Hexagram 18 - Ku / Work on what has been spoiled (Decay) - James Legge Translation

hexgram 18
  • Above Ken Keeping Still, Mountain
  • Below Sun the Gentle, Wind


They who follow another are sure to have services to perform. Ku indicates great progress and success to him who deals properly with the condition represented by it. There will be advantage in efforts like that of crossing the great stream. He should weigh well, however, the events of three days before the turning point, and those to be done three days after it.

Meaning Commentary

In the 6th Appendix it is said, They who follow another are sure to have services to perform, and hence Sui is followed by Ku. But Ku means the having painful or troublesome services to do. It denotes here a state in which things are going to ruin, as if through poison or venomous worms; and the figure is supposed to describe the arrest of the decay and the restoration to soundness and vigour, so as to justify its auspice of great progress and success. To realize such a result, however, great efforts will be required, as in crossing the great stream; and a careful consideration of the events that have brought on the state of decay, and the measures to be taken to remedy it is also necessary.

The subject of line 1, and of all the other lines, excepting perhaps 6, appears as a son. Yet the line itself is of the yin nature, and the trigram in which it plays the principal part is also yin. Line 2 is strong, and of the yang nature, with the yin line 5 as its proper correlate. In line 2, 5 appears as the mother; but its subject there is again a son, and the upper trigram altogether is yang. I am unable to account for these things.

See The Richard Wilhelm translation of this hexagram.

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The Image

The wind blows low on the mountain: The image of Decay. Thus the superior man stirs up the people and strengthens their spirit.

Image Commentary

When the wind blows slow on the mountain, it is thrown back and spoils the vegetation. This contains a challenge to improvement. It is the same with debasing attitudes and fashions; they corrupt human society. His methods likewise must be derived from the two trigrams, but in such a way that their effects unfold in orderly sequence. The superior must first remove stagnation by stirring up public opinion, as the wind stirs up everything, and must strengthen and tranquilize the character of the people, as the mountain gives tranquillity and nourishment to all that grows in its vicinity.

King Wans explanation

  1. In Ku we have the strong trigram above, and the weak one below; we have below pliancy, and above stopping: these give the idea of Ku a Troublous Condition of affairs verging to ruin.
  2. Ku indicates great progress and success: through the course shown in it, all under heaven, there will be good order. There will be advantage in crossing the great stream: he who advances will encounter the business to be done. He should weigh well, however, the events of three days before the turning-point, and those to be done three days after it: the end of confusion is the beginning of order; such is the procedure of Heaven.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

The symbolism here is the opposite of that in Sui. The upper trigram Kan is strong, denoting, according to king Wan, the youngest son; and the lower, Sun, is weak, denoting the eldest daughter. For the eldest daughter to be below the youngest son is eminently correct, and helps to indicate the auspice of great success. The attribute of Sun is pliancy, and that of Kan stoppage or arrest. The feeble pliancy confronted by the arresting mountain gives an idea of the evil state implied in Ku.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, shows a son dealing with the troubles caused by his father. If he be an able son, the father will escape the blame of having erred. The position is perilous, but there will be good fortune in the end.

Line 1 is weak, and its correlate 4 is also weak. What can its subject do to remedy the state of decay? But the line is the first of the figure, and the decay is not yet great. By giving heed to the cautions in the Text, he will accomplish what is promised.

The second NINE, undivided, shows a son dealing with the troubles caused by his mother. He should not carry his firm correctness to the utmost.

The ruler in line 5 is represented by a weak line, while 2 is strong. Thus the symbolism takes the form of a son dealing with the prevailing decay induced somehow by his mother. But a son must be very gentle in all his intercourse with his mother, and especially so, when constrained by a sense of duty to oppose her course. I do not think there is anything more or better to be said here. The historical interpretation adopted by Regis and his friends, that the father here is king Wan, the mother Thai-sze, and the son king Wu, cannot be maintained. I have searched, but in vain, for the slightest Chinese sanction of it, and it would give to Ku the meaning of misfortunes endured, instead of troubles caused.

The third NINE, undivided, shows a son dealing with the troubles caused by his father. There may be some small occasion for repentance, but there will not be any great error.

Line 3 is strong, and not central, so that its subject might well go to excess in his efforts. But this tendency is counteracted by the line's place in the trigram Sun, often denoting lowly submission.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows a son viewing indulgently the troubles caused by his father. If he go forward, he will find cause to regret it.

Line 4 is weak, and in an even place, which intensifies that weakness. Hence comes the caution against going forward.

The fifth SIX, divided, shows a son dealing with the troubles caused by his father. He obtains the praise of using the fit instrument for his work..

The weak line 5, as has been said, is the seat of the ruler; but its proper correlate is the strong 2, the strong siding champion minister, to whom the work of the hexagram is delegated.

The sixth NINE, undivided, shows us one who does not serve either king or feudal lord, but in a lofty spirit prefers to attend to his own affairs.

Line 6 is strong, and has no proper correlate below. Hence it suggests the idea of one outside the sphere of action, and taking no part in public affairs, but occupied with the culture of himself.