Between Numbers and Images: the Many Meanings of Trigram Li 離 in the Early Yijing

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This paper examines the images of trigram Li 離 in the Yijing 易經 , with a focus on images in the Shuogua 說卦 commentary. The Shuogua presents images either found in or to be extrapolated from the base text within a structured and highly interpretive system that forms “image programs ” for each of the eight trigrams. I argue the Shuogua ’s image programs have a defined architecture, and its images are not random lists of words collected without an agenda and devoid of relationships and mutual interaction with others. My main thesis is a high percentage of images in the Changes developed through a simple and direct pictographic method, like the one used in a recently discovered Warring States period divination guidebook called *Shifa 筮法 (Method of milfoil divination), that was done by matching the graphic shapes of individual numbers and the overall shapes of numbers in three-line combination to shapes of real objects and logographs. If a diviner could see so many pictographic images in single numbers and sequences of numbers in combination, like what we now see in operation in the Shifa, then we ought to assume that a deeper repository of subjective and innovative images could be observed in number combinations at the multiline, trigram, and hexagram levels. Stated directly, trigram and hexagram diagrams were not pictorially meaningless; numbers produced images, and images produced the words and judgments that formed early layers of text. Professional diviners had an expert knowledge of the tradition and Warring States use of the Changes continued to develop and explain image programs for the eight trigrams along these guidelines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-85
Number of pages39
JournalBulletin of the Jao Tsung-I Academy of Sinology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

User-Defined Keywords

  • Warring States divination
  • expert knowledge
  • Shifa
  • Yijing
  • Trigram Li


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