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Hexagram 51 - Chen / The Arousing (Shock, Thunder) - James Legge Translation

hexagram 51
  • Above Chen the Arousing, Thunder
  • Below Chen the Arousing, Thunder


Chen gives the intimation of ease and development. When the time of movement which it indicates comes, the subject of the hexagram will be found looking out with apprehension, and yet smiling and talking cheerfully. When the movement like a crash of thunder terrifies all within a hundred Li, he will be like the sincere worshipper who is not startled into letting go his ladle and cup of sacrificial spirits.

Meaning Commentary

Chen among the trigrams represents thunder, and, according to Wan's arrangement and significance of them, 'the oldest son.' It is a phonetic character in which the significant constituent is Yu, meaning rain, and with which are formed most characters that denote atmospherical phenomena. The hexagram is formed of the trigram Chen redoubled, and may be taken as representing the crash or peal of thunder; but we have seen that the attribute or virtue of the trigram is moving, exciting power; and thence, symbolically, the character is indicative of movement taking place in society or in the kingdom. This is the meaning of the hexagram; and the subject is the conduct to be pursued in a time of movement such as insurrection or revolution by the party promoting, and most interested in, the situation. It is shown how he ought to be aware of the dangers of the time, and how by precaution and the regulation of himself he may overcome them.

The indication of a successful issue given by the figure is supposed to be given by the undivided line at the bottom of the trigram. The subject of it must be superior to the subjects of the two divided lines above. It is in the idea of the hexagram that he should be moving and advancing; and what can his movement be but successful?

The next sentence shows him sensible of the danger of the occasion, but confident and self-possessed. The concluding sentence shows him rapt in his own important affairs, like a sincere worshipper, thinking only of the service in which he is engaged. Such a symbol is said to be suggested by Wan's significance of Chen as the oldest son It is his to succeed to his father, and the hexagram, as following Ting, shows him presiding over the sacrifices that have been prepared in the caldron. This is too fanciful.

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The Image

Thunder repeated: the image of Shock. Thus, in fear and trembling, the superior man sets his life in order and examines himself.

Image Commentary

The shock of continuing thunder brings fear and trembling. The superior man is always filled with reverence at the manifestation of God; he sets his life in order and searches his heart, lest it harbor any secret opposition to the will of God. Thus reverence is the foundation of true culture.

King Wans explanation

  1. Chen gives the intimation of ease and development.
  2. When the time of movement which it indicates comes, its subject will be found looking out with apprehension: that feeling of dread leads to happiness. And yet smiling and talking cheerfully: the issue of his dread is that he adopts proper laws for his course.
  3. The movement like a crash of thunder terrifies all within a hundred li it startles the distant and frightens the near.
  4. He will be like the sincere worshipper, who is not startled into letting go his ladle and cup of sacrificial spirits: he makes his appearance, and maintains his ancestral temple and the altars of the spirits of the land and grain, as presiding at all sacrifices.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

Paragraph 1. See what is said on the Text.

Paragraph 2. The explanations of the Thwan here are good; but in no way deduced from the figure.

Paragraph 3. The portion of the text printed in a different type is supposed to have dropt out of the Chinese copies. The explanation of it that follows is based on Wan's view of Chen as representing the oldest son. See on the Text.

The Lines

The first NINE, undivided, shows its subject, when the movement approaches, looking out and around with apprehension, and afterwards smiling and talking cheerfully. There will be good fortune.

What is said on line 1 is little more than a repetition of the principal part of the Thwan. The line is undivided, and gives the auspice of good fortune.

The second SIX, divided, shows its subject, when the movement approaches, in a position of peril. He judges it better to let go the articles in his possession, and to ascend a very lofty height. There is no occasion for him to pursue after the things he has let go; in seven days he will find them.

The position of peril to the subject of line 2 is suggested, as Appendix II says, by its position, immediately above 1. But the rest of the symbolism is obscure, and Ku Hsi says he does not understand it. The common interpretation appears in the version. The subject of the line does what he can to get out of danger; and finally, as is signified by the central position of the line, the issue is better than could have been expected. On the specification of seven days, see what is said in the treatise on the Thwan of hexagram 24. On its use here Khang-zze says: The places of a diagram amount to 6. The number 7 is the first of another. When the movement symbolized by Chen is gone by, things will be as they were before.

The third six, divided, shows its subject distraught amid the startling movements going on. If those movements excite him to right action, there will be no mistake.

Line 3 is divided, and where an undivided line should be; but if its subject move on to the fourth place, which would be right for him, the issue will not be bad.

The fourth NINE, undivided, shows its subject, amid the startling movements, supinely sinking deeper in the mud.

The 4th line, however, has a bad auspice of its own. It is undivided in an even place, and it is pressed by the divided line on either side, hence its subject is represented as supinely sinking in the mud.

The fifth SIX, divided, shows its subject going and coming amidst the startling movements of the time, and always in peril; but perhaps he will not incur loss, and find business which he can accomplish.

Line 5 is divided, in an odd place, and that in which the action of the hexagram may be supposed to be concentrated. Hence its subject is always in peril but his central position indicates safety in the end.

The topmost SIX, divided, shows its subject, amidst the startling movements of the time, in breathless dismay and looking round him with trembling apprehension. If he take action, there will be evil. If, while the startling movements have not reached his own person and his neighborhood, he were to take precautions, there would be no error, though his relatives might still speak against him.

Line 6 is weak, and has to abide the concluding terrors of the movement. Action on the part of its subject is sure to be evil. If, however, he were to take precautions, he might escape with only the censures of his relatives. But I do not see anything in the figure to indicate this final symbolism. The writer, probably, had a case in his mind, which it suited; but what that was we do not know.