止爭也). Here the idea is very close to that of moira and the other Greek entities discussed by Comford. But the word had also a quite different meaning, namely, the series of standard bamboo pitch-pipes used in ancient music and acoustics, and the twelve semitones which these pipes represented. What connection could there have been between the laws of sound and the laws of human lawgivers?

The word 律 has as its right-hand phonetic a sign which was certainly in the most ancient times a hand holding a writing implement, and for its radical the word chi 彳 which meant a step with the left foot (paralleling chu 亍, a step with the right foot). This suggests an original connection with the notation of a ritual dance. Later on, since the twelve semitones were made to correspond with the months of the year, the word became linked with the calendar, and thus is found associated with the word li 歷 in titles of chapters on calendrical science, such as the ‘Lü Li Zhi 履歷志’ of the Qian Han Shu. (…) The question at issue is how the conception of laws, statutes or regulations can have been derived from, or even associated with, the word for the standard musical tones.
Perhaps the etymological considerations just mentioned hold one clue. It would not be so far a step from the directions for music and ritual dancing laid down by a diviner or priest-magician (indeed a shamanist wu 巫) to the directions for conduct of other behaviour, especially organised military behaviour, laid down by a temporal ruler. There was a logical analogy between what dancing would do against the spirits and what drilling and weapon-practising would do against human enemies. Some kinds of dances certainly involved the carrying and brandishing of weapons. It is thought that originally there were five stations around the dancing-floor which in time gave their names to a certain quality of sound, according to the instrument stationed in each place, and later to a difference in pitch. This, however, is not the only connection between the musical tones and military affairs. Many references exist in Zhou books (the Zuo Zhuan, the Shang Jun Shu, etc.) to the use of drums in battle as the signal for advance, and of the beating of suspended slabs of metal (predecessors of gongs) as the signal for retreat. But besides this, it seems that the pitch-pipes themselves were taken into battle, or at least to the field headquarters of the commander. Granet has drawn attention to passages in the Zhou Li (Record of the Rites of Zhou) which deal with the duties of the Grand Analist (Tai Shi 大史) and the Grand Instructor (Da Shi 大師). It is said of the latter: ‘When the army is assembled (and marches forth), he takes the standard pitch-pipe tubes in order to determine the ”note” of the army, and thus to announce its good or evil fortune.’ And of the former: ‘When the army is assembled (and marches forth) he takes with him the Times of Heaven (the commentator says that this means that he takes care of the shi 式 or diviner’s board, in order to ascertain the times of heaven – 大史抱式以知天時. And he rides in the same chariot as the Grand Instructor (大師).’ The standard tubes and the diviner’s board were thus important instruments which travelled in the same chariot under the care of two high officials. Were it not for the fact that the pipes must have been very difficult to blow, and that their flute-like notes could have carried only a short distance, it would be possible to believe that they formed a more elaborate code of signals than the drum and the gong. But they must rather have been used for divination, since the commentator quotes, after the first of the above passages, some sentences from a lost military work, the Bing Shu 兵書, describing the blowing of the pitch-pipes as a method of divination at headquarters in order to learn what success the combat units were having and what heart they were in. A general connection is nevertheless obvious between musical notes on the one hand, and regulations for ritual dancing and military activity on the other. There was also the fancied connection between the pipe lengths and certain numbers which were involved in calendrical calculations. Alternative links between the two senses of may be sought in the relation of metrology to positive law and in the use of bamboo tubes for making the handles of writing-brushes. In any case, there is nothing here which suggests that the Chinese ever thought of the semitone intervals of the standard pitch-pipes as originating from, or constituting, any kind of law in the non-human phenomenal world. The fact that what we now regard as a branch of physics stood at the origin of a word which took on the sense of human legal ordinances, has thus several probable explanations, and does not, in short, mean that ancient Chinese thinking here contained the elements of the conception of laws of Nature.
(J. Needham; Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 2; p. 550-552)

Mark Edward Lewis also mentions the use of pitch-pipes in the military in Sanctioned Violence in Early China, and quotes Sima Qian’s treatise on the usage of pitch-pipes:

When kings regulate state affairs and establish laws, measures, and regulations, they act solely in accord with the six pitch-pipes. The six pitch-pipes are the fundamental root of the myriad affairs of state. They are especially important in the use of weapons, so they say, “On gazing at the enemy from afar one knows the outcome of the battle; on hearing the tone one knows victory and defeat.” (p. 140)

In another chapter he states,

In the same manner that the music of the drum could arouse and direct the qi of the combatants at the behest of the commander, so the music of the pitch-pipes could “read” the qi of the participants and thus predict the outcome of specific engagements. This tactical divination of qi through music took several forms.

The men of Jin heard that there was an army from Chu, but Shi Kuang said, “They will do no harm. I played the northern tune [bei feng 北風] several times and also the southern tune [nan feng 南風]. The southern tune is not strong and is mostly the sounds of death. Chu will certainly achieve nothing.”

The precise technique used is not clear, but it apparently involved the playing of tunes associated with particular geographic areas and using some unspecified aspect of the sound to deduce the qi of the army from each area and hence the probable outcome of the battle.

Another method for predicting the results of battle with the pitch-pipes involved eliciting a shout from one of the contending hosts and listening to which pipe produced its note in response. The Tai Gong liu tao describes how a commander could know the “waxing and waning of an army and the results of a battle” through the use of the twelve pitch-pipes.

[On a night when] the qi of Heaven [which would interfere] is still and there are no clouds, wind, or rain, a cavalryman with the twelve pipes should approach the enemy camp and shout in order to arouse them. He then listens to the answering clamor and notes which pipe sympathetically responds.

A related practice was described in a fragment of a “military book” preserved in the Zhou li. The passage itself simply states that the Grand Musician “grasps the pitch-pipes to listen to the sound of the army and proclaim the good or bad fortune,” but the commentary provides more detail. It said that on the day the army was to set out, the general received a bow and arrow from the king. The general drew the bow, and the army gave a great shout. The Grand Musician listened with the pitch-pipes and divined the results of the battle. (p. 228-229)

As can be seen from these excerpts the link between pitch-pipes and the military was well known and described. This doesn’t mean that the choice of ‘pitch-pipes’ as the meaning of  in H7-1 is completely decided – there is not much context to be conclusive about this. In the (preliminary) translation of this line (below) it is valid to substitute ‘pitch-pipes’ with ‘statutes’. See for the usage of pitch-pipes in the army also R. Sawyer, The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, p. 86.

Zangpi 臧否: good and evil; to judge people, to appraise. In the Guanzi we read,

When the weapons have been completed, distinguish the bad from the good through competitive trials.
(Rickett  (tr.), Guanzi, Vol. 1; p. 189)

It is probably related to the expression pizang 否臧 which also means ‘to judge people, to appraise’. Maybe this line is deemed ‘inauspicious’ because judgement should be done by the proper authorities and not by the army. Does the line talk about a military coup d’état?

The army sets out according to the pitch-pipes to judge the people. Inauspicious.

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3 Responses to Hexagram 7, line 1

  1. Han Boering says:

    Beste Harmen, het optrekken van legers wordt weergegeven door hexagram 16, de Geestdrift, dat ook verbonden is met muziek. Michel Granet schrijft ook uitgebreid over de uitwerking van de pitch-pipes. Maar ook heden ten dage wordt muziek gebruikt bij de oorlogsvoering. In de film Apocalypse Now over de Viet Nam oorlog wordt een aanval begeleidt met donderend harde Wagner. Ik geniet overigens van je analyses. Hartelijke groet van Han.

    • Dank voor je toelichting, Han. Needham refereert ook aan het werk van Granet; ik heb helaas alleen de Duitse vertaling van zijn boek en kon zo het stuk over de ‘pitch-pipes’ niet vinden. Heb jij dat bij de hand?

  2. Chris Gait says:

    Fascinating stuff about the pitch pipes. As to the translation, there’s an old medical adage: When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.

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