Previous / Contents / Next

5. Hsu [Waiting]


Thwan, or Overall Judgment (Attributed to King Wan)

Hsu intimates that, with the sincerity which is declared in it, there will be brilliant success. With firmness there will be good fortune; and it will be advantageous to cross the great stream.

[Legge] Hsu means waiting. Strength confronted by peril might be expected to advance boldly and at once to struggle with it; but it takes the wiser plan of waiting till success is sure. This is the lesson of the hexagram. That 'sincerity is declared in it' is proved from the fifth line in the position of honour and authority, central, itself undivided and in an odd place. In such a case, nothing but firm correctness is necessary to great success.

'Going through a great stream,' an expression frequent in the Yi, may mean undertaking hazardous enterprises, or encountering great difficulties, without any special reference; but more natural is it to understand by the great stream' the Yellow river, which the lords of Kau must cross in a revolutionary movement against the dynasty of Yin and its tyrant. The passage of it by king Wu, the son of Wan in B. C. 1122, was certainly one of the greatest deeds in the history of China. It was preceded also by long waiting,' till the time of assured success came.

Comments on the Thwan

1. Hsu denotes waiting. (The figure) shows peril in front; but notwithstanding the firmness and strength (indicated by the inner trigram), its subject does not allow himself to be involved (in the dangerous defile);—it is right he should not be straitened or reduced to extremity.

2. When it is said that, 'with the sincerity declared in Hsu, there will be brilliant success, and with firmness there will be good fortune,' this is shown by the position (of the fifth line) in the place assigned by Heaven, and its being the correct position for it, and in the centre. 'It will be advantageous to go through the great stream;'—that is, going forward will be followed by meritorious achievement.

[Legge] Hsu is composed of Khien, having the quality of strength, and of Khan, having the quality of perilousness. The strong one might readily dare the peril, but he restrains himself and waits. This is the lesson of the hexagram,—the benefit of action well considered, of plans well matured.

The fifth line, as we have observed more than once already, is the place of honour, that due to the ruler or king. It is here called 'the Heavenly or Heaven-given seat, 'the meaning of which expression is clear from its occurrence in the Shih, III, i, ode 2. 1. Five is an odd number, and the fifth is therefore the 'correct' place for an undivided line; it is also the central place of the trigram, indicating. how its occupant is sure to walk in the due mean.

Great Symbolism

(The trigram for) clouds ascending over that for the sky forms Hsu. The superior man, in accordance with this, eats and drinks, feasts and enjoys himself (as if there were nothing else to employ him).

[Legge] 'The cloud,' it is said, 'that has risen to the top of the sky, has nothing more to do till it is called on, in the harmony of heaven and earth, to discharge its store of rain.' This gives to the writer the idea of waiting; and the superior man is supposed to be taught by this symbolism to enjoy his idle time, while he is waiting for the approach of danger and occasion for action.

Line Statements (Attributed to the Duke of Kau)

1. The first NINE, undivided, shows its subject waiting in the distant border. It will be well for him constantly to maintain (the purpose thus shown), in which case there will be no error.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'He is waiting in the (distant) border:'—he makes no movement to encounter rashly the difficulties (of the situation). 'It will be advantageous for him constantly to maintain (the purpose thus shown), in which case there will be no error:'—he will not fail to pursue that regular course.

[Legge] 'The border' under line 1 means the frontier territory of the state. There seems no necessity for such a symbolism. 'The sand' and 'the mud' are appropriate with reference to the watery defile; but it is different with 'the border.' The subject of the line appears at work in his distant fields, not thinking of anything but his daily work; and he is advised to abide in that state and mind. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] 'The regular course' of the subject of line 1 seems to be the determination to wait, at a distance from danger, the proper time to act.

2. The second NINE, undivided, shows its subject waiting on the sand (of the mountain stream). He will (suffer) the small (injury of) being spoken (against), but in the end there will be good fortune.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'He is waiting on the sand:'—he occupies his position in the centre with a generous forbearance. Though 'he suffer the small injury of being spoken (against),' he will bring things to a good issue.

[Legge] 'The sand' of paragraph 2 suggests a nearer approach to the defile, but its subject is still self-restrained and waiting. I do not see what suggests the idea of his suffering from 'the strife of tongues.' [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The subject of line 2, which is undivided and in the centre, is thereby shown to be possessed of a large and generous forbearance.

3. The third NINE, undivided, shows its subject in the mud (close by the stream). He thereby invites the approach of injury.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'He is waiting in the mud:'—calamity is (close at hand, and as it were) in the outer (trigram). 'He himself invites the approach of injury:'—if he be reverent and careful, he will not be worsted.

[Legge] In paragraph 3 the subject is on the brink of the stream. His advance to that position has provoked resistance, which may result in his injury.

4. The fourth SIX, divided, shows its subject waiting in (the place of) blood. But he will get out of the cavern.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'He is waiting in (the place of) blood:'—he accommodates himself (to the circumstances of the time), and hearkens to (its requirements).

[Legge] Line 4 has passed from the inner to the upper trigram, and entered on the scene of danger and strife;—'into the place of blood.' Its subject is 'weak and in the correct place for him;' he therefore retreats and escapes from the cavern, where he was engaged with his enemy. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] The recognition of the circumstances of the time, and hearkening to its requirements, explain, in paragraph 4, 'the retreat from the cavern,' which is not here repeated from the Text. The line being weak and divided, its subject knows his own incompetency, and takes this prudent step.

5. The fifth NINE, undivided, shows its subject waiting amidst the appliances of a feast. Through his firmness and correctness there will be good fortune.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'The appliances of a feast, and the good fortune through being firm and correct,' are indicated by (the position in) the central and correct place.

[Legge] Line 5 is strong and central, and in its correct place, being that of honour. All good qualities therefore belong to the subject of it, who has triumphed, and with firmness will triumph still more.

6. The topmost SIX, divided, shows its subject entered into the cavern. (But) there are three guests coming, without being urged, (to his help). If he receive them respectfully, there will be good fortune in the end.

[Smaller Symbolism] 'Guests come unurged (to give their help), and if (the subject of the line) receive them respectfully, there will be good fortune in the end:'—though the occupant and the place are not suited to each other, there has been no great failure (in what has been done).

[Legge] Line 6 is weak, and has entered deeply into the defile and its caverns. What will become of its subject? His correlate is the strong line 3 below, which comes with its two companions to his help. If they are respectfully received, that help will prove effectual. P. Regis tries to find out a reference in these 'three guests' to three princes who distinguished themselves by taking part with Kau in its struggle with Yin or Shang; see vol. i, pp. 279-282. I dare not be so confident of any historical reference. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] Ku says that he does not understand what is said under line 6,—that the occupant and the place are not suited to each other, for the yin line being in the sixth, an even place, seems to be where it ought to be. We are only surprised that cases of inconsistency in these explanations are not more numerous.

Previous / Contents / Next


Return to Home Page

Send comments to

Editorial features of this edition © 2012 by Joseph F. Morales