Kūn’s ‘body’: the many appearances and meanings of the pure even-numbered trigram in the early Yìjīng and related texts

Adam Craig Schwartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


One of the main reasons why words (i.e., ‘images’) in the Yìjīng and Guīcáng might appear so enigmatic is because they have become detached from the ‘pictures’ (guàhuà 卦畫) or ‘bodies’ (guàtǐ 卦體), as divination results, in which diviners first recognized them. This paper has two objectives. The first, as part of a larger database project, uses early Chinese excavated materials to reconstruct and reimage the many configurations and appearances of trigram Kūn’s ‘body’ (Kūn tǐ 坤體). Seeing and thinking about the pure even-numbered, yīn trigram in its original configurations leads us toward a deeper appreciation and understanding of the complexity of this early system of divination, and doing so is integral to investigating, as a thought experiment, complex relationships between divination results (i.e., trigrams and hexagrams) and numbers, numbers and images, and images and predictions. Users of the Changes should no longer visualize Kūn’s ‘body’ as one-dimensional ☷ and . The second, examines images of trigram Kūn in the Yìjīng, with a starting point being the images in the canonical commentaries, and the Shuō guà commentary in particular, by using hermeneutic principles in the ‘numbers and images’ tradition. The Shuō guà presents images either found in or to be extrapolated from the base text within a structured and highly interpretive system that creates ‘image programs’ for each of the eight trigrams. I argue the Shuō guà’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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1031-1106
Number of pages76
JournalAsiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2021

User-Defined Keywords

  • ancient systems of knowledge
  • trigram Kūn
  • Warring States Changes divination
  • Yìjīng


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