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Monthly Archives: July 2020

The non-people of Hexagram 8

The non-people of Hexagram 8

Some 15 years ago, I wrote on this blog about the non-people of Hexagram 12.

‘Blocking it, non-people.
Noble one’s constancy bears no fruit.
Great goes, small comes.’

Hexagram 12, the Oracle

Back then, I emphasised how the idea of ‘non-people’ (fei ren, 匪人) could mean labelling people and sticking them in boxes, which eliminates any possibility of human understanding. Legge’s translation, speaking of a ‘want of understanding between men,’ is striking.

That’s a useful meaning to bear in mind when you have Hexagram 12 – but it’s also important to remember that there can be ‘inhumanity’ here: a dearth of empathy or solidarity.

A less literal and more idiomatic translation would be ‘bandits’ or ‘outlaws’. However, I’m sticking with ‘non-people’, as I think that draws attention to something we might otherwise miss about outlaws: that these are people who are outside society, ‘beyond the pale’. They’re not part of the social fabric as we know it, don’t observe its norms, and are simply not available for that normal, social relationship of mutual help and support. Restoring communication might or might not be as simple as peeling away the dehumanising labels.

So… what happens in the one other place Yi mentions fei ren – Hexagram 8, line 3?

‘Seeking union with non-people.’

Hexagram 8, line 3

The context is very different: Hexagram 8 is about the desire to belong, and how people come together, as easily as water flows together over the earth, on the basis of natural affinity and mutual enjoyment. And it’s also associated with Yu the Great, after he has conquered the floods through his labours, founding a new world based on what belongs. (More on Hexagram 8 here.)

8.3 changes to Hexagram 39, Limping – another of Yu’s hexagrams, where he limps and struggles through the floodwaters, in urgent need of allies and ready to make a 180 degree turn (from north-and-east to south-and-west) to find them.

This helps to explain what’s happening at line 3, ‘Seeking union’s Limping’: the combination of hexagrams both tells us that seeking allies here is tremendously hard work, and might also hint that we’re in such straits that we’ll try to get blood from a stone, and seek union anywhere, with anyone, even the outlaws.

Here are a couple of different translations and commentaries that cast fresh light:

Stephen Field –

‘He sides with the non-human.’

8.3 in Field’s Duke of Zhou Changes

He suggests that Hexagram 8 has to do with the Zhou seeking alliances, and that here they are trying to ally with non-Chinese tribes, maybe even with the Guifang, the ‘Demon Country’ of 63.3/64.4.

And an unlikely ally (!) for Field: R.J. Lynn:

‘Here one joins in Closeness but not with his own people.’

8.3 in Lynn’s I Ching

Wang Bi’s commentary explains how line 2 and line 4 are both allied with the yang line at 5 (corresponding with it or supporting it), so that 3 is left without potential allies nearby.

At this line, we’re seeking union with those who are just not our kind of people. The really odd thing, though, is that the line doesn’t say whether this is a bad idea. Maybe this alliance with foreigners is just what we need? Probably not – there’s nothing to suggest that – but there’s also no ‘misfortune’, nor even a ‘danger’ or ‘shame’ or ‘regret’, any of which would make sense.

The general view of the line has always been that all that goes without saying. This begins with the Xiaoxiang – the commentary on the lines that was canonised as part of the Yijing itself:

‘“Here one joins in Closeness but not with one’s own people”: will this not indeed cause harm?’

Lynn, I Ching

And commentators of all stripes follow in these footsteps:

‘One rotten apple can spoil a whole basket, so throw it out. If that is not possible, then leave yourself. You have just one life, don’t waste it.’


‘The people you are involved with now will do you no good. Danger. This is not where you belong. Leave now before you are sacrificed along with the others.’

Karcher, Total I Ching

And something subtly different from Wilhelm:

‘We are often among people who do not belong to our own sphere. In that case we must beware of being drawn into false intimacy through force of habit. Needless to say, this would have evil consequences. Maintaining sociability without intimacy is the only right attitude toward such people, because otherwise we should not be free to enter into relationship with people of our own kind later on.’

Wilhelm/Baynes, I Ching

This has to be the common sense view; it can’t be wise to try to find union with non-people. It’s almost an oxymoron: you’re trying to belong with those who don’t belong; seeking solidarity with those who are – exactly, by definition – outside any such bonds. As Wilhelm hints, you could only find union with them by going out of your own sphere, your own way of knowing, finding meaning and connecting.

So maybe Yi doesn’t explicitly say, ‘…and this is a Bad Idea’ because that’s already patently obvious.

But then again… I’ve had a few experiences with this line lately where there was no choice: it was essential to create some kind of rapport with the ‘non-people’.

  • Needing to work with someone whose priorities are so wildly different as to be unintelligible.
  • Having to communicate with a medical system where you get the impression you’re talking to a rulebook, not a human being with empathy.
  • Trying to build relationships with people – exceptionally lovely, compassionate people – whose strong foreign accents make mutual comprehension a real struggle.

In each of these cases, it wasn’t a situation anyone could leave: ‘seeking union’ was essential. And each time, when someone made a great effort to step into the world of the ‘non-people’, it worked and communication succeeded.

This experience, and the gentler translation from Lynn, gives me a new perspective on the line. This is never going to be a promising place to seek union, but if you have to try for that ‘sociability without intimacy’ Wilhelm mentions, don’t give up. Instead, cease hostilities; bear in mind you may need to ‘turn around’, 39-style, and completely change your natural approach. And allow the possibility – however remote – that they might become allies.

swan in a flock of ducks

I Ching Community discussion

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