33 Dun4



The lower: Gen (keeping still, the mountain). The upper: Qian (perseverance, heaven).

Dun: to retreat, or to withdraw; not to wallow in the mire with evil powers, and to conceal one's aspirations and withhold one's actions while staying in an unfavourable condition.






Things cannot remain in their places eternally (Heng); therefore Dun is granted.  Dun signifies to retreat. It is not possible to remain in the state of quaking at the top (of hexagram Heng) forever; it has to retreat in order to evade misfortune. Dun () in Chinese depicts a small pig (tun2) running away (chuo3). A small pig means delicious food on the dining table; its running away suggests that it succeeds in securing its life and keeping its body intact. Therefore Dun signifies retreat or withdrawal from unfavourable circumstances.

The lower trigram Gen is the mountain, and the upper trigram Qian, heaven; the mountain is so high, seemingly up to the sky; however the sky is always retreating while people are climbing the mountain. The sky sits on the mountain like a gentleman, a recluse, hiding himself behind the mountain.

Yin (symbolised by the feminine line) is growing upward and reaches position 2, while Yang (symbolised by the masculine line) is retreating; when the villain starts to prevail, a gentleman retreats and restrains himself from becoming villainous as well.

From a Taoist perspective, Dun signifies reclusion, i.e. in the Dark Ages the gentleman left the turbulent world and lived a solitary life. However, from a Confucian viewpoint, it encourages the able and virtuous person to withhold his actions and not to wallow in the mire with villains, as well as to wait for the opportunity to realise his aspirations and contribute to society. This aspect is expressed in Confucius’s remarks on line 1 of the hexagram Qian (1): The virtue of the dragon is concealed. It won’t change just to conform to customs, and it won’t run after fame and gain. It won’t feel unhappy if it is removed from society, or unrecognised by others. Acting whenever the subject is right, and defying it when the subject is not right. Firm and unaffected, it is the hidden dragon.

The inner hexagram of Dun is Gou (44), to meet, wherein one feminine line fights upward against five masculine lines, which implies that a vigorous villain appears. Its changing hexagram is Lin (19), (the large masculine) to approach (the small feminine), which can be understood as the masculine sovereign returns to the world after the entrenched evil of the last hexagram Gu (18) has been removed.


Text: Dun (retreat), (which will provide) smooth progress; it is slightly advantageous (or appropriate) to persist.

Commentary on the text: The smooth progress of Dun (retreat), (signifying) to retreat (Dun) and then (one will) progress smoothly; (line 5, the one of) rigidity at its right position has correlation, and acts timely.  It is slightly advantageous (or appropriate) to persist; the feminine is gradually growing up.  In the time of Dun an appropriate action is momentous!

Text explanation:

To retreat when the feminine, i.e. the evil or villainous, starts prevailing; then things will, and can, progress smoothly as the norm of the gentleman is secured. It is slightly appropriate to persist in one’s aspirations (or, it is advantageous in terms of a small achievement), since the hexagram will become Pi (12), blockage and stagnation, once the feminine line reaches position 3.

The feminine line has been increasing from the bottom to position 2 and has a tendency to grow continuously; a gentleman perceives the difficulty in realising his aspirations, so he should retreat, i.e. to restrain himself and act in view of his aspirations only in a well-timed manner.

Line 5, the host line of Dun and the masculine axle centre at the position where the norm of Dun reaches its full development, is in correlation with line 2, which is the feminine axle centre at its right position, i.e. evil reaches a peak and occupies its dominant position, signifying it is well aware of the malign tendency and acts righteously and moderately, like a gentleman meticulously acting according to what he should do, and retreating when he should.

Commentary on the image: Below heaven there is a mountain; Dun.  A gentleman, in accordance with this, should keep his distance from the villain, with a solemn attitude but with no need to display repulsion.

The mountain of the lower trigram Gen stands high and seemingly tends to offend the heavens, while the upper trigram Qian, heaven, exhibits solemnity as its dignity. The heavens keep a distance from the mountain with solemnity, and do not suppress it.




The masculine is retreating, while the feminine is increasing and invading. To retreat in order to progress smoothly is a wise action; it is slightly appropriate to persist in carrying out one’s aspirations and it is advantageous to make achievements on a small scale. Retreat is due to encountering a powerful evil or villain (symbolised by the feminine line), as suggested by its inner hexagram Gou (44). The masculine sovereign returns to the world again after the hexagram changes to Lin (19), wherein its large masculine is approaching the small feminine.

From hexagrams Qian and Kun, Dun inherits the virtues of smooth progress, slight advantage and persistence (expressed in the form of persistence bringing forth slight benefit), but excludes that of origination. Hence one should conceal one's motivation and refrain from action, as well as preserve one’s strength and keep progress smooth without expecting any benefit.

Dun can be understood as: to retreat in order to retreat in order to preserve one’s strength, to wait for an opportunity and act in a well timed manner.

To advance is like those seeking promotion, which sometimes depends on opportunities. To retreat is like a small pig successfully running away and remaining intact; it needs wisdom.






As mentioned above, the feminine here is taken for evil or villainy; positions 1 and 2 are where the evil power prevails. For the purposes of retreat, the upward direction is that which the gentleman should follow. Each line position describes how the gentleman should perform in each phase while the evil power prevails. The lower trigram Gen is signified as keeping still, wherein the lines must learn how to live with the villain, while the upper trigram Qian, which is composed entirely of masculine lines, is where the norm of retreat is manifested according to Confucian thought.


The 1st line

Text: (The subject is at) the tail of Dun (retreat); (this is of) sternness and cruelty; do not take action to go somewhere.

Text explanation:

Line 1 is at the tail of the feminine lines. The surroundings are already stern and cruel as the feminine has stepped onto position 2. A gentleman who did not retreat in time should remain where he is and seek shelter on the spot. The best action is to evade evil beforehand; it is calamitous to run after the evil of line 2 along the timeline for retreating.

King Zhou (紂王) was dissipated and tyrannous. When most of his virtuous subjects left him, his uncle Ji Zi (箕子) remained by his side. However instead of being worldly wise and playing it safe, Ji Zi repeatedly urged Zhou to behave himself. This inevitably provoked Zhou, and Ji Zi had to feign insanity to avoid being killed.

Commentary on the image: The sternness and cruelty of the tail of Dun (retreat); what calamity will befall (if line 1 does) not go forth?

Should line 1 move forward to position 4, the inner lower trigram would become Kan (the abyss, water) and it would sit on top of peril, which signifies that the action would create a possible calamity. On the other hand there is no peril if it remains still.




Enlightenment through six one: 1) don't undertake what is planned, or 2) be worldly wise and play it safe. One is designated to retreat but falls behind, which is stern and cruel as the environment has become evil. Do not undertake what is intended; it won’t incur calamity if one remains still. The hexagram that appears while this line is activated and changes to masculine is Tong Ren (13), fellowship, which signifies putting differences aside to seek common ground in order to make friends with others, and which suggests living peacefully with villains at the moment.


The 2nd line

Text: (The subject ought) to hold it by (wrapping it with) the leather of the yellow cattle, and not to let it escape.

Text explanation:

Evil starts prevailing; a gentleman must firmly hold on to his aspirations although they can't be realised for the time being.

Line 3 is the leather of the cattle, as trigram Kun (submissiveness, earth) is the cattle and the lower trigram Gen looks like the hide of the cattle (i.e. the solid line is the skin and the two tender feminine lines are the flesh), while the inner lower trigram Xun (to enter, the wind) is the cord. Therefore line 2 is wrapped, fastened and firmly held by the masculine (line 3, the representative line of the lower trigram Gen, the hand). Line 2 is at middle position of the lower trigram, the colour of which is yellow.




Even though position 2 is occupied by feminine and a gentleman is restrained from retreating, line 2 is the axle centre and in correlation with line 5, optimum Dun and a beacon for retreat; so it can act moderately and won't get lost on its course, which signifies that a gentleman should maintain his aspirations and wait for the right time.

Commentary on the image: To hold it by (wrapping it with) the leather of the yellow cattle, (which signifies) to firmly hold on to one’s aspirations.

Enlightenment through six two: to conceal what is planned and wait for the right time. Evil starts prevailing; one should firmly preserve one’s aspirations (or, whatever is intended) like wrapping it with the leather of the yellow cattle, and not let it escape. Should this line change to active masculine and not abide by the advice, the hexagram would become Gou (44), to meet, where the masculine encounters a vigorous feminine, signalling a crisis is emerging.


The 3rd line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) tied up Dun (retreat), (which is due to) illness, (and which is of) sternness and cruelty; (one ought) to raise the courtier and the concubine, (which is of) auspiciousness.

Text explanation:

Line 3 is the first masculine line and next to the evil power. On the one hand it is at the position for marching upward to the upper trigram Qian. On the other hand it is sustained by feminine line 2 and affected by it, which makes it hesitant to retreat. Obsession is a kind of illness. Not to leave what should be forsaken, not to retreat when one should will result in being plunged into a stern and cruel state.

To raise the courtier and the concubine signifies to respect, but keeping a distance from them. Line 3 acts like a duke while feminine line 2 is his courtier; the courtier is one the duke counts on, while the concubine is the one he cherishes. However the relation with them must not be too intimate otherwise they will restrain, or even control, him.

In the Dark Ages, if a gentleman still had concerns and could not retreat in time, for instance being reluctant to let go of vested interests, or needing to complete the job of covering the masculine lines above, he had to respect his opponent while keeping a distance from him. It will be auspicious if line 3 can perform like its representing lower trigram Gen, to stop and move whenever it should.

Commentary on the image: The sternness and cruelty of tied up Dun, (which make line 3 feel) ill and exhausted.  It is auspicious to raise the courtier and the concubine, (signifying) it is not permitted to undertake any task on a large scale.

When evil begins to prevail, the one nearby must act conservatively, i.e. one should limit one's activity to one's home town (and affecting only one's courtiers and concubines) instead of carrying out aspirations or intended undertaking on a large scale. On the other hand, to cope with a villain is the same as raising the courtier and concubine; should line 3 be ridden over by line 2, it would be trapped in the lower trigram Kan, peril.




Enlightenment through nine three: 1) to make a prompt decision according to what one should do, or 2) to act within one's own domain in order to avoid becoming stuck in the mire with others. Retreat is curbed; the situation becomes perilous as one has to deal with villains or evil. It is auspicious to respect them while keeping a distance, acting conservatively, and deferring large scale undertakings. Should this line change to feminine, the hexagram would become Pi (12), stagnation and blockage, which signifies adversity.


The 4th line

Text: (The subject acts as) right () Dun (retreat); it is auspicious to the gentleman, but Pi (i.e. blockage and stagnation) to the villain.

Text explanation:

Wei Zi (微子) was the elder half-brother of King Zhou and the clan leader of the Shang. Given King Zhou’s tyranny, he knew that the Shang was going to perish. Although he was loyal to his country, he felt compelled to take his family to the Zhou Dukedom in order to save the Shang clan, i.e. to avoid all the clan members being killed after Shang was overthrown.

Masculine line 4 represents a gentleman. Although it is in correlation with feminine line 1 and affected by evil or a villain, it has successfully overcome the obsession at position 3 and stepped onto the upper trigram Qian, where all the lines are masculine; it is masculine, and with masculine. Therefore it is auspicious for a gentleman as he can avoid evil temptation and succeed in his retreat. 

hao3 originally meant beauty (of a female) which reflects people's likes and dislikes. of (right Dun) here signifies that a gentleman can well judge what is good and right, and what is evil and bad; he won't alter his actions out of personal preference, but will act according to what is right. The villain is incapable of doing this.                                 

Commentary on the image: The gentleman (performs) right Dun (retreat); it is Pi (i.e. blockage and stagnation) to the villain.

Provided that line 4 changes to feminine, i.e. a villain, the villain will definitely join evil powers, and then the hexagram will become Pi (12), blockage and stagnation.




Enlightenment through nine four: don't obsess, and take action according to what is planned. Right Dun signifies to forsake what is evil and follow what is right. A gentleman knows what is good and bad; therefore it is auspicious to the gentleman, but inauspicious (Pi) for the villain. The hexagram appears as Jian4 (53), to progress gradually and sequentially, when this line changes to feminine. Contrary to what the villain did, a gentleman should retreat along with other gentlemen like wild geese migrating and according to the prescribed procedure.


The 5th line

Text: (The subject acts as) optimum () Dun (retreat); to persist is auspicious.

Text explanation:

Line 5 is a masculine axle centre and the host line; its performance with respect to retreat reaches the peak of hexagram Dun. It correlates with feminine line 2 and perceives that evil power is starting to prevail. Although the masculine lines form a majority, it remains at its position and acts like a beacon warning people, guiding them to retreat. The norm of Dun converges and attains its optimum; to persist is auspicious.

According to Confucius's remarks on hexagram Qian (1): smooth progress (heng) is the convergence of the optimum (jia: the favourable interplay between the masculine and feminine). Thus jia of 嘉遯dun4 here is annotated as optimum, signifying it is good for both.

Commentary on the image: Optimum Dun (retreat) and to persist is auspicious, in accordance with which to rectify the aspirations (of those below).

It upholds its aspirations and illuminates the route of retreat for those below, virtuous and able people, to join and realise their aspirations together.

Zhou Wen Wang (周文王) accepted Wei Zi (微子), and honoured him by offering him a government post. Other virtuous and able people who learned of this were all willing to provide their services. Through the combined forces, the Dukedom Zhou grew stronger.

Enlightenment through nine five: call comrades and carry out a task with concerted effort. Optimum retreat is auspicious to persist. Should this line change to feminine, the hexagram would become Lu (56), to journey (in adversity), where one must maintain a low profile and submit meekly to it.


The 6th line

Text: (The subject acts as) spacious () Dun (retreat); nothing is unfavourable.

Text explanation:

Masculine line 6 arrives at the top of heaven, the upper trigram Qian, and has no correlate below, i.e. no obsession or concern; especially as it is far from feminine lines 1 and 2. Therefore it is totally free to retreat, and there is nothing unfavourable.

Commentary on the image: Spacious Dun (retreat) and nothing is unfavourable, (signifying) nothing to doubt (or concern, or hesitate).

Spacious retreat signifies that it is free from fear, worry and concern, and can go anywhere since retreat from evil was realised at position 5. fei2 means fatness; it here is interpreted as spaciousness in relation to a wide body. 

Enlightenment through nine six: to leave freely for what is planned. Spacious retreat is nothing unfavourable, there is no need to doubt. Line 6 can be referred to as the small pig; not only does it succeed in running away, it also becomes stronger and totally free. Even if feminine appears when this line is activated, the hexagram will become Xian (31), telepathy, which won’t be restrained by distance and landscapes.