I Ching Hexagram 7 - Shih / The Army

hexagram 7
  • Above K'un the Receptive, Earth
  • Below K'an the abysmal, Water


This hexagram is made up of the trigrams K'an, water, and K'un, earth, and thus it symbolizes the ground water stored up in the earth. In the same way military strength is stored up in the mass of the people--invisible in times of peace but always ready for use as a source of power. The attributes of the two trig rams are danger inside and obedience must prevail outside. Of the individual lines, the one that controls the hexagram is the strong nine in the second place, to which the other lines, all yielding, are subordinate. This line indicates a commander, because it stands in the middle of one of the two trigrams. But since it is in the lower rather than the upper trigram, it represents not the ruler but the efficient general, who maintains obedience in the army by his authority.

See the James Legge translation of this hexagram.

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The Army. The army needs perseverance And a strong man. Good fortune without blame.

Judgement Commentary

An army is a mass that needs organization in order to become a fighting force. Without strict discipline nothing can be accomplished, but this discipline must not be achieved by force. It requires a strong man who captures the hearts of the people and awakens their enthusiasm. In order that he may develop his abilities he needs the complete confidence of his ruler, who must entrust him with full responsibility as long as the war lasts. But war is always a dangerous thing and brings with it destruction and devastation. Therefore it should not be resorted to rashly but, like a poisonous drug, should be used as a last recourse.

The Image

In the middle of the earth is water: The image of The Army. Thus the superior man increases his masses By generosity toward the people.

The Lines

Six at the beginning means: An army must set forth in proper order. If the order is not good, misfortune threatens.

At the beginning of a military enterprise, order is imperative. A just and valid cause must exist, and the obedience and coordination of the troops must be well organized, otherwise the result is inevitably failure.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 19 - Lin / Approach or initial success followed by retreat and misfortune. This line shows how a good beginning begat's a good end and likewise inattention to initial conditions lays the seed for future failure. Legge shows that the rules of war must be righteous and the cause right for success to be certain "...the war be for a righteous end; and second, that the manner of conducting it, especially at the outset, be right." This line is indicating a deficit in both so eventual failure is almost certain.

Nine in the second place means: In the midst of the army. Good fortune. No blame. The king bestows a triple decoration.

The leader should be in the midst of his army, in touch with it, sharing good and bad with the masses he leads. This alone makes him equal to the heavy demands made upon him. He needs also the recognition of the ruler. The decorations he receives are justified, because there is no question of personal preferment here: the whole army, whose center he is, is honored in his person.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 2 - K'un / The Receptive or the Earth and its augury of sublime success. This line seems to be saying that a successful army leadership must follow the direction of its sovereign and not seek to take over power for itself. If this is done great rewards will be earned by the army and its members. Legge states "...line 2 comes to be the symbol of the general in command of the army" with all the responsibility and kudos that entails.

Six in the third place means: Perchance the army carries corpses in the wagon. Misfortune.

Here we have a choice of two explanations. One points to defeat because someone other than the chosen leader interferes with the command; the other is similar in its general meaning, but the expression, "carries corpses in the wagon," is interpreted differently. At burials and at sacrifices to the dead it was customary in China for the deceased to whom the sacrifice was made to be represented by a boy of the family, who sat in the dead man's place and was honored as his representative. On the basis of this custom the text is interpreted as meaning that a "corpse boy" is sitting in the wagon, or, in other words, that authority is not being exercised by the proper leaders but has been usurped by others. Perhaps the whole difficulty clears up if it is inferred that there has been an error in copying. The character fan, meaning "all," may have been misread as shih, which means "corpse." Allowing for this error, the meaning would be that if the multitude assumes leadership of the army (rides in the wagon), misfortune will ensue.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 46 - Sheng / Pushing Upward is a positive hexagram, showing how persist ant effort can be rewarded by success yet the line itself seems quite negative. An army of corpses is a failed army so this line is not a pleasant one to receive. Legge says "...shows how the host(army) may, possibly, have many inefficient leaders. There will be evil..." so again not a good situation. Perhaps this evil can be undone by following the prescription for action described in the resultant hexagram Sheng "...pushing upward is made possible not by violence but by modesty and adaptability."

Six in the fourth place means: The army retreats. No blame.

In the face of a superior enemy, with whom it would be hopeless to engage in battle, an orderly retreat is the only correct procedure, because it will save the army from defeat and disintegration. It is by no means a sign of courage or strength to insist upon engaging in a hopeless struggle regardless of circumstances.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 40 - Hsieh / Deliverance or release of tension and in this context this indicates a retreat in the face of superior forces. This would certainly relieve soldiers tensions! Legge finds no blame or error in this retreat as it preserves the army for service at a future more auspicious time "...the retreat will be right in the circumstances." If you draw this line carefully consider if you are needlessly prolonging an un-winnable conflict.

Six in the fifth place means: There is game in the field. it furthers one to catch it. Without blame. Let the eldest lead the army. The younger transports corpses; Then perseverance brings misfortune.

Game is in the field it has left its usual haunts in the forest and is devastating the fields. This points to an enemy invasion. Energetic combat and punishment are here thoroughly justified, but they must not degenerate into a wild melee in which everyone fends for himself. Despite the greatest degree of perseverance and bravery, this would lead to misfortune. The army must be directed by an experienced leader. It is a matter of waging war, not of permitting the mob to slaughter all who fall into their hands; if they do, defeat will be the result, and despite all perseverance there is danger of misfortune.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 29 - K'an / The Abysmal (Water). The resultant Hexagram 29 represents danger repeated. This line suggests a perilous situation where conflict has been joined and fighting is occuring. With the correct leadership the army can succeed, otherwise disaster! Legge makes the point that "only defensive war, or war waged by the rightful authority to put down rebellion and lawlessness, is right", plundering mob violence is not.

Six at the top means: The great prince issues commands, Founds states, vests families with fiefs. Inferior people should not be employed.

The war has ended successfully, victory is won, and the king divided estates and fiefs among his faithful vassals. But it is important that inferior people should not come into power. If they have helped, let them be paid off with money, but they should not be awarded lands or the privileges of rulers, lest power be abused.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 4 - Meng / Youthful Folly seems to be saying that although the war is won the peace can still be lost if inappropriate leadership is allowed. As Legge says "...small men should not be employed in such positions". Hexagram 4 is also a warning not to continually ask the same questions of those wiser than you in the hope of getting a another more preferable answer.

See the James Legge - I Ching Hexagram 7 - Shih / The Army translation of this hexagram.