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Hexagram 54 - Kuei Mei / The Marrying Maiden - James Legge Translation

hexagram 54
  • Above Chen the Arousing, Thunder
  • Below Tui the Joyous, Lake


Kuei Mei indicates that under the conditions which it denotes action will be evil, and in no wise advantageous.

Meaning Commentary

Mei Kwei is a common way of saying that a young lady is married, or, literally, is going home. If the order of the characters be reversed, the verb kwei will be transitive, and the phrase will signify the marrying away of a daughter, or the giving the young lady in marriage. In the name of this hexagram, Kwei is used with this transitive force. But Mei means a younger sister, and not merely a young lady or a daughter. Kuei Mei might be equivalent to our giving in marriage; but we shall find that the special term has a special appropriateness. The Thwan makes the hexagram give a bad auspice concerning its subject; and for this the following reasons are given: According to Win's symbolism of the trigrams, Tui, the lower trigram here, denotes the youngest daughter, and Chen, the upper trigram, the oldest son. And as the action of the hexagram begins with that of the lower trigram, we have in the figure two violations of propriety. First, the marriage represented is initiated by the lady and her friends. She goes to her future home instead of the bridegroom coming to fetch her. Second, the parties are unequally matched. There ought not to be such disparity of age between them. Another reason assigned for the bad auspice is that lines 2, 3, 4, and 5 are all in places not suited to them, quite different from the corresponding lines in the preceding hexagram.

Is then such a marriage as the above, or marriage in general, the theme of the hexagram? I think not. The marriage comes in, as in the preceding essay, by way of illustration. With all the abuses belonging to it as an institution of his country, as will immediately appear, the writer acknowledged it without saying a word in deprecation or correction of those abuses; but from the case he selected he wanted to set forth some principles which should obtain in the relation between a ruler and his ministers. This view is insisted on in Wan King's 'New Collection of Comments on the Yi A. D. 1686.

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The Image

Thunder over the lake: The image of The Marrying Maiden. Thus the superior man understands the transitory, in the light of the eternity of the end.

Image Commentary

Thunder stirs the water of the lake, which follows it in shimmering waves. This symbolizes the girl who follows the man of her choice. But every relationship between individuals bears within it the danger that wrong turns may be taken, leading to endless misunderstandings and disagreements. Therefore it is necessary constantly to remain mindful of the end. If we permit ourselves to drift along, we come together and are parted again as the day may determine. If on the other hand a man fixes his mind on an end that endures, he will succeed in avoiding the reefs that confront the closer relationships of people.

King Wans explanation

  1. By Kuei Mei the marrying away of a younger sister the great and righteous relation between heaven and earth is suggested to us. If heaven and earth were to have no intercommunication, things would not grow and flourish as they do. The marriage of a younger sister is the end of her maidenhood and the beginning of her motherhood
  2. We have in the hexagram the desire of pleasure and, on the ground of that, movement following. The marrying away is of a younger sister.
  3. Any action will be evil: the places of the lines are not those appropriate to them. It will be in no wise advantageous: the weak third and fifth lines are mounted on strong lines.

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

Kuei Mei in this Appendix has the meaning simply of marriage, and for Mei we might substitute Nu, daughter or young lady. This appears from the writer's going on to point out, as elsewhere, the analogy between the growth of things in nature from the interaction of heaven and earth and the increase of mankind through marriage. He does this with a delicate touch. There is no grossness in the original any more than there is in the translation.

But how are we to reconcile this reference to the action of heaven and earth with the bad auspice of the Thwan? The Khang-hsi editors felt the pressure of this difficulty, and they adduce a similar inconsistency in the account of hexagram 44 in this treatise, adding, From this we may say that the interaction of the yin and yang cannot be dispensed with, but that we ought to be careful about it in the beginning in order to prevent mischief in the end. This is the doctrine of the Yi. This is very well, but it is no solution of the difficulty. The editors could not admit that the author of the Appendix did not understand or did not deal fairly with the Text; for that author, they thought, was Confucius.

The same editors say that paragraph 2 implies both that the desire for the marriage originated with the lady, and that she was aware that the gentleman was older than herself.

The position of a divided line above an undivided is always represented as an evil omen; it is difficult to understand why. There is less of an appearance of reason about it than in some other things which are said about the lines. The lines are where they cannot but be from the way in which the figures were formed.

The Lines

The first NINE, undivided, shows the younger sister married off in a position ancillary to the real wife. It suggests the idea of a person lame on one leg who yet manages to tramp along. Going forward will be fortunate.

A feudal prince was said to marry nine ladies at once. The principal of them was the bride who was to be the proper wife, and she was attended by two others, virgins from her father's harem a cousin, and a half-sister, a daughter of her father by another mother of inferior rank. Under line 1 the younger sister of the hexagram appears in the inferior position of this half-sister. But the line is strong, indicative in a female of firm virtue. The mean condition and its duties are to be deplored, and give the auspice of lameness but notwithstanding, the secondary wife will in a measure discharge her service. There will be good fortune. Notwithstanding apparent disadvantages, an able officer may do his ruler good service.

The second NINE, undivided, shows her blind of one eye, and yet able to see. There will be advantage in her maintaining the firm correctness of a solitary widow.

Line 2 is strong, and in the centre. The proper correlate is 5, which, however, is weak, and in the place of a strong line. With such a correlate, the able lady in 2 cannot do much in the discharge of her proper work. But if she think only of her husband, like the widow who will die rather than marry again, such devotion will have its effect and its reward. Though blind of one eye, she yet manages to see. And so devoted loyalty in an officer will compensate for many disadvantages.

The third SIX, divided, shows the younger sister who was to be married off in a mean position. She returns and accepts an ancillary position.

Line 3 is weak, where it should be strong; and the attribute of pleased satisfaction belonging to Tui culminates in its subject. She turns out to be of so mean a character and such a slave of passion that no one will marry her. She returns and accepts the position of a concubine.

The fourth NINE, undivided, shows the younger sister who is to be married off protracting the time. She may be late in being married, but the time will come.

Line 4 is strong, where it should be weak; but in the case of a female the indication is not bad. The subject of the line, however, is in no haste. She waits, and the good time will come.

The fifth SIX, divided, reminds us of the marrying of the younger sister of king Ti-yi, when the sleeves of her the princess were not equal to those of the still younger sister who accompanied her in an inferior capacity. The case suggests the thought of the moon almost full. There will be good fortune.

King Ti-yi has been already mentioned under the fifth line of hexagram 11, and in connection with some regulation which he made about the marriage of daughters of the royal house. His sister here is honorably mentioned, so as to suggest that the adorning which she preferred was the ornament of the hidden man of the heart. The comparison of her to the moon almost full I am ready to hail as an instance where the Duke of Kou is for once poetical. Khang-zze, however, did not see poetry, but a symbol in it. The moon is not full, he says, but only nearly full. A wife ought not to eclipse her husband! However, the sister of Ti-yi gets happily married, as she deserved to do, being represented by the line in the place of honour, having its proper correlate in 2.

The sixth SIX, divided, shows the young lady bearing the basket, but without anything in it, and the gentleman slaughtering the sheep, but without blood flowing from it. There will be no advantage in any way.

Line 6 is weak, at the top of the hexagram, and without a proper correlate. Hence its auspice is evil. The marriage-contract is broken, according to Ku Hsi, and does not take effect. The parties mentioned in the paragraph appear engaged in the temple, offering or sacrificing to the spirits of their ancestors. But the woman's basket which should contain her offerings is empty, and the man attempts to perform his part in slaying the victim is without effect.