Home Ichingfortune Hexagrams Legge Hexagrams Iching reading Links

I Ching Hexagram 21 - Shih Ho / Biting Through

hexagram 21
  • Above Li the Clinging, Fire
  • Below Chen the Arousing, Thunder


This hexagram represents an open mouth hexagram 27 with an obstruction (in the fourth place) between the teeth. As a result the lips cannot meet. To bring them together one must bite energetically through the obstacle. Since the hexagram is made up of the trigrams for thunder and for lightning, it indicates how obstacles are forcibly removed in nature. Energetic biting through overcomes the obstacle that prevents joining of the lips; the storm with its thunder and lightning overcomes the disturbing tension in nature. Recourse to law and penalties overcomes the disturbances of harmonious social life caused by criminals and slanderers. The theme of this hexagram is a criminal lawsuit, in contradistinction to that of Sung, Conflict (6), which refers to civil suits.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

<-Prev Next->


Biting Through has success. It is favorable to let justice be administered.

Judgement Commentary

When an obstacle to union arises, energetic biting through brings success. This is true in all situations. Whenever unity cannot be established, the obstruction is due to a talebearer and traitor who is interfering and blocking the way. To prevent permanent injury, vigorous measures must be taken at once. Deliberate obstruction of this sort does not vanish of its own accord. Judgment and punishment are required to deter or obviate it. However, it is important to proceed in the right way. The hexagram combines Li, clarity, and Chen, excitement. Li is yielding, Chen is hard. Unqualified hardness and excitement would be too violent in meting out punishment; unqualified clarity and gentleness would be too weak. The two together create the just measure. It is of moment that the man who makes the decisions (represented by the fifth line) is gentle by nature, while he commands respect by his conduct in his position.

The Image

Thunder and lighting: The image of Biting Through. Thus the kings of former times made firm the laws Through clearly defined penalties.

Image Commentary

Penalties are the individual applications of the law. The laws specify the penalties. Clarity prevails when mild and severe penalties are differentiated, according to the nature of the crimes. This is symbolized by the clarity of lighting. The law is strengthened by a just application of penalties. This is symbolized by the terror of thunder. This clarity and severity have the effect of instilling respect; it is not that the penalties are ends in themselves. The obstructions in the social life of man increase when there is a lack of clarity in the penal codes and slackness in executing them. The only to strengthen the law is to make it clear and make penalties certain and swift.

The Lines

Nine at the beginning means: His feet are fastened in the stocks, So that his toes disappear. No blame.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 35 - Chin / Progress. The initial punishment suffered by this line leads to a positive change in attitude for the better as shown by the resultant hexagram 35, Rapid progress. As the sentence was lenient and the crime minor no lasting bad effects result. Legge wonders if the term deprived of his toes refers to amputation of same "...shows one with his feet in the stocks and deprived of his toes". This seems like a more than minor punishment. As the outcome represented by hexagram 35 is so clearly good, I doubt it can be true.

Six in the second place means: Bites through tender meat, So that his nose disappears. No blame.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 38 - K'uei / Opposition. A serious offenders punishment is a little overdone here. Still no real issue arises because the nature of the recidivist criminal is so bad. Legge describes a strong offender who will not submit without harsh measures being taken. The resultant hexagram 38 shows that the outcome here is that notwithstanding the justness of the punishment, the offender is still likely to resist just measure against him.

Six in the third place means: Bites on old dried meat and strikes on something poisonous. Slight humiliation. No blame.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 30 - Li / The Clinging, Fire. If one is not strong enough to administer the punishment required by law the law and its agent are both brought into disrepute. Here the attempt to impose punishment fails and ones credibility is called into question. Legge's description is similar "The action of its subject will be ineffective..." The resultant hexagram 30 indicates that one will uphold the good to the best of ones ability and ultimately restore ones credibility.

Nine in the fourth place means: Bites on dried gristly meat. Receives metal arrows. It furthers one to be mindful of difficulties and to be persevering. Good fortune.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 27 - I / Corners of the Mouth (Providing Nourishment). Punishing the powerful is difficult and dangerous. By persistent effort this line succeeds even though it is causes some upset. Legge makes clear that such a situation only ends well if there is support from the appropriate authorities. The resultant hexagram 27, Providing Nourishment, indicates that nourishing the law and its enforcement requires proper consideration of how we should perform our duties.

Six in the fifth place means: Bites on dried lean meat. Receives yellow gold. Perseveringly aware of danger. No blame.

Changing only this line createsHexagram 25 - Wu Wang / Innocence (The Unexpected). When leniency is appropriate then so be it. As long as we make the correct decision for each case then things proceed well. This need to make the correct decision is why caution and care is required. In Legge's description we find (when judging this case) "...he will be disposed to leniency and his judgments will be correct." The outcome is hexagram 25, Innocence, "If someone is not as he should be he has misfortune, And it does not further him to undertake anything" this is particularly true for judges.

Nine at the top means: His neck is fastened in the wooden cangue so that his ears disappear. Misfortune.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 51 - Chen / The Arousing (Shock, Thunder). The consequences of ignoring the law can be dire. In this line we find someone who never learns and so pays the price. As Legge puts it "...a strong criminal, ...deaf to counsel...of course the auspice is evil." The outcome of this situation is seen in hexagram 51 Shock, perhaps this shocking, terrifying state will wake up the criminal to the error of his ways.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 21 - Shih Ho / Biting Through translation of this hexagram.