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Hexagram 7 - Shih / The Army - James Legge Translation

hexagram 7
  • Above K'un the Receptive, Earth
  • Below K'an the abysmal, Water


Shih has the signification of multitudes the Army and between multitudes there must be some bond of union. Shih indicates how, in the case which it supposes, with firmness and correctness, and a leader of age and experience, there will be good fortune and no error.

Meaning Commentary

The conduct of military expeditions in a feudal kingdom, and we may say, generally, is denoted by the hexagram Shih. An explanation of the way in which the combination of lines in it is made out to suggest the idea of an army, and that idea being assumed, it is easy to see how the undivided line in the second place should be interpreted of the general, who is responded to by the divided line in the fifth and royal place. Thus entire trust is reposed in him. He is strong and correct, and his enterprises will be successful. He is denominated kang zan, an old, experienced man.

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The Image

In the middle of the earth is water: The image of The Army. Thus the superior man increases his masses By generosity toward the people.

King Wans explanation

  1. The name Shih describes the multitude of the host. The firmness and correctness which the hexagram indicates refer to moral correctness of aim. When the mover is able to use the multitude with such correctness, he may attain to the royal sway.
  2. There is the symbol of strength in the centre of the trigram below, and it is responded to by its proper correlate above. The action gives rise to perils, but is in accordance with the best sentiments of men. Its mover may by such action distress all the country, but the people will follow him; there will be good fortune, and what error should there be?

Legge Footnotes on King Wans explanation

That multitude is given here as if it were the meaning of the name Shih arose, probably, from there being but one undivided line in the figure. That is the symbol of the general, all the other lines, divided, suggest the idea of a multitude obedient to his orders. The general's place in the centre of the lower trigram, with the proper correlate in line 5, suggests the idea of firmness and correctness that dominates in the hexagram. But in the last sentence it is the ruler, and not the general of the host, who is the subject. Compare what is said of him with Mencius, I, i, chap. 3; ii, chap. 5, Perilousness is the attribute of K'an, the lower trigram, and docility, or accordance with others, that of K'un, the upper. War is like poison to a country, injurious, and threatening ruin to it, and yet the people will endure and encounter it in behalf of the sovereign whom they esteem and love.

The Lines

The first SIX, divided, shows the host going forth according to the rules for such a movement. If these be not good, there will be evil.

The rules, it is said, are twofold; first, that the war be for a righteous end; and second, that the manner of conducting it, especially at the outset, be right. But how this and the warning in the conclusion should both follow from the divided line being in the first place, has not been sufficiently explained.

The second NINE, undivided, shows the leader in the midst of the host. There will be good fortune and no error. The king has thrice conveyed to him the orders of his favour.

How line 2 comes to be the symbol of the general in command of the army has been shown above on the Thwan. The orders of the king thrice conveyed to him are to be understood of his appointment to the command, and not of any rewards conferred on him as a tribute to his merit. Nor is stress to be laid on the thrice. It does not mean that the appointment came to him three times; but that it was to him exclusively, and with the entire confidence of the king.

The third SIX, divided, shows how the host may, possibly, have many inefficient leaders. There will be evil.

The symbolism of line 3 is very perplexing. Canon McClatchie has: Third-six represents soldiers as it were lying dead in their baggage carts, and is unlucky. To the same effect was my own translation of the paragraph, nearly thirty years ago. But the third line, divided, cannot be forced to have such an indication. The meaning I have now given is more legitimate, taken character by character, and more in harmony with the scope of the hexagram, The subject of line 2 is the one proper leader of the host. But line 3 is divided and weak, and occupies the place of a strong line, as if its subject had perversely jumped over two, and perched himself above it to take the command. This interpretation also suits better in the 5th paragraph.

The fourth SIX, divided, shows the host in retreat. There is no error

Line 4 is weak and not central; and therefore to retreat is natural for its subject. But its place is even, and proper for a divided line and the retreat will be right in the circumstances.

The fifth SIX, divided, shows birds in the fields, which it will be advantageous to seize and destroy. In that case there will be no error. If the oldest son leads the host, and younger men idly occupy offices assigned to them, however firm and correct he may be, there will be evil.

In line 5 we seem to have an intimation of the important truth that only defensive war, or war waged by the rightful authority to put down rebellion and lawlessness, is right. The birds in the fields symbolize parties attacking for plunder. The fifth line symbolizes the chief authority, the king, who is weak, or humble, and in the centre, and cedes the use of all his power to the general symbolized by line 2. The subject of 2 is the oldest son. Those of three and four are supposed to be the younger brother and son, that is, the younger men, who would cause evil if admitted to share the command.

The topmost SIX, divided, shows the great ruler delivering his charges, appointing some to be rulers of states, and others to undertake the headship of clans; but small men should not be employed in such positions.

The lesson on the topmost line is true and important, but the critics seem unable to deduce it from the nature of the line, as divided and in the sixth place.