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An etymology of the ideogram Jing.48


Jul 12, 2006
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Etymology of the ideogram Jing.48

The Well is the general character chosen to illustrate hexagram 48, although it does not represent a well. It does not draw a figure but, rather, a device, a type of function: the well system. During antiquity this system designated a particular type of agricultural organization. It was founded from globally square territorial units which were divided into nine parcels on which were invested eight families. The ninth parcel was not allotted to anyone in particular: empty and central, it represented the sovereign. It was in its centre that a well was dug to feed the whole of the surrounding lots. It was cultivated by one after the other of the surrounding farmers and its revenues due to the emperor as income tax.

Starting from this base unit were gathered groups of 4, 16 and 64 constituting of eight families and nine parcels, always in multiples of four in order to maintain the square structure.

In the Chinese classic imagination, this system was so tightly linked to the idea of agriculture that one of the most usual character to say To Plow was formed from the combination of the ideograms Cart and Well. A literary expression quite elegant still persists in China depicting an intellectual profession: To Plow with a Brush.

Though it may seem that this type of organization may have been more ideal than effective, the place it occupied in the Chinese thought process was such that the ideogram Well has kept the figurative meaning of In Good Order, since the system of the well has always represented the model for anything well organized, with Fluidity and constituted of prosperous exchanges (it finds in this symbolic the meaning for the number Eight, as is understood in the ideogram Dui.58). This meaning is not so provided by the well itself but rather by the communication it produced: the eight families came to it every day and each his turn cultivated the parcel surrounding it.

This double circulation around a hollow pivot seemed ideal, for it functioned analogically as the human body around the heart, or the social body organized around the sovereign (as is seen at the transition level).

Contrary to the ideogram meaning the reversed hexagram of Jing.48 (that is Kun.47, Exhaustion), where a sealed frontier enclosing a tree emphasizes non communication characteristics, there is no outside limitations in the Well: it does not represent a lot (field) but, with only four strokes, the outside division organizing it in nine parcels. The left stroke being curved for dynamic and esthetic purposes, which emphasizes at the same time the idea of Filtering, the Porous characteristics of wells and of unencumbered communication naturally found in such situations. Further elaboration on this topic is found in the Tenth Wing.


dobro p

May 19, 1972
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How about this, then? Hex 48 images not so much the well itself, but the drawing of water from the depth for general distribution. The well is part of the overall meaning, not the core of the meaning. In the same way that a cellphone might symbolize a communication network.

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