Hexagram 33 - Tun / Retreat - James Legge Translation

hexagram 33
  • Above Ch'ien the Creative, Heaven
  • Below Ken Keeping Still, Mountain


Tun indicates successful progress in its circumstances. To a small extent it will still be advantageous to be firm and correct.

Meaning Commentary

Tun is the hexagram of the sixth month; the yin influence is represented by two weak lines, and has made good its footing in the year. The figure thus suggested to king Wan the growth of small and unprincipled men in the state, before whose advance superior men were obliged to retire. This is the theme of his essay, how, I when small men multiply and increase in power, the necessity of the time requires superior men to withdraw before them. Yet the auspice of Thun is not all bad. By firm correctness the threatened evil may be arrested to a small extent.

See The Richard Wilhelm translation of this hexagram.

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The Image

Mountain under heaven: the image of Retreat. Thus the superior man keeps the inferior man at a distance, not angrily but with reserve.

Image Commentary

The mountain rises up under heaven, but owing to its nature it finally comes to a stop. Heaven on the other hand retreats upward before it into the distance and remains out of reach. This symbolizes the behavior of the superior man toward a climbing inferior; he retreats into his own thoughts as the inferior man comes forward. He does not hate him, for hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object. The superior man shows strength (heaven) in that he brings the inferior man to a standstill (mountain) by his dignified reserve.

King Wans explanation

  1. Tun indicates successful progress: that is, in the very retiring which Tun denotes there is such progress. The strong line is in the ruling place, the fifth, and is properly responded to by the second line. The action takes place according to the requirement of the time.
  2. To a small extent it will still be advantageous to be firm and correct: the small men are gradually encroaching and advancing.
  3. Great indeed is the significance of what is required to be done in the time that necessitates retiring.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

The superior man, it is said, advances or withdraws according to the character of the time. The strength and correct position of the fifth line show that he is able to maintain himself; and as it is responded to by the weak second line, no opposition to what is correct in him would come from any others. He might therefore keep his place; but looking at the two weak lines, 1 and 2, he recognizes in them the advance and irrepressible progress of small men, and that for a time it is better for him to give way and withdraw from the field. Thus there is successful progress even in his retiring.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, shows a retiring tail. The position is perilous. No movement in any direction should be made.

A retiring tail seems to suggest the idea of the subject of the lines hurrying away, which would only aggravate the evil and danger of the time.

The second SIX, divided, shows its subject holding his purpose fast as if by a thong made from the hide of a yellow ox, which cannot be broken.

His purpose in line 2 is the purpose to withdraw. The weak 2 responds correctly to the strong 5, and both are central. The purpose therefore is symbolled as in the text. The yellow colour of the ox is introduced because of its being correct and of a piece with the central place of the line.

The third NINE, undivided, shows one retiring but bound, to his distress and peril. If he were to deal with his binders as in nourishing a servant or concubine, it would be fortunate for him.

Line 3 has no proper correlate in 6 and its subject allows himself to be entangled and impeded by the subjects of 1 and 2. He is too familiar with them, and they presume, and fetter his movements. He should keep them at a distance.

The fourth NINE, undivided, shows its subject retiring notwithstanding his likings. In a superior man this will lead to good fortune; a small man cannot attain to this.

Line 4 has a correlate in 1, and is free to exercise the decision belonging to its subject. The line is the first in Khien, symbolic of strength.

The fifth NINE, undivided, shows its subject retiring in an admirable way. With firm correctness there will be good fortune.

In the Shu IV, v, Section 2. 9, the worthy I Yin is made to say, The minister will not for favour or gain continue in an office whose work is done; and the Khang-hsi editors refer to his words as an illustration of what is said on line 5. It has its correlate in 2, and its subject carries out the purpose to retire in an admirable way.

The sixth NINE, undivided, shows its subject retiring in a noble way. It will be advantageous in every respect.

Line 6 is strong, and with no correlate to detain it in 3. Its subject vigorously and happily carries out the idea of the hexagram.