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The non-people of Hexagram 12

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‘Obstructing it, non-people.
No harvest in noble one’s constancy.
Great goes, small comes.’

The ‘usual’ interpretation of the Judgement of Hexagram 12 is that there are bad people at work, dominating the environment, sabotaging the noble one’s good efforts. And sometimes, indeed, it can mean exactly that – in particular, that someone is promoting malicious rumours. But in my experience of hexagram 12, this isn’t always – or even usually – the case.

Some translations offer an alternative perspective. James Legge writes of ‘the want of good understanding between men’; Thomas Cleary, in his Taoist I Ching, has ‘denial of humanity’. The ‘non-person’ might not be a ready scapegoat for Obstruction; it might represent the attitude of mind that caused it.

‘Non people’, fei ren, are outside the system, not like us – which is a short step from concluding that they are not quite real people. In the Book of Songs, a miserable speaker asks if his ancestors are fei ren – inhuman, without compassion – that they should let him suffer. (Shijing 204)

They are literally ‘bandit people’, outlaws. The online Chinese etymological dictionary shows that ‘bandit’ is fault or evils concealed within an enclosure. The word for ‘evils’ seems to be derived from ‘broken wings’: a perfect image for something misaligned, that doesn’t work because it doesn’t fit together.

It’s not hard to see when a group is labelled as ‘non-people’ on the political scale. It may actually become socially unacceptable, or just unthinkable, to ask how they are motivated as human beings. (Think of the various uses of the word ‘terrorist’.) Labels can become a way of thinking: ‘You wouldn’t expect him to ask directions, he’s male’; ‘well, she would react like that, she’s a Scorpio’; ‘of course he’s hard working, Asians are.’

Much more subtle, much harder to see, are the ways we use labels as a shortcut in individual relationships. She’s hypersensitive, he’s egotistical… and that explains him or her, in a neat package. It may in fact allow you to predict another person’s behaviour with great accuracy – but this is a cheap substitute at best for understanding them. When Hexagram 12 comes up in a reading, this predictive labelling may be getting so rigid as insidiously to replace real connection between people. Whatever is outside the labelled package becomes invisible.

I think Hexagram 12 can also refer to labels we have for ourselves. Synchronistically enough, as I was writing this post I browsed my way to an article by Maryam Webster on ‘Quantum labels’, which begins:

“What labels do you wear? Parent…student…professional…intellectual? Healer…writer…lover…friend? Labels are not only what others “see” us as, but also invisible containers and delimiters we apply to ourselves. Labels represent beliefs we hold about ourselves, and sometimes those beliefs are ones we wish we didn’t have. Beliefs like “I’m lazy”, “I procrastinate”, “I’m not smart enough” and so on.”

The article (unfortunately no longer available) goes on to the slightly quirky suggestion that we should literally wear labels to change our nature at the cellular level. But the idea of an ‘invisible container or delimiter’ reminds me of the ‘box’ in the character ‘fei‘. As long as you are or anyone is wedged inside that box, no amount of nobility and constancy will get you anywhere…

15 responses to The non-people of Hexagram 12

  1. From a universal perspective, 12 covers a focus on neutralising as compared to 11s balancing.

    In the context of the traditional IC with a focus on change, so 12 is interpretable as ‘negative’ in that 12 promotes the maintaining of a belief, to the degree of fighting for it and in so doing strengthening that belief. This goes against the grain of being open to change.

    With/from devotion (to another/others) [earth base] comes singlemindedness [heaven top].

    From a light/dark perspective we have a context of total darkness in which is operating blinding light.

    Focus on the dynamics WITHIN the octet of earth-based hexagrams


    and 12 is the full actualisation of the potential devotions present in 02. In that actualisation so the yang top line of 12 favours a conditional perspective as compared to the unconditional nature of 02.

  2. A quick comment on another topic- ie women and the I Ching which is an interesting subject. The I Ching whether we like it or not evolves from a particular culture- an ancient patriarchal one. It cannot be twisted to fit a modern feminist agenda. I agree with the feminist agenda myself as any rational modern person would. I speak of hexagram 44 “a bold and wilful woman- do not marry”. but lets not forget that timid men are seen as undesirable in the text also. It was writen by people who believed in sex role demarcation. Some feminist versions of the text see hexagram 44 as favourable but this is a distortion of the original idea which was certainly negative because of the broken line at the bottom supporting 5 unbroken lines. Plenty of new age people have realised that the Ching is uncannily accurate but because they are usually feminist in their inclinations, as I myself am, they find it hard to reconcile it with modern feminist notions.
    Remember that hexagram 37, the family in contrast to 44, exalts women, but the femininity it praises is the notion of the duty-prone wife- see line 4. If men are expected to be duty-bound, isn’t it treating women equally to expect them to be duty-bound also but within the context of the society they live in? Sex role differentiation has been common in human society for thousands of years- for clearly hunting lions with spears requires greater physical prowess. Before we condemn ancient Chinese sex roles, lets look at the fact that we have men’s and women’s tennis, even though I guarantee Venus Williams would thrash most men on the planet. “The most important rule in family life is that the woman be firm and correct” (Hex 37) This gives women the greatest power albeit within the specific role of women in ancient societies.

  3. Regarding Hex 12. The inferior people mentioned would be perhaps the inferior within myself primarily. In answer to some questions it may mean other people or the inferior elements within other people. When interpreting the answer we need to see it in the context of the question. With the supreme wisdom of the mighty I Ching emphasising wisdom we need to look at ourselves too.

  4. My thoughts on any hexagram always involve looking at the movement from one to the next. From 11 – Peace we move to 12 – Stagnation which when resolved to the next level becomes 13 – Fellowship with Men. The context clue drives my personal understanding of these hexagrams. Peace evokes a period of heaven and earth in communion, where Stagnation suggests a time we are out of communion, with ourselves, the universe, or with others. Our spirits are without breath and life. It is a time when evil understood as (the absence of God/Heaven) can take hold. The return of communion expresses itself then in 13, concord and community being the main event.
    These are the ways in which I work with the Ching, to me one is not understood out of context with each neighboring hexagram.

  5. Hi,
    Here the problem is to know who are you from the point of view of hexagram symbolism. If you are the small man then you are rejected by the great one because the means you are using. If you are the geat man, then you are rejecting the small men because the means they are using. In both ways there is stagnation. That is no change, progress, gain.

  6. Yes, but – careful, Hexagram 12 doesn’t actually talk about the contrast between small and great men. It talks about the ‘non-people’ and the noble one; ‘non-people’ are not the same thing as ‘small’ ones. And it says that great goes, small comes – which is not just about kinds of people, but also about the kind of issue you’ll be handling and the kind of achievement that’s possible.

    But this is still a good general point for those hexagrams where this contrast is being made. It’s easy to assume that by ‘great person’ the oracle means us, and the people we don’t like are the ‘small’ ones, when in fact the oracle has said nothing of the kind. More often, it’s asking you the question: which are you? Which will you be?

  7. The ‘inferior people’ may be the ‘receptive’ which is below, as opposed to the ‘creative’ that is above. Inferior may mean that which is subservient, humble or faithful which may be better inclined for sensing and receiving.

  8. Ah… ‘inferior’ as simply, literally – and not particularly morally – that which is underneath? I like that.

    Generally when Wilhelm/Baynes says ‘inferior people’ Yi just says literally ‘small people’, and it makes a lot of sense to think of them as the ‘substratum’ people, the ones who sense and receive. The ‘non-people’ or ‘evil people’ (W/B) of 12, and 8.3, are something different: not part of the natural layered construction of society at all.

  9. Hi M,

    Your best bet is to join Clarity and post your question at the I Ching Community with a bit more background. Of course no one there can give you authoritative medical advice, but you can get some help there. (FWIW, the reading looks encouraging to me.)

  10. Those who are “awake”(great)/those who are “asleep”(small), either external people and/or within one’s self. The Earth, although can be receptive, has given itself special licence to do it’s thing in darkness (ignorance, without listening to Spirit, fears, denial, innocent naivety, different headspace, different priorities, unwilling/unable to communicate etc). The “awake” is unable to shine light into the matter at this stage, and to continue to do so may increase disharmony despite pure intentions. Listen to spirit and see how it has fallen on deaf ears. Although it may hurt and is frustrating, one suffers it because one can see. Be thankful for this. Use the time to pull inwards, contemplate on how it came to be here. People are at where they’re at, it is how it is, accept differences. Spirit is a force, but never inappropriate or forceful. Let expectations, judgements, preconceptions, delusions, attachment to outcomes and associated fears drift away – be discerning and private. Allow whatever is left to become like a seed in the darkness waiting for the right conditions. Focus on other things that do work. Watch for signs that indicate change in the dynamics of the situation, or simply move on. Listen to spirit and use what has been learned to proceed cautiously and with openness and integrity.

  11. I have been looking up “non-people” to see who they may be and am not finding much. I noticed your distinction above Hilary and wanted to ask if you could shed some light on the question. “Who or what are the non-people?” Is this a soul thing? I’ve seen other mention of this in the Bible. Thanks in advance.

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