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Hexagram 23 - Po / Splitting Apart - James Legge Translation

hexagram 23
  • Above Ken Keeping Still, Mountain
  • Below K'un the Receptive, Earth


Po denotes decay and overthrow. Po indicates that in the state which it symbolizes it will not be advantageous to make a movement in any direction whatever.

Meaning Commentary

Po is the symbol of falling or of causing to fall, and may be applied, both in the natural and political world, to the process of decay, or that of overthrow. The figure consists of five divided lines, and one undivided, which last thus becomes the prominent and principal line in the figure. Decay or overthrow has begun at the bottom of it, and crept up to the top. The hexagram is that of the ninth month, when the beauty and glory of summer have disappeared, and the year is ready to fall into the arms of sterile winter. In the political world, small men have gradually displaced good men and great, till but one remains; and the lesson for him is to wait. The power operating against him is too strong; but the fashion of political life passes away. If he wait, a change for the better will shortly appear.

Po represents the opposite set of conditions (Decay) to those presented in hexagram 24 Fu return of growth and life.

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The Image

The mountain rests on the earth: The image of Splitting Apart. Thus those above can ensure their position only by giving generously to those below.

Image Commentary

The mountain rests on the earth. When it is steep and narrow, lacking a broad base, it must topple over. Its position is strong only when it rises out of the earth broad and great, not proud and steep. So likewise those who rule rest on the broad foundation of the people. They too should be generous and benevolent, like the earth that carries all. Then they will make their position as secure as a mountain is in its tranquillity.

King Wans explanation

  1. Po denotes overthrowing or being overthrown. We see in the figure the weak lines threatening to change the last strong line into one of themselves.
  2. That it will not be advantageous to make a movement in any direction whatever appears from the fact that the small men are now growing and increasing. The superior man acts according to the exigency of the time, and stops all forward movement, looking at the significance of the symbolic figures in the hexagram. He values the processes of decrease and increase, of fulness and decadence, as seen in the movements of the heavenly bodies.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

The symbolic figures in the hexagram' are Khwan, below, the representative of docility, acting as circumstances require; and Kan, the representative of a mountain, which arrests the progress of the traveller. The superior man of the topmost line thus interprets them, and acts accordingly. Yet he is not left without hope. Winter is followed by spring; night is succeeded by day; the moon wanes, and then begins to wax again. So will it be in political life. As we read in the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, shows one overturning the couch by injuring its legs. The injury will go on to the destruction of all firm correctness, and there will be evil.

The lesser symbolism is chiefly that of a bed or couch with its occupant. The idea of the hexagram requires this occupant to be overthrown, or at least that an attempt be made to overthrow him. Accordingly the attempt in line 1 is made by commencing with the legs of the couch. The symbolism goes on to explain itself. The object of the evil worker is the overthrow of all firm correctness. of course there will be evil.

The second SIX, divided, shows one overthrowing the couch by injuring its frame. The injury will go on to the destruction of all firm correctness, and there will be evil.

Line 2 is to the same effect as 1; only the foe has advanced from the legs to the frame of the couch.

Line 3 is to the same effect as 1; only the foe has advanced from the legs to the frame of the couch.

Line 3 also represents an overthrower; but it differs from the others in being the correlate of 6. The subject of it will take part with him. His association is with the subject of 6, and not, as in the other weak lines, with one of its own kind.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject having overthrown the couch, and going to injure the skin of him who lies on it. There will be evil.

From line 4 the danger is imminent. The couch has been overthrown. The person of the occupant is at the mercy of the destroyers.

The fifth SIX, divided, shows its subject leading on the others like a string of fishes, and obtaining for them the favour that lights on the inmates of the palace. There will be advantage in every way.

With line 5 the symbolism changes. The subject of 5 is 'lord of all the other weak lines,' and their subjects are at his disposal. He and they are represented as fishes, following one another as if strung together. All fishes come under the category of yin. Then the symbolism changes again. The subject of 5, representing and controlling all the yin lines, is loyal to the subject of the yang sixth line. He is the rightful sovereign in his palace, and 5 leads all the others there to enjoy the sovereign's favours.

The topmost NINE, undivided, shows its subject as a great fruit which has not been eaten. The superior man finds the people again as a chariot carrying him. The small men by their course overthrow their own dwellings.

We have still different symbolism under line 6. Its strong subject, notwithstanding the attempts against him, survives, and acquires fresh vigour. The people again cherish their sovereign, and the plotters have wrought to their own overthrow.