The salient

The character dui 兌 from hexagram 58 is an old character with many meanings. One of those meanings is ‘happiness’ or something similar, and this is how it is most often translated. But we have a better choice at hand, which might make more sense out of this hexagram.

Let’s look at some early instances of 兌. The character already appears on the oracle bones, with possibly three meanings (甲骨文字典, p. 960):

  1. The name of a person
  2. meaning 閱 ‘to examine, investigate’, mostly combined with 田 ‘fields’. This combination is probably equal to 蒐田, ‘captures/captives of a hunt or battle’.
  3. meaning 銳, ‘sharp, fast’, mostly combined with fa 伐 ‘attack’, making it a sharp or fast attack, probably referring to a so-called ‘salient’. A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. It has more or less the shape of an arrow and is often applied to force a way through enemy lines, to make way for the remaining forces.

In other texts, like (the received text of) the Daodejing 道德經, 兌 refers to an opening, or forcing an opening:

“Block its opening….”

“Open its opening….”
(DDJ 52)

Or in the Shijing 詩經:

“Roads for travelling were opened”

“Paths made through the firs and cypresses”

In the Shijing we see that the meaning ‘to force an opening’ is used, which is exactly what a salient does. I assume that in the Yi 兌 might also refer to a salient. That 兌 can have this specific meaning can be seen in the Xunzi 荀子, where we read:

兌則若莫邪之利鋒 ,當之者潰.
‘If [the army] takes its position in a salient formation, then it will be like the sharp tip of the Moye sword – whatever confronts it will be split asunder.’ (J. Knoblock, Xunzi, Vol.II, p. 220)

Let us see how the meaning of ‘salient’ fits the line texts.

Line 1

‘A balanced/well-connected salient. Auspicious. ‘

和 has several meanings of which many have to do with ‘harmony, balanced’. It also means ‘to unite, combine, integrate’ (漢語大字典 1.602.1). Many meanings refer to two halves or sides which have to be equal or balanced. This is also appropriate for a salient, which consists of two sides which have to be joined and be of equal size in order to function properly. An imbalanced salient is a salient of which the two sides are not connected, or when one side is weaker than the other.

Line 2

‘A war-captives salient is auspicious. Regret disappears. ‘

That 孚 means ‘captives of war’ can be seen in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions (甲骨文字典, p. 265, 895; 金文大字典, p. 2694; 金文常用字典, p. 301; R. Kunst, The Original “Yijing” p. 150). 孚兌 might refer to a salient formed by captives of war. In the Shang and Zhou dynasty captives were forced to work on the land, but also to engage in warfare, almost equal to the so-called zhongren 眾人. K.C. Chang quotes Zhang Zhenglang 張政烺 in Shang Civilization:

Zhongren were farmers, and were the fighting men in wars. They usually occupied a very lowly position, opposite the nobility. They had no title to land and they were securely tied up with agricultural collectives, controlled by the rulers, were conscribed to become soldiers, paid tributes, and performed labor services. When they were soldiers they would become slaves when captured, and if they refused to become soldiers they and their families would instantly become slaves also. Their lives and their possessions were controlled by the king and the nobles, being in essence their tools and possessions. (…) There is even credible evidence that this lowly labouring class was transfused with new members by means of war captives.” (p. 226-227)

A salient is very dangerous for the members of the formation. Quoting Wikipedia:

The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. A deep salient is vulnerable to being “pinched out” across the base, forming a pocket, in which the defenders of the salient become isolated. (…) An attacker would usually produce a salient in his own line by making a broad, frontal attack that is successful only in the centre, which becomes the tip of the salient.

For such a manoeuvre, which is likely to make a lot of casualties on the side of the attacker, war captives are convenient victims. They open the way, being followed by the rest of the army.

Line 3

‘A coming/approaching salient. Misfortune.’

A salient can cause severe damage to the army it attacks. If this line is the record of an actual divination the ‘misfortune’ probably meant that the salient would be successful.

Line 4

‘The salient of the Shang has not yet been stopped. Dividing the attack brings happiness.’

寧 has several meanings of which one is ‘to stop, to bring down (a rebellion)’ (漢語大字典 2.949.5). 疾 not only means ‘(minor) illness’, which is the usual translation, it also refers more generally to suffering and hardships coming from outside. It is striking that the original form of 疾 was the picture of a man being hit by an arrow – an appropriate description of an army attack using a salient (= arrow shaped) formation.

Line 5
(does not contain 兌)

Line 6

‘Leading the salient.’

引 normally refers to ‘drawing a bow’, and by extension means ‘pull, stretch’. But it can also mean ‘lead (an army)’, like in the Shijing:

‘Leading as well as supporting’
(M246 & M252)

The 弓 component in 引 represents a bow, and it is assumed that the 丨 part refers to the stretching. If we take in mind that a salient has the shape of an arrow, the phrase 引兌 also gives the impression of a salient about to be ‘launched’. An effective salient was executed fast and swift, like the firing of an arrow.

In bronze inscriptions 兌 is only found as the name of a general (金文大字典, p. 687-688; E. Shaughnessy, Sources of Western Zhou History, p. 281-283).

The trigram image itself also gives an impression of ‘breaking open’, the yang lines forcing their way upwards, breaking through the (open) yin line.

Tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.