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Hexagram 31 - Hsien / Influence (Wooing) - James Legge Translation

hexagram 31
  • Above Tui the Joyous, Lake
  • Below Ken Keeping Still, Mountain


Hsien indicates that, on the fulfilment of the conditions implied in it, there will be free course and success. Its advantageousness will depend on the being firm and correct, as in marrying a young lady. There will be good fortune.

Meaning Commentary

With the 31st hexagram commences the Second Section of the Text. It is difficult to say why any division of the hexagrams should be made here, for the student tries in vain to discover any continuity in the thoughts of the author that is now broken. The First Section does not contain a class of subjects different from those which we find in the Second. That the division was made, however, at a very early time, appears from the sixth Appendix on the Sequence of the Hexagrams, where the writer sets forth an analogy between the first and second figures, representing heaven and earth, as the originators of all things, and this figure and the next, representing each of them husband and wife, as the originators of all the social relations. This, however, is far from carrying conviction to my mind. The division of the Text of the Yi into two sections is a fact of which I am unable to give a satisfactory account.

Hsien, as explained in the treatise on the Thwan, has here the meaning of mutual influence, and the Duke of Kou, on the various lines, always uses Ken for it in the sense of moving or influencing to movement or action. This is to my mind the subject of the hexagram considered as an essay, Influence; the different ways of bringing it to bear, and their issues.

The Chinese character called hsien is the graphic symbol for all, together, jointly. Ken, the symbol for influencing, has hsien in it as its phonetic constituent though the changes in pronunciation make it hard for an English reader to appreciate this, with the addition of hsin, the symbol for the heart. Thus kan, to affect or influence, = + ; and it may have been that while the name or word was used with the significance of influencing, the was purposely dropt from it, to indicate the most important element in the thing, the absence of all purpose or motive. I venture to think that this would have been a device worthy of a diviner.

With regard to the idea of husband and wife being in the teaching of the hexagram, it is derived from the more recent symbolism of the eight trigrams ascribed to king Wan. The more ancient usage of them is given in the paragraph on the Great Symbolism of Appendix II. The figure consists of Ken the youngest son, and over it Tui, the youngest daughter. These are in happy union. No influence, it is said, is so powerful and constant as that between husband and wife; and where these are young, it is especially active. Hence it is that Hsien is made up of Ken and Tui. All this is to me very doubtful. I can dimly apprehend why the whole line was assumed as the symbol of strength and authority, and the broken line as that of weakness and submission. Beyond this I cannot follow Fu-hsi in his formation of the trigrams; and still less can I assent to the more recent symbolism of them ascribed to king Wan.

Coming now to the figure, and its lines, the subject is that of mutual influence; and the author teaches that, that influence, correct in itself, and for correct ends, is sure to be effective. He gives an instance, the case of a man marrying a young lady, the regulations for which have been laid down in China from the earliest times with great strictness and particularity. Such influence will be effective and fortunate.

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The Image

A lake on the mountain: The image of influence. Thus the superior man encourages people to approach him By his readiness to receive them.

Image Commentary

A mountain with a lake on its summit is stimulated by the moisture from the lake. It has this advantage because its summit does not jut out as a peak but is sunken. The image counsels that the mind should be kept humble and free, so that it may remain receptive to good advice. People soon give up counseling a man who thinks that he knows everything better than anyone else.

King Wans explanation

  1. Hsien is here used in the sense of Kan, meaning mutually influencing.
  2. The weak trigram above, and the strong one below; their two influences moving and responding to each other, and thereby forming a union; the repression of the one and the satisfaction of the other; with their relative position, where the male is placed below the female: all these things convey the notion of a free and successful course on the fulfilment of the conditions, while the advantage will depend on being firm and correct, as in marrying a young lady, and there will be good fortune.
  3. Heaven and earth exert their influences, and there ensue the transformation and production of all things. The sages influence the minds of men, and the result is harmony and peace all under the sky. If we look at the method and issues of those influences, the true character of heaven and earth and of all things can be seen.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

Paragraph 2. Tui, the upper trigram, is weak and yin; and Kan, the lower, is strong and yang; see Appendixes III, ii, 4, and V, 10. Kan is below Tui; whereas the subject of the lower trigram should always take the initiative in these figures.

The Lines

The first six, divided, shows one moving his great toes.

Line 1 is weak, and at the bottom of the hexagram. Though 4 be a proper correlate, yet the influence indicated by it must be ineffective. However much a man's great toes may be moved, that will not enable him to walk.

The second SIX, divided, shows one moving the calves of his leg. There will be evil. If he abide quiet in his place, there will be good fortune. The calves cannot move of themselves. They follow the moving of the feet. The moving of them indicates too much anxiety to move.

Line 2, moreover, is weak. But it is also the central line, and if its subject abide quiet, till he is acted on from above, there will be good fortune.

The third NINE, undivided, shows one moving his thighs, and keeping close hold of those whom he follows. Going forward in this way will cause regret.

Neither can the thighs move of themselves. The attempt to move them is inauspicious. Its subject, however, the line being strong, and in an odd place, will wish to move, and follows the subject of 4, which is understood to be the seat of the mind. He exercises his influence therefore with a mind and purpose, which is not good.

The fourth NINE, undivided, shows that firm correctness which will lead to good fortune, and prevent all occasion for repentance. If its subject be unsettled in his movements, only his friends will follow his purpose.

Line 4 is strong, but in an even place. It is the seat of the mind. Its subject therefore is warned to be firm and correct in order to a good issue. If he be wavering and uncertain, his influence will not extend beyond the circle of his friends.

The fifth NINE, undivided, shows one moving the flesh along the spine above the heart. There will be no occasion for repentance.

The symbolism of line 5 refers to a part of the body behind the heart, and is supposed therefore to indicate an influence, ineffective indeed, but free from selfish motive, and not needing to be repented of.

The sixth six, divided, shows one moving his jaws and tongue.

Line 6 is weak, and in an even place. It is the topmost line also of the trigram of satisfaction. Its influence by means of speech will only be that of loquacity and flattery, the evil of which needs not to be pointed out.