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The eight doubled-trigram hexagrams

pair of socks

Eight hexagrams of the Yijing are formed from doubled trigrams (chong gua 重卦) – the same trigram above and below.

  • Qian, Creative Force, Hexagram 1
  • Kun, Earth, Hexagram 2
  • Xi Kan, Repeating Chasms, Hexagram 29. (For some reason, this hexagram alone mentions ‘repeating’ in its name.)
  • Li, Clarity, Hexagram 30
  • Zhen, Shock, Hexagram 51
  • Gen, Stilling, Hexagram 52
  • Xun, Gently Penetrating, Hexagram 57
  • Dui, Opening, Hexagram 58

These hexagrams give us the names of the trigrams. They also – as Bradford Hatcher explained – provide some of the best evidence that the original authors of the oldest layers of the text thought of hexagrams as divided into trigrams.

But for this post I’m concentrating on the Image Wing of the Yi, the Daxiang, which is specifically about the trigrams. Looking at how two identical trigrams work together should show us something about how any two trigrams work together. Is there a consistent ‘doubling’ meaning or pattern that carries through these eight hexagrams, or are they all different? After all – and from the department of ‘so obvious it’s embarrassing’ – an expanse of sky isn’t the same as an expanse of earth, and adjoining mountains don’t behave like adjoining lakes.

Hexagram 1

‘The heavens move ceaselessly.
A noble one in his own strength does not pause.’

Uniquely, this Image doesn’t include the name of the hexagram. I can’t think why not, except that it makes for a simpler, more streamlined statement (perhaps imitating the minimal, five-word Oracle text?).

The heavens move ceaselessly, jian 健 – or ‘strongly’, with health and vigour. The noble one, filled with this vigour, will not pause or rest.

The six yang lines of Hexagram 1 look less like ‘two heavens’ than a single, wide expanse of sky. It’s continuous, of course, uninterrupted, indivisible – and, whether you’re watching clouds or stars, it never stops moving. So there is not much sense in the Image text of a division between inner and outer worlds: the noble one has internalised this sense of uninterrupted power and motion, and needs no rest.

Hexagram 2

Again, it’s more natural to see six yin lines as a single broad expanse of land, rather than two distinct fields. Open land – open yin lines – stretch out to the horizon. A horse released into this field might gallop across it just because it’s there…

‘Mares and the earth are of one kind,
they range abroad and have no bound.’

Tuanzhuan, translated by Richard Rutt

Small humans may do the same.

But I wonder whether the Image authors might not have been looking down instead of out and across, and thinking of the depth of soil beneath their feet:

‘Power of the land: Earth.
A noble one, with generous character, carries all the beings.’


‘Soil power’! The word for power, shi 勢, is a lovely choice: its component parts are ‘strength’ and ‘agriculture’ – a component (purely phonetic, apparently!) that shows a person kneeling to plant a seedling. In many old versions of the character, they’re holding the plant up above head height, in a way that – to my very-amateur-gardener’s soul – seems like something between exultation and prayer. (‘Look, it’s growing! Can the pigeons please not eat it?’)

And the noble one, mirroring the power of the land, has ‘generous character’, 厚德 hou de – where hou also means thick, deep, dense, profound and weighty. The six broken lines of the hexagram start to look like really deep, rich soil – not just a dusty layer that could blow away. This deep kindness will carry all beings.

Here as in Hexagram 1, the noble one is simply embodying the single, elemental quality shared by trigram and hexagram: his own strength not pausing, her great kindness carrying everything.

Hexagram 29

‘Waters flow on and reach the end: Repeating Chasms.
A noble one, consistent in character and action, teaches things by repeating.’

This is the first Image text to point specifically to its trigram being doubled. The word I’ve translated ‘flowing on’, 洊 jian, means repeated, successive, as well as ‘flowing water’. It makes sense: unlike the first two hexagrams, thsee six lines look like a distinct pattern of three lines, repeated.

(Also, of course, this is the only hexagram of the eight chong gua to mention repeating in the hexagram name: xi kan, repeating or rehearsing chasms. That is – since the ‘hexagram names’ are simply the first words of their Oracle text – this is the only hexagram where the original authors saw fit to emphasise repetition. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because of the common experience of Hexagram 29 as repeated ‘learning experiences’. Hexagram 51 might be just a single shock, but Hexagram 29 tends to be something that keeps on coming round until you learn it.)

So… the Image describes the waters as ‘flowing on uninterruptedly’ (Wilhelm/Baynes). This is what water does, after all: the Tuanzhuan says:

‘This is the nature of water: it flows on, without accumulating its volume (so as to overflow); it pursues its way through a dangerous defile, without losing its true (nature).’


Redoubling water doesn’t stack it up into a pile; it increases the flow so it goes further and ‘reaches the end’. And flowing through chasms doesn’t make water less wet – its nature is not lost. The Image’s noble one is the same: ‘consistent in character and action’, his nature unchanged, and ‘teaching through repetition’, like a steady drip-drip-drip that can carve rock. This is good advice for teachers, of course, but it makes me think not so much of deliberate instruction as of unconscious learning, for instance how your parents’ character and daily habits are assimilated into your own ‘normal’.

Hexagram 30

Water following water creates a strong flow – but how does fire follow fire? Asking this question (about this podcast reading) started me down the road that led to this post. Wilhelm says that each trigram is a sun, a day, and ‘the two together represent the repeated movement of the sun, the function of light with respect to time.’ Clarity – enlightenment – takes time. I thought of one flame igniting another, and so lighting up the whole land. Either picture might be a way to understand the Image:

‘Doubled light gives rise to Clarity.
Great People with continuous light illuminate the four regions.’

Water flows towards a single destination, but light radiates out in all directions.

This has a different word for the repeated trigram – ‘doubled’, meaning specifically two, a pair, like a pair of shoes or wheels. Why the emphasis on a pair? Hmm… perhaps what we should be seeing here are eyes? (There’s an early European notion that sight means beams emanating from the eyes – I wonder whether old China had the same idea.)

Why do ‘great people‘ replace the ‘noble one’ for this hexagram? Great people, in the Zhouyi, are characterised both by having greater capacity and by being able to see further, having a longer vision. They’re also connected, through their introduction in lines 2 and 5 of Hexagram 1, to this hexagram. Here, the people who can see and understand, who have full enlightened stereoscopic vision, also spread light: the ideas of being enlightened and enlightening coalesce.

Hexagram 51

‘Rolling thunder. Shock.
A noble one in fear and dread sets things in order and is watchful.’

The ‘repeating’ word this time (translated ‘rolling’) is 洊 jian, as in the Image of Hexagram 29, meaning successive, again and again, like flowing water. (Although in practise Hexagram 51 seems to be less of an ‘again and again’ experience than the Repeating Chasms, the two hexagrams do share that sense of losing the solid ground from under your feet.)

So these are waves of thunder, one after another: the noble one is in the middle of the storm, where he fears, dreads, mends and examines – just four words of Chinese, all of which can be translated as verbs. Thunder keeps him moving!

You can see an inner-outer trajectory to the movement: the inner emotion of the heart (‘heart’ is a component of both ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ in Chinese) translating outward into repairing and watching.

Hexagram 52

So if thunderclap follows thunderclap, and water flows on into water, and light spreads light (or fire ignites fire) in all directions, what do two mountains do?

‘Joined mountains. Stilling.
A noble one reflects, and does not come forth from his situation.’

Well… they don’t interact, or somehow make one another more mountainous. The Image says they’re ‘joined’, jian 兼, which is that part of the name of Hexagram 15 that shows a hand grasping two stalks of grain together. It means to join, unite, group together or double.

So this could be saying nothing more than ‘two mountains’. Still, it’s a new word to denote the doubling, not used for any other chong gua, so it’s worth a pause for thought. It seems to me that the ‘grasping together’ idea is important, and this is about how you perceive two mountains at once. I think it magnifies their stillness. You can see how a single mountain is still, while clouds or people or sheep move around it, but two mountains are still relative to one another. And this is the noble one’s response, not changing his position relative to others.

This noble one ‘reflects not going-out-from his place’. Legge translates, ‘He does not go in his thoughts beyond the position in which he is,’ making this about mental as well as physical stillness. ‘His place’ does imply his social situation – there’s some element of ‘the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate…’ here – but we can also understand it more broadly as not over-using the imagination – not projecting yourself into other places or people. (Moving in your rooms and not seeing your people is not a mistake.) Though while you sit and reflect, you certainly won’t be jumping around trying to create change in the outer world.

Hexagram 57

‘Wind follows wind, Subtly Penetrating.
A noble one conveys mandates and carries out the work.’

Mountains are joined, thunder rolls… and wind follows. The word used here is the name of Hexagram 17, Following: complying, going along with, adapting to. One wind follows another – going in the same direction, of course. If I’m standing on a windswept plain and move fifty yard to the left… I’m still just as windswept. There can’t not be a relationship between adjoining volumes of air: the wind’s blowing south-southwest because the wind’s blowing south-southwest.

(So much of this post comes from that same department of ‘so obvious it’s embarrassing’ – but I do often find this department gives me the best insights into readings.)

‘Conveying’, 申 shen, means explaining, expanding on something, with an underlying sense of reiteration. The noble one reiterates the mandate like wind follows wind, and carries it through into action with the same inevitability. As in Hexagram 51, the noble one’s action is described in just four words, but these fall into two halves: convey mandate, enact work; verb-noun, verb-noun, flowing smoothly from inside to outside.

Hexagram 58

‘Lakes joined together. Opening.
A noble one joins with friends to speak and practise together.’

Another chong gua, and yet another different word to describe the doubling of the trigram. This one is 麗 li, meaning ‘beautiful’ and also linked, attached, contiguous, yoked together and moving in tandem. These are joined lakes or marshes – the word means low, open ground where water gathers. It’s standing water, not a moving current, but we’re still encouraged to imagine the lakes joined, so the waters can mingle.

The noble one will need to make this happen, though – create her own currents – by actively joining and communicating with friends. Or perhaps just with one friend: ‘joining with’ is peng 朋, a character that shows two strings of cowries; ‘friends’ is you 友, a character that shows two hands, for mutual help. And together, they will discuss and practise – xi 習 as in xi kan, the name of Hexagram 29, learning through repetition.


This seems a good moment to invite your thoughts! Do you see a single, shared pattern between these eight doubled trigram hexagrams? I don’t – they seem to me to be deliberately different, each bringing out the unique quality and way of moving of its own trigram.

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