I Ching Hexagram 49 - Ko / Revolution (Molting)

hexagram 49
  • Above Tui the Joyous, Lake
  • Below Li the Clinging, Fire


The Chinese character for this hexagram means in its original sense an animal's pelt, which is changed in the course of the year by molting. From this word is carried over to apply to the 'moltings' in political life, the great revolutions connected with changes of governments. The two trigrams making up the hexagram are the same two that appear in K'uei, Opposition (38), that is, the two younger daughters, Li and Tui. But while there the elder of the two daughters is above, and what results is essentially only an opposition of tendencies, here the younger daughter is above. The influences are in actual conflict, and the forces combat each other like fire and water (lake), each trying to destroy the other. Hence the idea of revolution.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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Revolution. On your own day you are believed. Supreme success, Furthering through perseverance. Remorse disappears.

Judgement Commentary

Political revolutions are extremely grave matters. They should be undertaken only under stress of direst necessity, when there is no other way out. Not everyone is called to this task, but only the man who has the confidence of the people, and even he only when the time is ripe. He must then proceed in the right way, so that he gladdens the people and, by enlightening them, prevents excesses. Furthermore, he must be quite free of selfish aims and must really relieve the need of the people. Only then does he have nothing to regret. Times change, and with them their demands. Thus the seasons change in the course of the year. In the world cycle also there are spring and autumn in the life of peoples and nations, and these call for social transformations.

The Image

Fire in the lake: the image of Revolution. Thus the superior man sets the calendar in order and makes the seasons clear.

Image Commentary

Fire below and the lake above combat and destroy each other. So too in the course of the year a combat takes place between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, eventuating in the revolution of the seasons, and man is able to adjust himself in advance to the demands of the different times.

The Lines

Nine at the beginning means: Wrapped in the hide of a yellow cow.

Changes ought to be undertaken only when there is nothing else to be done. Therefore at first the utmost restraint is necessary. One must becomes firm in one's mind, control oneself, yellow is the color of the means, and the cow is the symbol of docility and refrain from doing anything for the time being, because any premature offensive will bring evil results.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 31 - Hsien / Influence (Wooing). The time must be right if revolutionary change is to be successfully introduced. Legge sees this line has having acted prematurely "...change made at too early a period" so this line is "...tied up, unable to take any action." Wilhelm is more concerned with not acting before the time is due. The resultant hexagram is 31, Influence, success will come if we are able to convince right people that change is absolutely neccessary. "Heaven and earth exert their influences, and there ensue the transformation and production of all things"

Six in the second place means: When one's own day comes, one may create revolution. Starting brings good fortune. No blame.

When we have tried in every other way to bring about reforms, but without success, revolution becomes necessary. But such a thoroughgoing upheaval must be carefully prepared. There must be available a man who has the requisite abilities and who possesses public confidence. To such a man we may well turn. This brings good fortune and is not a mistake. The first thing to be considered is our inner attitude toward the new condition that will inevitably come. We have to go out to meet it, as it were. Only in this way can it be prepared for.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 43 - Kuai / Break-through (Resoluteness). The time has come, change is needed, action can be taken. Legge puts this line position as "Let its subject take action in the way of change." The resultant hexagram 43, Break-through, indicates that the time is indeed right for revolution but the job will not be easy nor without risk. "One must resolutely make the matter known at the court of the king. It must be announced truthfully. Danger. It is necessary to notify one's own city." There is no guarantee of success is here. Merely an acknowledgement that job must be started.

Nine in the third place means: Starting brings misfortune, perseverance brings danger. When talk of revolution has gone the rounds three times one may commit himself, and men will believe him.

When change is necessary, there are two mistakes to be avoided. One lies in excessive haste and ruthlessness, which bring disaster. The other lies in excessive hesitation and conservatism, which are also dangerous. Not every demand for change in the existing order should be heeded. On the other hand, repeated and well-founded complaints should not fail of a hearing. When talk of change has come to one's ears three times, and has been pondered well, he may believe and acquiesce in it. Then he will meet with belief and will accomplish something.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 17 - Sui / Following. Revolutions are neither trivial nor riskless. Attention to the start pays off in the end. Do not rush into this but consider all the conditions of the time very carefully before acting. Legge says that "action taken by its subject will be evil" if it is rushed "But if he act cautiously and with due deliberation, he may take action." The outcome is hexagram 17, Following, we will gather a following and that following will create supreme success "...obtaining a following through adaptation to the demands of the time is a great and significant idea."

Nine in the fourth place means: Remorse disappears. Men believe him. Changing the form of government brings good fortune.

Radical changes require adequate authority. A man must have inner strength as well as influential position. What he does must correspond with a higher truth and must not spring from arbitrary or petty motives, then it brings great good fortune. If a revolution is not founded on such inner truth, the results are bad, and it has no success. For in the end men will support only those undertakings which they feel instinctively to be just.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 63 - Chi Chi / After Completion. This line proceeds to perform revolutionize governance and remove the bad influences that made such changes neccessary. Legge says this line, having "...secured general confidence, he may proceed to the greatest changes, even to change the dynasty, with good fortune." The resultant hexagram 63, After Completion, shows the completion of the great works of the time moderated by a warning that success "...can all too easily tempt us to relax and let thing take their course without troubling over details. Such indifference is the root of all evil." Pay as much attention to the end as you did to the beginning.

Nine in the fifth place means: The great man changes like a tiger. Even before he questions the oracle he is believed.

A tigerskin, with its highly visible black stripes on a yellow ground, shows its distinct pattern from afar. It is the same with a revolution brought about by a great man: large, clear guiding lines become visible, understandable to everyone. Therefore he need not first consult the oracle, for he wins the spontaneous support of the people.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 55 - Feng / Abundance (Fullness). A natural leader arises and leads a successful revolution. Legge says this line "...proceeds to action, faith has been reposed in him." The resultant hexagram 55, Abundance, predicts a happy outcome for this line "Abundance has success. The king attains abundance. Be not sad. Be like the sun at midday." The only negative here is that such abundant times do not last. Celebrate them while you have them.

Six at the top means: The superior man changes like a panther. The inferior man molts in the face. Starting brings misfortune. To remain persevering brings good fortune.

After the large and fundamental problems are settled, certain minor reforms, and elaborations of these, are necessary. These detailed reforms may be likened to the equally distinct but relatively small marks of the panther's coat. As a consequence, a change also takes place among the inferior people. In conformity with the new order, they likewise molt. This molting, it is true, does not go very deep, but that is not to be expected. We must be satisfied with the attainable. If we should go too far and try to achieve too much, it would lead to unrest and misfortune. For the object of a great revolution is the attainment of clarified, secure conditions ensuring a general stabilization on the basis of what is possible at the moment.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 13 - T'ung Jen / Fellowship with Men. Once great changes have been made, clean up any minor changes that still need to occur. Do not get carried away or you may ne carried away! Legge's version of this line warns "To go forward now would lead to evil, but there will be good fortune in abiding firm and correct." The outcome is hexagram 13, Fellowship with Men, "It is not the private interests of the individual that create lasting fellowship among men, but rather the goals of humanity." If we are careful not to alienate others by being over officious things will turn out well.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 49 - Ko / Revolution (Molting) translation of this hexagram.