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Hexagram 39 - Chien / Obstruction - James Legge Translation

hexagram 39
  • Above K'an the abysmal, Water
  • Below Ken Keeping Still, Mountain


In the state indicated by Chien advantage will be found in the south-west, and the contrary in the north-east. It will be advantageous also to meet with the great man. In these circumstances, with firmness and correctness, there will be good fortune.

Meaning Commentary

Kien is the symbol for incompetency in the feet and legs, involving difficulty in walking; hence it is used in this hexagram to indicate a state of the kingdom which makes the government of it an arduous task. How this task may be successfully performed, now by activity on the part of the ruler, and now by a discreet inactivity this is what the figure teaches, or at least gives hints about. For the development of the meaning of the symbolic character from the structure of the lineal figure, see Appendixes I and II.

The Thwan seems to require three things attention to place, the presence of the great man, and the firm observance of correctness in order to cope successfully with the difficulties of the situation. The first thing is enigmatically expressed, and the language should be compared with what we find in the Thwan of hexagrams 2 and hexagram 40. According to Win's arrangement of the trigrams, the southwest is occupied by Khwan , and the north-east by Kan. The former represents the champaign country; the latter, the mountainous region. The former is easily traversed and held; the latter, with difficulty. The attention to place thus becomes transformed into a calculation of circumstances; those that promise success in an enterprise, which should be taken advantage of, and those that threaten difficulty and failure, which should be shunned.

This is the generally accepted view of this difficult passage. The Khang-hsi editors have a view of their own. I have been myself inclined to find less symbolism in it, and to take the southwest as the regions in the south and west of the kingdom, which we know from the Shih were more especially devoted to Wan and his house, while the strength of the kings of Shang lay in the north and east.

The idea of "the great man," Mencius's "minister of Heaven," is illustrated by the strong line in the fifth place, having for its correlate the weak line in 2. But favorableness of circumstances and place, and the presence of the great man do not dispense from the observance of firm correctness. Throughout these essays of the Yi this is always insisted on.

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The Image

Water on the mountain: The image of Obstruction. Thus the superior man turns his attention to himself and molds his character.

Image Commentary

Difficulties and obstructions throw a man back upon himself. While the inferior man seeks to put the blame on other persons, bewailing his fate, the superior man seeks the error within himself, and through this introspection the external obstacle becomes for him an occasion for inner enrichment and education.

King Wans explanation

  1. Chien denotes difficulty. There is the trigram expressive of perilousness in front. When one, seeing the peril, can arrest his steps in accordance with the significance of the lower trigram, is he not wise?
  2. The language of Chien, that advantage will be found in the south-west, refers to the strong fifth line advanced and in the central place. That there will be no advantage in the north-east, intimates that the way of dealing with the Chien state is exhausted. That it will be advantageous to see the great man, intimates that advance will lead to achievement. That the places of the different lines after the first are those appropriate to them indicates firm correctness and good fortune, with which the regions of the kingdom are brought to their normal state. Great indeed is the work to be done in the time of Chien!

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

The upper or front trigram is K'an, the attribute of which is perilousness; the lower is K'an, of which the arresting, actively or passively, of movement or advance is the attribute. We can understand how the union of these attributes gives the ideas of difficulty and prudent caution.

The explanations in paragraph 2 of the phraseology of the Thwan are not all easily followed. It is said that the advantageousness of the south-west is due to the central line in 5; but if we are to look for the meaning of south-west in Khwan, as in the diagram of king Wan's trigrams, there is no strong central line in it. May K'an, as a yang trigram, be used for K'an?

The Lines

From the first SIX, divided, we learn that advance on the part of its subject will lead to greater difficulties, while remaining stationary will afford ground for praise.

Line 1 is weak, whereas it ought to be strong as being in an odd place. If its subject advance, he will not be able to cope with the difficulties of the situation, but be overwhelmed by them. Let him wait for a more favorable time.

The second SIX, divided, shows the minister of the king struggling with difficulty on difficulty, and not with a view to his own advantage.

Line 2 is weak, but in its proper place. Its correlation with the strong 5, and consequent significance, are well set forth.

The third NINE, undivided, shows its subject advancing, but only to greater difficulties. He remains stationary, and returns to his former associates.

Line 3 is strong, and in a place of strength; but its correlate in 6 is weak, so that the advance of its subject would be unsupported. He waits therefore for a better time, and cherishes the subjects of the two lines below, who naturally cling to him.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject advancing, but only to greater difficulties. He remains stationary, and unites with the subject of the line above.

Line 4 is weak, and, though in its proper place, its subject could do little of himself. He is immediately below the king or great man, however, and cultivates his loyal attachment to him, waiting for the time when he shall be required to act.

The fifth NINE, undivided, shows its subject struggling with the greatest difficulties, while friends are coming to help him.

Line 5 is the king, the man great and strong. He can cope with the difficulties, and the subjects of 2 and the other lines of the lower trigram give their help.

The topmost SIX, divided, shows its subject going forward, only to increase the difficulties, while his remaining stationary will be productive of great merit. There will be good fortune, and it will be advantageous to meet with the great man.

The action of the hexagram is over; where can the weak 6 go forward to? Let him abide where he is, and serve the great man immediately below him. So shall he also be great; in meritorious action at least.