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62. Hsiao Kwo [Small Excesses]


Thwan, or Overall Judgment (Attributed to King Wan)

Hsiao Kwo indicates that (in the circumstances which it implies) there will be progress and attainment. But it will be advantageous to be firm and correct. (What the name denotes) may be done in small affairs, but not in great affairs. (It is like) the notes that come down from a bird on the wing;—to descend is better than to ascend. There will (in this way) be great good fortune.

[Legge] The name Hsiao Kwo is explained both by reference to the lines of the hexagram, and to the meaning of the characters. The explanation from the lines appears immediately on comparing them with those of Ta Kwo, the 28th hexagram. There the first and sixth lines are divided, and between are four undivided lines; here the third and fourth lines are undivided, and outside each of them are two divided lines. The undivided or yang lines are great, the divided or yin lines are called small. In Hsiao Kwo the divided or small lines predominate. But this peculiar structure of the figure could be of no interest to the student, if it were not for the meaning of the name, which is 'small excesses' or 'exceeding in what is small.' The author, accepted by us as king Wan, had in his mind our distinction of essentials and non-essentials. Is it ever good to deviate from what is recognised as the established course of procedure? The reply is—never in the matter of right but in what is conventional and ceremonial—in what is nonessential—the deviation may be made, and will be productive of good. The form may be given up, but not the substance. But the thing must be done very carefully,—humbly and reverently, and in small matters.

The symbolism of the bird is rather obscure. The whole of it is intended to teach humility. It is better for the bird to descend, keeping near to where it can perch and rest, than to hold on ascending into the homeless regions of the air.

Comments on the Thwan

1. In Hsiao Kwo (we see) the small (lines) exceeding the others, and (giving the intimation of) progress and attainment.

2. Such 'exceeding, in order to its being advantageous, must be associated with firmness and correctness:'—that is, it must take place (only) according to (the requirements of) the time.

3. The weak (lines) are in the central places, and hence (it is said that what the name denotes) may be done in small affairs, and there will be good fortune.

4. Of the strong (lines one) is not in its proper place, and (the other) is not central, hence it is said that (what the name denotes) 'should not be done in great affairs.'

5. (In the hexagram) we have 'the symbol of a bird on the wing, and of the notes that come down from such a bird, for which it is better to descend than to ascend, thereby leading to great good fortune:'—to ascend is contrary to what is reasonable in the case, while to descend is natural and right.

[Legge] Paragraph 1. That the small lines exceed the others appears at a glance. The intimation of progress and attainment is less clear. Compare the first paragraph [above] to hexagram 33.

'The requirements of the time' in paragraph 2 cannot make right wrong or wrong right; but they may modify the conventional course to be taken in any particular case.

It is easy to explain paragraphs 3 and 4, but what is said in them carries no conviction to the mind.

The sentiment of paragraph 5 is good, apart from the symbolism, which is only perplexing.

Great Symbolism

(The trigram representing) a hill and that for thunder above it form Hsiao Kwo. The superior man, in accordance with this, in his conduct exceeds in humility, in mourning exceeds in sorrow, and in his expenditure exceeds in economy.

[Legge] The Khang-hsi editors endeavour to show the appropriateness of the Great Symbolism in this way:—'When thunder issues from the earth, the sound of it comes with a rush and is loud; but when it reaches the top of a hill it has begun to die away and is small.' There is nothing in the Chinese about the hills being high; and readers will only smile at the attempted explanation. The application of the symbolism, or rather of the idea of the hexagram, is good, and in entire accordance with what I have stated that idea to be.

Line Statements (Attributed to the Duke of Kau)

1. The first SIX, divided, suggests (the idea of) a bird flying, (and ascending) till the issue is evil.

[Smaller Symbolism] 1. 'There is a bird flying (and ascending) till the result is evil:'—nothing can be done to avoid this issue.

[Legge] Line 1 is weak, in an odd place, and possessed by the 'idea of exceeding,' which belongs to the hexagram. Its correlate is the strong 4, belonging to the trigram Kan, the attribute of which is movement. There is nothing to repress the tendency of 1; rather it is stimulated; and hence the symbolism. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] Nothing can be done to avoid the issue mentioned in paragraph 1, for the subject of the line brings it on himself.

2. The second SIX, divided, shows its subject passing by his grandfather, and meeting with his grandmother; not attempting anything against his ruler, but meeting him as his minister. There will be no error.

[Smaller Symbolism] 2. 'He does not attempt to reach his ruler:'—a minister should not overpass the distance (between his ruler and himself).

[Legge] Line 2 is weak, but in its proper place, and in the centre. Its correlate is 5, which is also a weak line. The lines 3 and 4 between them are both strong; and are supposed to represent the father and grandfather of the subject of 2; but he or she goes past them, and meets with the grandmother in 5. Again, 5 is the ruler's seat. The subject of 2 moves on to him, but not as an enemy; but humbly and loyally, as his minister according to the attributes of a weak line in the central place. It must be allowed that this view of the symbolism and its interpretation is obscure and strained. [Legge: Smaller Symbolism] Paragraph 2 deals only with the symbolism in the conclusion of what is stated under line 2. The writer takes the view which I have given on the Text.

3. The third NINE, undivided, shows its subject taking no extraordinary precautions against danger; and some in consequence finding opportunity to assail and injure him. There will be evil.

[Smaller Symbolism] 3. 'Some in consequence find opportunity to assail and injure him. There will be evil:'—how great will it be!

[Legge] The subject of line 3 is too confident in his own strength, and too defiant of the weak and small enemies that seek his hurt.

4. The fourth NINE, undivided, shows its subject falling into no error, but meeting (the exigency of his situation), without exceeding (in his natural. course). If he go forward, there will be peril, and he must be cautious. There is no occasion to be using firmness perpetually.

[Smaller Symbolism] 4. 'He meets the exigency (of his situation), without exceeding (the proper course):'—(he does so), the position being inappropriate (for a strong line). 'If he go forward, there will be peril, and he must be cautious:'—the result would be that his course would not be long pursued.

[Legge] Line 4 is also strong, but the exercise of his strength by its subject is tempered by the position in an even place. He is warned, however, to continue quiet and restrain himself.

5. The fifth SIX, divided, (suggests the idea) of dense clouds, but no rain, coming from our borders in the west. It also (shows) the prince shooting his arrow, and taking the bird in a cave.

[Smaller Symbolism] 5. 'There are dense clouds, but no rain:'—(the line) is in too high a place.

[Legge] Line 5, though in the ruler's seat, is weak, and incapable of doing anything great. Its subject is called king or duke because of the ruler's seat; and the one whom in the concluding sentence he is said to capture is supposed to be the subject of 2.

The first part of the symbolism is the same as that of the Thwan under hexagram 9, q.v. I said there that it probably gave a testimony of the merit of the house of Kau, as deserving the throne rather than the kings of Shang. That was because the Thwan contained the sentiments of Wan, while he was yet only lord of Kau. But the symbolism here was the work of the duke of Kau, after his brother king Wu had obtained the throne. How did the symbolism then occur to him? May we not conclude that at least the hsiang of this hexagram was written during the troubled period of his regency, after the accession of Wu's son, king Khang?

The Khang-hsi editors find in the concluding symbolism an incentive to humility:—'The duke, leaving birds on the wing, is content to use his arrows against those in a cave!'

[Legge: Smaller Symbolism] In line 5 the yin line is too high. If the line were yang, the auspice would be different.

6. The sixth SIX, divided, shows. its subject not meeting (the exigency of his situation), and exceeding (his proper course). (It suggests the idea of) a bird flying far aloft. There will be evil. The case is what is called one of calamity and self-produced injury.

[Smaller Symbolism] 6. 'He does not meet the exigency (of his situation), and exceeds (his proper course):'—(the position indicates) the habit of domineering.

[Legge] Line 6 is weak, and is at the top of the trigram of movement. He is possessed by the idea of the hexagram in an extreme degree, and is incapable of keeping himself under restraint.

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