Hexagram 3 - Chun / Difficulty at the Beginning - James Legge Translation

  • Above K'an the abysmal, Water
  • Below Chen the Arousing, Thunder


Chun denotes filling up. Chun is descriptive of things on their first production. Chun indicates that in the case which it presupposes there will be great progress and success, and the advantage will come from being correct and firm. But any movement in advance should not be lightly undertaken. There will be advantage in appointing feudal princes.

Meaning Commentary

The character called Chun is pictorial, and was intended to show us how a plant struggles with difficulty out of the earth, rising gradually above the surface. This difficulty, marking the first stages in the growth of a plant, is used to symbolize the struggles that mark the rise of a state out of a condition of disorder, consequent on a great revolution. The same thing is denoted by the combination of the trigrams that form the figure.

King Wan and his son wrote, as they did in every hexagram, with reference to a particular state of affairs which they had in mind. This was the unspoken text which controlled and directed all their writing; and the student must try to get hold of this, if he would make his way with comfort and success through the Yi. Wan saw the social and political world around him in great disorder, hard to be remedied. But he had faith in himself and the destinies of his House. Let there be prudence and caution, with unswerving adherence to the right; let the government of the different states be entrusted to good and able men: then all would be well.

See The Richard Wilhelm translation of this hexagram.

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The Image

Clouds and thunder: The image of Difficulty at the Beginning. Thus the superior man Brings order out of confusion.

Image Commentary

Clouds and thunder are represented by definite decorative lines; this means that in the chaos of difficulty at the beginning, order is already implicit. So too the superior man has to arrange and organize the inchoate profusion of such times of beginning, just as one sorts out silk threads from a knotted tangle and binds them into skeins. In order to find one's place in the infinity of being, one must be able both to separate and to unite.

King Wans explanation

  1. In Chun we have the strong Chen and the weak K'an commencing their intercourse, and difficulties arising.
  2. Movement in the midst of peril gives rise to great progress and success, through firm correctness.
  3. By the action of the thunder and rain, which are symbols of K'an and Chen, all between heaven and earth is filled up. But the condition of the time is full of irregularity and obscurity. Feudal princes should be established, but the feeling that rest and peace have been secured should not be indulged even then.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

Chun is made up of the trigrams K'an and Chen but according to the views on king Wan's arrangement of the trigrams, as set forth especially in Appendix V, chap. 14, the six others come from Ch'ien and K'un, and are said to be their children. On the first application of K'un to Ch'ien, there results K'an, the first line of Ch'ien taking the place of the last of K'un; and on the second application, there results Chen, the middle line of Ch'ien taking the place of that of K'un. McClatchie renders here: The Thun Chun diagram represents the hard and the soft air beginning to have sexual intercourse, and bringing forth with suffering! But there is nothing in the Yi, from the beginning to the end, to justify such an interpretation. Nor do I see how, from any account of the genesis by the component trigrams, the idea of the result as signifying a state of difficulty and distress can be readily made out.

In paragraph 2 there is an attempt from the virtues or attributes assigned to the trigrams to make out the result indicated in the Thwan. To move and excite is the quality of K'an; perilousness is the quality of Chen. The power to move is likely to produce great effects; to do this in perilous and difficult circumstances requires firmness and correctness. But neither is this explanation very satisfactory.

The first part of paragraph 3 depicts a condition of trouble and disorder in the natural world occasioned by the phenomena that are symbols of the significance of Kan and Khan; but this is symbolical again of the disorder and distress, political and social, characteristic of the time. Good princes throughout the nation would help to remedy that; but the supreme authority should not resign itself to indifference, trusting to them.

The Lines

The first NINE, undivided, shows the difficulty its subject has in advancing. It will be advantageous for him to abide correct and firm; advantageous also to be made a feudal ruler.

The first line is undivided, showing the strength of its subject. He will be capable of action, and his place in the trigram of mobility will the more dispose him to it. But above him is the trigram of peril; and the lowest line of that, to which especially he must look for response and co-operation, is divided and weak. Hence arise the ideas of difficulty in advancing, the necessity of caution, and the advantage of his being clothed with authority.

The second SIX, divided, shows its subject distressed and obliged to return; even the horses of her chariot also seem to be retreating. But not by a spoiler is she assailed, but by one who seeks her to be his wife. The young lady maintains her firm correctness, and declines a union. After ten years she will be united, and have children.

To the subject of the second line, divided, advance is still more difficult. He is weak in himself; he is pressed by the subject of the strong line below him. But happily that subject, though strong, is correct; and above in the fifth line, in the place of authority, is the strong one, union with whom and the service of whom should be the objects pursued. All these circumstances suggested to the Duke of Kou the idea of a young lady, sought in marriage by a strong wooer, when marriage was unsuitable, rejecting him, and finally, after ten years, marrying a more suitable, the only suitable, match for her.

The third SIX, divided, shows one following the deer without the guidance of the forester, and only finding himself in the midst of the forest. The superior man, acquainted with the secret risks, thinks it better to give up the chase. If he went forward, he would regret it.

The third line is divided, not central, and the number of its place is appropriate to the occupancy of a strong line. All these things should affect the symbolism of the line. But the outcome of the whole hexagram being good, the superior man sees the immediate danger and avoids it.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject as a lady, the horses of whose chariot appear in retreat. She seeks, however, the help of him who seeks her to be his wife. Advance will be fortunate; all will turn out advantageously.

The subject of the fourth line, the first of the upper trigram, has recourse to the strong suitor of line 1, the first of the lower trigram; and with his help is able to cope with the difficulties of the position, and go forward.

The fifth NINE, undivided, shows the difficulties in the way of its subject's dispensing the rich favours that might be expected from him. With firmness and correctness there will be good fortune in small things; even with them in great things there will be evil.

The subject of the fifth line is in the place of authority, and should show himself a ruler, dispensing benefits on a great scale. But he is in the very centre of the trigram denoting perilousness, and line 2, which responds to 5, is weak. Hence arises the symbolism, and great things should not be attempted.

The topmost SIX, divided, shows its subject with the horses of his chariot obliged to retreat, and weeping tears of blood in streams.

The sixth line is weak; the third responding to it is also weak it is at the extremity of peril; the game is up. What can remain for its subject in such a case but terror and abject weeping?