Hexagram 2, line 6


Zhan 戰, ‘battle’ (different from dou 鬥, ‘fight’). A battle of dragons was a bad omen. In the Lun Heng 論衡 it is said,

When the downfall of the Hsia dynasty was imminent, two dragons fought together in the court…

Wen Yiduo 聞一多 links the fighting dragons to two passages in de Zuo Zhuan (闻一多全集, Vol. 10, p. 229):

‘There were great floods in Zheng; and [some] dragons fought in the pool of Wei, outside the Shi gate…
Legge, p. 675

Two serpents, one inside and one outside, had fought together in the southern gate of the capital, till the inside one was killed. It was six years after this when duke Li entered. The duke [of Lu] heard of the circumstance, and asked Shen Xu, saying, “Has Tu’s restoration come from that supernatural appearance?” The answer was, “When men are full of fear, their breath, as it were, blazes up, and brings such things. Monsters and monstrous events take their rise from men. If men afford no cause for them, they do not arise of themselves. When men abandon the constant course of virtue, then monstrosities appear. Therefore it is that there are monsters and monstrous events.”
Legge, p. 92

Ye 野, ‘borderlands’, the region far away from the capital where the civilisation and authorities are located.

Xuan huang 玄黃: ‘dark and yellow’. Wen Yiduo thinks xuan huang refers to different kinds of red, stating that since huang stems from the character guang 光 (‘to emit light’), related to fire, huang refers to the kind of orange  colour that fire emits. In the Shijing a fox ‘s robe is described as huanghuang 黃黃, ‘yellow-yellow’, but since a fox is not yellow Wen Yiduo states it must refer to a kind of red colour. In another poem it is said 莫赤匪狐, ‘Nothing red is seen but foxes’, so surely 黃 must also refer to some kind of red. Xuan 玄 should also be a red colour, as a commentary to the Shijing says 玄, 黑而有赤也, ‘xuan is black with red’, in other words a dark-red colour. David Pankenier agrees wholeheartedly with this:

“Wen Yiduo (…) shows that translating xuan huang as “black and yellow” is mistaken. Xuan is dark red, bordering on black, the colour of old coagulated blood, while huang (colour of the loess soil, present-day “yellow”) can shade all the way from cream coloured into brown.”
David Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China, p. 54 n. 26

Rutt, however, finds this doubtful (Rutt, Zhouyi, p. 296). In the Shou Ci 守志 song from the Chi Ci 楚辭 collection of poems the expression xuan huang refers to one of the five celestial deities:

I called on the Lord of Heaven and offered him tribute…
David Hawkes (tr.), The Songs of the South, p. 318

Hong Xingzu 洪興祖 (1090-1155) says that it refers to the chief authority if the five deities (“玄黃, 中央之帝也”).

When the expression xuan huang refers to colours it is used most often to denote the colours black and yellow, not ‘dark yellow’. The expression is also used in the Shijing to denote exhaustion, or sickness:

陟彼崔嵬, 我馬虺隤.
陟彼高岡, 我馬玄黃.
陟彼砠矣, 我馬瘏矣.
I was ascending that rock-covered height,
But my horses were too tired to breast it.
I was ascending that lofty ridge,
But my horses turned of a dark and yellow.
I was ascending that flat-topped height,
But my horses became quite disabled.
(tr. James Legge, adjusted)

Gao Heng thinks that xuan huang should be read as xuan huang 泫潢, ‘dripping and flowing’, so the sentence would become ‘their blood dripping and flowing’. This meaning would also fit the context in the sentence from the Shijing, 我馬玄黃, ‘my horse is dripping and flowing (sweat)’, but since xuan huang is an expression that occurs regularly in several old texts I doubt we should read it like this. The poem from the Shijing shows that with animals the colours refer to a physical weakened condition, which also fits this line from the Yijing.

Dragons battling in the borderlands. Their blood is dark and yellow.

Hexagram 2, line 5

黃裳. 元吉.

Huang chang 黃裳: ‘yellow skirt’. There are different interpretations about the meaning of this phrase. Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200) says in his commentary to the Yi Li 儀禮:

A senior serviceman wears a black skirt, an ordinary serviceman wears a yellow skirt, and a junior serviceman wears a skirt of mixed colours, that is black at the front en yellow at the back.
(Office titles taken from Charles O. Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China)

But in the Shijing it is linked to the primary wife (as opposed to a concubine):

Green is the upper robe,
Green the upper, and yellow the lower garment!
The sorrow of my heart, –
How can it be forgotten?

It is said that this poem tells about a first wife (the lower yellow skirt) who’s position is being threatened by a concubine (the upper green robe). The first wife should wear clothes of the same colour, and mixing colours was a sign of inferiority (just as with the xiashi 下士, the junior serviceman). See the commentary in 毛詩正義 (search for「綠衣黃裳」).

Deng Qiubai 鄧球柏 says in his commentary to the Mawangdui text:

(禮記。郊特牲):“黃衣黃冠而祭.” 又士所著之裳。
‘Yellow skirt’ means ‘yellow clothes’. These clothes were worn during the year-end sacrifice. In the Liji it is said: “yellow clothes and a yellow cap for the sacrifice”. Some scholars write 裳 (instead of 衣).
Deng Qiubai 鄧球柏, 《帛書周易校釋》, p. 265

Whatever it refers to (an ordinary serviceman, a first wife being forced into inferiority or someone performing a sacrifice), it tells about a humble position.

The Mawangdui text has chang 常 instead of chang 裳. Both characters share the same origin and are often used as each others loans. Wang Li says about this:

當下衣講,實為一詞的不同寫法。(…) 常又訓旌旗,是常(裳)的引申義。(…) “裳” “常”分用後,“裳”不用於旌旗義。但與“常”為同源詞。
When we talk about “常” and “裳” as related to clothing they are in reality one word in different styles of writing. 常 is also explained as ‘banners and flags’, it is an extended meaning of 常(裳). Later on “裳” and “常” are differentiated, however “裳” is never used with the meaning of ‘banners and flags’.
Wang Li, 《王力古漢語字典》, p. 1224

It is tempting to read the Mawangdui text as ‘yellow banner’ (as I did years ago), but since the received text speaks of 裳, which was never used with the meaning of ‘banner’, and since the phrase 黃裳 occurs in many other texts as well, I think we should just translate it as ‘yellow skirt’.

Yellow skirt. Greatly auspicious.

Hexagram 2, line 4

括囊. 無咎無譽.

Kuo nang 括囊: a tied up large sack, probably made from leather, with a bottom (instead of a sack without a bottom, which has to be tied on both sides). ‘With a bottom’, you di 有底, means that one knows his own mind, but a ‘tied up sack’ means you will not speak it. This is how the expression kuo nang is used in other early sources, and it is the traditional view of this line as well:

Kuo 括 means jie 結, ‘to tie’. Because of this a sack can store things. In the same way the mind stores knowledge. To stop up wisdom and not use it, that is why it says ‘tied up sack’. The results of achievements are not displayed, therefore ‘without praise’. But matters can’t oppose them either, therefore ‘without blame’.
– Kong Yingda 孔穎達, 《周易正義》

Whatever the circumstances, you do not speak up:

The Master said, “Truly straightforward was the historiographer Yu. When good government prevailed in his state, he was like an arrow. When bad government prevailed, he was like an arrow. A superior man indeed is Qu Bo Yu! When good government prevails in his state, he is to be found in office. When bad government prevails, he can roll his principles up, and keep them in his breast.”
– The Analects of Confucius

This line resonates with line 3: in both lines accomplishments are not boasted of.

Yu 譽 means ‘praise; fame’. It is also a loan for yu 豫, ‘happy, delighted’, which interestingly is the name of the zhigua 之卦, the hexagram that you get when this line changes (hexagram 16).

A tied large sack.
No blame, no fame.

Hexagram 2, line 3

含章可貞, 或從王事, 无成有終.

Hanzhang 含章: the same phrase occurs at H44-5.  Han 含 means ‘to keep in the mouth; to hide, conceal’. The Shanghai MSS manuscript has [玉+欦], which might be related to yin 㱃, an old form of yin 飲, ‘to swallow; conceal’. The expression yinzhang 飲章 was used for documents without a signature, like anonymous memorials to the throne. Zhang 章 amongst many other things can mean ‘outstanding labour/service’ (顯赫的功勛).

Huo 或 = you 又–> you 有, ‘there is also’, see H1-4 and H7-3.

Cong 從: ‘participate in’.

Wangshi 王事: assignment by the king.

Unrecognised outstanding service. Suitable to do the divination.
There is participation in royal affairs.
No accomplishments, but it will be finished.

Hexagram 2, line 1 & 2

First line


Thread on frost: hard ice comes.

Second line


See for zhi 直, ‘to receive’ and other meanings this page. See also Scott Barnwell’s excellent article about de 德, The Evolution of the Concept of De in Early China, p. 5-6.  Zhi is a known loan of de 德 in early texts, meaning (besides ‘virtue’ and similar connotations) ‘to receive’ (古文字通假字典, p. 232). In Warring States texts the phrase 德賜 occurs, which the 漢語大詞典 reads as ‘to bestow; a favour’ (‘恩賜’); 戰國古文字典 reads ‘grant a favour’ (‘施賜恩德’, p. 68). Xi 習 means ‘to repeat’ (consult the oracle again) (‘借用有重復之意’; Ma Rusen 马如森, ‘殷墟甲骨学: 带你走进甲骨文的世界’, p. 289)

The land that is received is great.
No need to repeat.
Nothing is not favourable.