Glossary of Chinese Yijing terms

This is a glossary of Yijing technical terms that appear on this site, in alphabetical order of pinyin syllables, so xiantian comes before xiangshu. If you need a Chinese font, you can download one.


bachungua 八純卦
'Eight pure hexagrams' – The eight hexagrams where upper and lower trigrams are the same (1, 2, 29, 30, 51, 52, 57, 58). Each heads a 'palace' of Jing Fang's Eight Palaces arrangement, so such hexagrams are also known as 'palace hexagrams' (GONGGUA).


bagong 八宮
'Eight Palaces' – The Eight Palaces arrangement of Jing Fang. Sometimes called 'Eight Houses', though this is less accurate.


bagua 八卦
'Eight trigrams'


bagua wuxing 八卦五行
'Eight trigrams five phases' – Each of the eight trigrams is associated with one of the Five Phases (see WUXING). Qian is metal, Kun is soil, Zhen is wood, Xun is wood, Kan is water, Li is fire, Gen is soil, Dui is metal.


bigua 辟卦
'Sovereign hexagrams' – A sequence of twelve hexagrams that show the waning and waxing of yang and yin, correlating with the twelve months and lunar phases. See also XIAOXIGUA.


biangua 變掛
'The changed hexagram' – The derived hexagram resulting from changing lines in the original hexagram. If hexagram 42 changes in the top place moving to hexagram 3, then hexagram 3 is the biangua. Other translations are 'altered hexagram' or 'transformed hexagram'. Also known as the ZHIGUA. (It has become a regrettable western fashion to refer to the derived hexagram as the 'relating hexagram'.)


cuogua 錯卦
'Inlaid hexagrams' – Two hexagrams where the yin and yang lines in one are yang and yin lines, respectively, in the same positions in the other, as with hexagrams 1 and 2. One is the cuogua of the other. In English such hexagrams are said to be 'complementary'. They are also known as PANGTONGGUA, 'laterally linked hexagrams'. Eight hexagrams of the King Wen sequence are paired in this way, while the other fifty-six are paired by the principle of 'overturning' (FANGUA). For further details, see my notes on cuogua (also discussed in my review of 'Fathoming the Cosmos').


dahengtu 大橫圖
'Great horizontal diagram' – This diagram is explained in Yijing hexagram sequences. The diagram that ascends for three levels, to form the eight trigrams, is called the xiaohengtu (small horizontal diagram). See also XIANTIANTU.


fandui 反對
'Turned-over opposites' – A synonym of FANGUA.


fangua 反卦
'Turned-over hexagrams' – The fangua of a hexagram is the hexagram it becomes by being turned upside down. For instance, hexagram 3 is the fangua of hexagram 4. There are fifty-six hexagrams of the King Wen sequence that are paired in this way, the other eight remain as they are when turned upside down and are instead paired by CUOGUA (also known as PANGTONGGUA). There are a number of synonyms of fangua, of which FANDUI, FUGUA and ZONGGUA have been used on this site.


fanyao 反爻
This ill-conceived term, which doesn't exist in Chinese Yi studies (YIXUE), has recently become popular among some western students of the Yijing. It is supposed to be the 'resonant line' in the changed hexagram (BIANGUA) for any changing line. For instance, the fanyao of hexagram 24/1 is said to be 2/1, on the basis that if the first line of hexagram 24 changes you get hexagram 2, and if you change the first line of hexagram 2 you get back to 24. This uses the 'return' meaning of fan (YAO simply meaning 'line'). However, the term FANGUA, which already has a long history in Chinese Yi studies, refers to turning a hexagram upside down, using the primary 'turn over' sense of fan. So if there were to be a term fanyao it would have to be related to that and therefore would be what the line became in the upside-down hexagram. For example, the fanyao of 24/1 would be 23/6 (this would be a useful term, for example, when pointing out the pattern of repeated text in hexagram 41/5 and its fanyao 42/2, or in 43/4 and its fanyao 44/3). The term is not used on this site and in the former sense is best avoided as it is a bastard coinage.


fugua 覆卦
'Overturned hexagrams' – Same as FANGUA. Some contemporary Chinese authors on the Yijing have been using the term fugua incorrectly, see my notes on this.


gangrou 剛柔
'Firm/yielding' – Solid and broken lines may be known as yang and yin now but in the Tuanzhuan ('Commentary on the Decision', the first two of the Ten Wings) the technical terms for such lines are 'firm' (gang) and 'yielding' (rou), sometimes translated as 'hard' and 'soft'. These terms appear to pre-date the use of yang and yin to describe the lines.


gonggua 宮卦
'Palace hexagram' – See BACHUNGUA.


'Divination figure' – This character has been translated both as 'hexagram' and 'trigram' in Yijing studies, context deciding which is meant. But its use is not exclusive to the Yi, it is also the term used for the 125 three-row divination figures constructed from throwing twelve disks in the Lingqijing, translated by Sawyer as 'trigraph', avoiding confusion with 'trigram'. The eighty-one four-line figures of the Taixuanjing are also gua. The right-hand half of the character is said to represent a crack made in a tortoise shell, the method of divination preceding divination by milfoil (yarrow) stalks.


guazhu 卦主
'Hexagram ruler' – See my notes on ruling lines.


guihun 歸魂
'Returning soul' – Explained in my notes on the Eight Palaces arrangement of hexagrams. Related to YOUHUN, 'wandering soul'.


Hetu 河圖
'(Yellow) River diagram' – Diagram showing the numbers 1–10 as fifty-five black and white dots. The black dots are the numbers of Earth, being even and yin, whereas the white dots are the numbers of Heaven, odd and yang. Notice that the outer numbers are 6, 7, 8, and 9 – the numbers of the four types of line arising from coin and yarrow divination (see SIXIANG and YAOSHU). A dragon-horse is supposed to have come out of the river bearing the diagram. In Han dynasty lore, the Hetu was received by Fuxi, who used it to invent the trigrams. Confucius appears to have heard of the Hetu (Analects 9.9), but the diagram we know today looks to have turned up in the Song dynasty (960–1279). The diagram is paired with the LUOSHU. Both Hetu and Luoshu are sometimes combined with the circular trigram arrangements.


houtiantu 後天

'After Heaven diagram' – Circular trigram arrangement. Other translations are 'Later Heaven' and 'Succeeding Heaven' diagram. Also known as the King Wen arrangement. Paired with the XIANTIANTU, 'Before Heaven diagram'.


hugua 互卦
'Interlocked trigrams' – This is the term usually given in English as 'nuclear trigrams', which refers to the two trigrams embedded in a hexagram in lines 2-3-4 and lines 3-4-5. They overlap, sharing the two middle lines of the hexagram. Some have translated hu as 'mutual', which isn't incorrect, but note that Karlgren said the character depicts two hooks gripping each other, so 'interlocked' is better. Could also be translated as 'overlapping trigrams'. For further details, see my notes on nuclear hexagrams.


huti 互體
'Interlocked body' – A synonym of HUGUA.


huozhulin fa 火珠林法
'Forest of Fire Pearls Method' – The three-coin method of consulting the Yi. This method is also called WENWANG KE.


'Incipience' – The point at which a change germinates. In Wilhelm-Baynes this is knowing 'the seeds'. In the Great Treatise (Dazhuan) it is said that 'the Yi is what enabled the sages to penetrate extremely deeply and thoroughly examine the incipience of things'. The Dazhuan goes on to say that 'it is only through grasping incipience that the affairs of the world can be completed' (1:10, sections 5 and 6 – Lynn p 63; Wilhelm-Baynes, 3rd edition p 315–316; Rutt p 417). To Wang Bi incipience was 'to be ready just at the moment when the imperceptible beginnings of action occurs' (Lynn, p 63). He regarded incipience as the point something leaves non-being (WU) and enters being (YOU) (Lynn, p 84). From subtle signs in the incipient moment it is possible to have a precognition of the way things are going to go and know whether it will lead to good or bad fortune, such that we can attend to it if necessary before the change sets in and takes root.

A further reference to ji in the Dazhuan is found in 2:5, section 11. See p 342 in Wilhelm-Baynes, p 84 in Lynn, and p 425 in Rutt (who translates ji as 'first signs'). In this section incipience is particularly associated with the second line of hexagram 16. Incipience is regarded here as having foreknowledge from small things and so acting right away, not needing to wait all day for further signs because it is obvious how it will go in its very beginnings. One doesn't need to leave it until the next day to know whether what's developing is good or bad. Wu Jing-Nuan translated ji here as 'the secret changes' (p 277).

In Dazhuan 1:8, section 10, ji features in a comment on hexagram 60/1, though incipience is not particularly regarded as being indicated by Rutt and Lynn. Wilhelm-Baynes p 307 translates jishi here as 'germinating things'; Rutt p 414 translates jishi as 'delicate affairs'; Lynn p 59 gives jishi as 'crux of the matter'. I would translate jishi in this section as 'incipient things' or 'emergent matters', reading it as: 'If incipient things are not kept secret it could injure their completion.' Note that incipience as the key to successful completion is also the theme of 1:10, section 6, above. One must not only perceive ji, one must protect it by being circumspect. Much like seeds need darkness to germinate.


junzi 君子
'The noble' – Personally, I prefer to leave this term untranslated. It was originally a term of class, the son of a lord or a princely man. In Confucianism it became a man of perfect virtue, contrasted with the little or petty man, xiaoren, originally simply a 'commoner'. Junzi is sometimes translated as 'the gentleman'. Wilhelm-Baynes translates it, unfortunately, as 'the superior man', which is not as accurate as Wilhelm's German, der Edle, 'noble'. Lynn translates it as 'noble man'. A Confucian xiaoren is like 'rotten wood that cannot be carved', while a junzi is a great-hearted person who always behaves magnanimously.


liangxiangyi 兩象易
'The two images change over' – The 'two images' here are the upper and lower trigrams of a hexagram. This term refers to swapping them over to form a different hexagram, such that the lower trigram in the first becomes the upper in the second and the upper in the first the lower in the second. For example, this procedure applied to hexagram 20 gives hexagram 46. This term has a number of synonyms, but none of them are used on this site. Some contemporary Chinese Yijing authors have incorrectly used the term FUGUA when they should have used liangxiangyi or one of its synonyms.


Luoshu 洛書
'Luo (river) writing' – Diagram showing the numbers 1–9 as forty-five black and white dots, actually a magic square of three. The three numbers across, down, and diagonally add up to fifteen. The black dots are the numbers of Earth, even and yin. The white dots are the numbers of Heaven, odd and yang. The white dots are at the centre and on the four cardinal compass points (N, S, E, and W), while the black dots are in the intermediary directions. The diagram is supposed to have been borne out of the River Luo on a turtle's back, a story which could indicate that it was an inscribed oracle bone that was washed up. Yu the Great is said to have received it. The Luoshu is mentioned by name in late Zhou literature but its form isn't described. The 'writing' (shu) surfaced in the Song dynasty (960–1279) as a diagram, the one we know today. It is paired with the HETU. Both Luoshu and Hetu are sometimes combined with the circular trigram arrangements.


meihua 梅花
'Plum blossom' – A numerological method of Yijing divination, based on observation and correlative deduction, that doesn't use coins or yarrow to form the hexagram and doesn't use the text. See the review of Lillian Too's plum blossom book.


najia 納甲
'Inserted jia [stem]' – See the review article on najia.


pangtonggua 旁通卦
'Laterally linked hexagrams' – Complementary hexagrams. A synonym of CUOGUA.


sanbian shifa 三變筮法
'Three change yarrow method' – A way of getting a hexagram using fifty yarrow stalks (or black-laquered counting rods) and six wooden blocks representing hexagram lines (yao bars), with yang on one side and yin on the other. Sometimes yin is black with the gap carved out and yang is red, or the blocks are stained and polished wood with inlaid metal for the gap in the yin line. Three manipulations are performed with the stalks or counting rods. The first determines the inner (lower) trigram, the second the outer (upper) trigram, and finally the third gives you a single moving line. The block of the moving line is nudged out a little to mark it. See The I Ching on YouTube for two Japanese video demonstrations.


'The time' – Originally referring to the four seasons, shi came to mean seasonality, acting in response to the time in an appropriate manner. This meant doing things at the right time, not doing them when 'the time' wasn't ripe, knowing when to do what. So in this sense it is catching opportunity as it comes and well as straightforward common sense such as not sowing seeds in the winter but waiting until the spring. 'The time' is what divination is interested in, so that we may act in accordance with it. Consulting the oracle is making an enquiry to learn the propensities of the present moment, regardless of whether questions are framed in terms of the future. We always learn the nature of 'the time'.

Shi as timeliness appears in Daodejing 8. In the Zhouyi, the character shi appears only in hexagram 54/4, but it isn't particularly the notion of timeliness there (unless the delay in getting married is considered 'timely', as in Margaret Pearson's translation). In Yi studies the idea of timeliness gained weight in later commentary and is covered well in Zheng Wangeng's paper Tracing the Source of the Idea of Time in Yizhuan [PDF].


sixiang 四象
'Four images' – Greater yin, lesser yang, lesser yin, and greater yang. How they are formed is shown on the xiantian diagram. They are otherwise known as old yin (line value 6), young yang (7), young yin (8), and old yang (9), respectively. They are: moving yin, static yang, static yin, and moving yang. The numbers 6, 7, 8, and 9 are known both as the 'xiang numbers' and YAOSHU.


taiji 太極
'Supreme polarity'


taijitu 太極圖
'Diagram of the supreme polarity' – The circular design otherwise known as the yin-yang emblem. (The term taijitu also refers to a diagram associated with Zhou Dunyi.)


tigua 體卦
'Form trigram' – Term used in MEIHUA (plum blossom numerology) to refer to the trigram without the moving line that represents the subject of the question. See also YONGGUA.


'Diagram' – Can also be translated as: chart, picture, map.


Wenwang ke 文王課
'To enquire of King Wen' or 'King Wen's divination' – The three-coin method of consulting the Yijing. Also known as HUOZHULIN FA.


'Non-being, nothing' – According to Daodejing 40 'being is born from non-being' (could also be put as 'something is born out of nothing'). Wang Bi saw wu as the 'original reality', essentially non-duality or undifferentiated noumenon, the ontologically prior reality underlying the being (YOU) of the phenomenal universe. Dao is an emanation of wu, but not of the category of things, which is why dao cannot be named dao without becoming something it's not.


wuwei 無為
'Not doing' or 'doing nothing' or 'non-action' – Often regarded as 'effortless action', but this usually comes from a reticence to actually see wuwei as meaning what it says, doing nothing. However, this doesn't mean nothing gets done, Daodejing 48 says: 'Do nothing and nothing not done.' The quest to see wuwei as 'effortless action' seems to have come about mostly because it is a mystery how things get done when one does nothing, so because people don't like mysteries they posit that really wuwei is intentionless doing. This is all still in the 'doing' camp. Wuwei is best understood literally as not doing a thing; if nothing is left undone then it is because it happens by itself (the extent to which we may be the agent of it is in name only). See Chris Fraser's review [PDF] of Edward Slingerland's book 'Effortless Action: Wu-wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China' (2003). Slingerland's view is summed up in his earlier article Effortless Action [PDF]. See also Alan Fox's Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi.


wuxing 五行
'Five Phases' or 'Five Agents' – In early translations of books on Chinese philosophy this was usually given as 'Five Elements', but the relation to the Western four elements is superficial and best downplayed. The Five Phases are: wood, fire, soil (earth), metal, and water.

They are ordered in the 'production cycle' and the 'destruction cycle'. The production cycle is shown in the above diagram as the outer pentagon: wood, fire, soil, metal, and water. The traditional explanation is that wood acts as fuel to produce fire, fire forms ashes to make soil, in soil metal ores are found, and metal when it melts becomes liquid like water (an alternative explanation comes from the use of metal mirrors for collecting dew, in that it looks like the metal has generated water). Coming full circle, water nourishes the wood of trees. Thus the Five Phases generate or give birth to each other. The destruction cycle is shown as the inner star and is the order in which the Five Phases conquer or overcome each other: metal, wood, soil, water, fire. Metal tools cut wood, wooden tools such as the plough can break up earth, earth can be used to make dams and cut off water (or simply that earth soaks up water), water can extinguish a fire, and back full circle fire can melt metal. The destruction cycle seems to be the one most smoothly explained, and it is probably the earliest (circa 4th century BCE). The childhood game of 'Scissors, Paper, Stone' – which was invented in China – is an application of a similar kind of thinking to the destruction cycle.


xiantian 先天
'Before Heaven' or 'Earlier Heaven' or 'Preceding Heaven' – See XIANTIANTU and HOUTIANTU.


xiantian fangyuan tu 先天方圓圖
'Before Heaven square and circle diagram' – The 'Before Heaven' sequence of hexagrams arranged in a square in the middle of a circle of them in the same order. There are examples of such diagrams in the scans archive, such as this one. See Yijing hexagram sequences.


xiantiantu 先天圖
'Before Heaven diagram' – Circular trigram arrangement in which opposite trigrams are complementary (a yin line in one is a yang line in the same position in the other, and vice versa, a relationship called PANTONGGUA). Other translations are 'Earlier Heaven' and 'Preceding Heaven' diagram. Also known as the Fuxi arrangement. On this site I regard all diagrams based on the 'Before Heaven' ordering as xiantiantu, such as the DAHENGTU, not just the trigram circle. Paired with the HOUTIANTU, 'After Heaven diagram'. See also Yijing hexagram sequences.


xiangshu 象數
'Image and Number' – Name of a school of thought that is largely uninterested in the text of the Book of Changes, save to the extent that the structure of the hexagram figures, their constituent and nuclear trigrams, and numerous types of line relationships can be made to sound as if they explain it; whereas the 'Meaning and Pattern' (YILI) school interpret the text on its own terms without great regard for the drawn oracular figure associated with it, save that it gives emphasis to the text via the changing lines. Xiangshu practitioners often ignore the text altogether, either in divination methods such as MEIHUA (plum blossom numerology), or in studies of arrangements of hexagrams, sequences, symmetries, and diagrams. There is some crossover – for instance, Wang Bi (226–249) is often regarded as the initiator of 'Meaning and Pattern', yet he used line positions and ruling lines in his commentary, while being critical of the use of nuclear trigrams (HUGUA) and five phases (WUXING).


xiaoxigua 消息卦
'Waning and waxing hexagrams' – A synonym of BIGUA. The xiaogua are the waning hexagrams (44, 33, 12, 20, 23, 2) and the xigua are the waxing hexagrams (24, 19, 11, 34, 43, 1). See my notes. The term xiaoxi comes from Tuanzhuan on hexagrams 23 and 55 ('Commentary on the Decision', the first two of the Ten Wings).


'Hexagram line' – The technical term for a line in a hexagram. Originally, the term may have applied only to a changing line, but today it is used to refer to any kind of line, yin, yang, changing, unchanging.


yaoshu 爻數
'Line number' – The numbers 6, 7, 8, and 9 derived from yarrow or coin divination, referring to the following line types, respectively: moving yin, static yang, static yin, and moving yang. Also known as 'xiang numbers', after the 'four images', SIXIANG.


yili 義理
'Meaning and Pattern' – Explained under XIANGSHU.


Yixue 易學
'Study of The Changes' – Broad term for Yijing studies.


yinyangyu 陰陽魚
'Yin yang fish' – Alternative name for the TAIJITU, or yin-yang emblem.


yonggua 用卦
'Function trigram' – Term used in MEIHUA (plum blossom numerology) to refer to the trigram with the moving line that shows what will happen to the TIGUA or subject of the question.


yongjiu 用九 yongliu 用六
'Apply nines' and 'apply sixes', respectively – Way of referring to the seventh line statement in hexagrams 1 and 2, which is read when all six lines change, such that you get all nines (all changing yang) or all sixes (all changing yin) when casting the hexagram. The significance of the character yong, 'apply' or 'use' or 'employ', is a little obscure in this term. Maybe it means the lines have been 'expended' or 'used up' or 'applied'.


'Being' – Also means 'to have', but here is contrasted in a philosophical sense with WU, 'non-being'. In Daodejing 40 it is said that 'being is born from non-being'.


youhun 游魂
'Wandering soul' – Explained in my notes on the Eight Palaces arrangement of hexagrams. Related to GUIHUN, 'returning soul'.


zhigua 之掛
'The going hexagram' – The derived hexagram after a change in the original hexagram. Probably best understood as the 'gone-to hexagram'. Also known as BIANGUA. The term is based on the way hexagram lines are referred to in the Zuozhuan. Zhi is the possessive ('s), such that the Zuozhuan's way of referring to say the first line of hexagram 1 is 'Qian's Gou' (hexagram 1's hexagram 44 or Qian zhi Gou). To give another example, the second line of hexagram 1 is 'Qian's Tongren' (hexagram 1's hexagram 13). This usage always refers to a single line, you would never have, say, 'Pi's Tai' (hexagram 12's hexagram 11). [Although not using zhi, there is an interesting instance in the Zuozhuan, referring to hexagram 1, Qian, of 'its Kun' 其坤, ie Qian's Kun, or hexagram 1's hexagram 2. At first sight this appears to be referring to six changing lines, until it is recalled that hexagram 1 has a seventh line statement, and it is indeed this line that is quoted (in the discussion of dragons, see Rutt pp 195–196). This in turn is good evidence that this seventh line was intended to apply to the situation where all six lines changed, otherwise it wouldn't be 'Qian's Kun'. This purpose of the seventh line statement in the first two hexagrams is not necessarily clear from the Zhouyi itself. 'Qian's Kun' also implies that all six lines could be regarded as changing and forming a second hexagram at the time the Zuozhuan was written, in contrast to the speculation of some, such as Richard Rutt, that the concept of changing lines was not originally implicit in the oracle. In regard to this, I once put it to Richard that clearly the numbers 6 and 9 indicate changing lines, so at what point did they become attached to the Zhouyi text, because so far as we know they were there from the start. He went very quiet and had no answer.]


zonggua 綜卦
'Woven pattern hexagrams' – Same as FANGUA. See my notes on zonggua.