49 Ge2 革
The lower: Li (clinging, fire). The upper: Dui (joy, the marsh).
Ge: reform or revolution; to remove the stale in order to introduce the new.
The well (Jing) cannot work without reconditioning its channel; therefore Ge is granted. Ge (革) originally means leather, i.e. the hide with the fur removed and then dried. This signifies making changes and improvements to achieve a designated outcome. Therefore Ge of hexagram 49 is annotated as reform, as well as revolution when a regime change is involved.
The lower trigram Li is fire, while the upper trigram Dui is the marsh. The water of the marsh flows downward wetting the soil below; however the flames blaze upward tending to dry the soil. Water and fire are competing with, and trying to subdue, each other, so change is constantly occurring.
The lower trigram Li is the second daughter while the upper trigram Dui is the youngest daughter. Two women are living together contrary to their status, i.e. superiority remains below while inferiority stays above. Therefore change must be made to correct the improper situation.
The next hexagram (50) is Ding, innovation, which is the reversal of hexagram of Ge, signifying that reform (or revolution) and innovation are two facets of the same situation. Therefore, innovation must follow directly after reform or revolution. The inner hexagram of Ge is Gou (44), wherein the feminine is vigorous, i.e. the opposing power is strong. Its changing hexagram is Meng (4), to dispel ignorance and enlighten intelligence, signifying that after reform or revolution, the world becomes civilised.
Text: Ge (reform or revolution), (which will obtain) sincerity and trust on the day of Ji (i.e. right after the first half of the hexagram), (and which will lead to) great and smooth progress; it is advantageous (or appropriate) to persist; regret will be gone.
Commentary on the text: Ge (reform or revolution); water and fire are subduing each other; two females live together, (but) their aspirations are at odds, which is called Ge. (It will obtain) sincerity and trust on the day of Ji (i.e. right after the first half of the hexagram), (signifying) Ge (reform or revolution must be implemented first) and then (its necessity and results) will be believed. (Hexagram Ge exhibits its norm in the form of) civilisation (of the lower trigram Li) in company with speech (of the upper trigram Dui) (which will lead to) great and smooth progress by virtue of the righteousness (of lines 2 and 5); (therefore) Ge (reform or revolution) (is carried out) in a proper manner, regret will be gone. Heaven and earth undergo Ge (change), whereby the four seasons are formed; the revolution of Tang and Wu submitted to (the mandate of) Heaven and catered to (the wishes of) the people. In the time of Ge an appropriate action is momentous.
It takes time to change the way people live; reform or revolution will only be accepted and believed in by people after it has been in effect for a period of time. Once reform or revolution wins people’s trust and faith, it will progress in a very smooth manner. It is advantageous (or appropriate) to persist in the norm of Ge (as described below). Regret due to lack of people's support will disappear.
The lower trigram Li is brightness which symbolizes civilisation; the upper trigram Dui is joy and to speak. Reform or revolution must be carried out based on civilisation, and what is intended must be convincing; then it can progress in a very smooth manner. Lines 2 and 5, the axle centres of the lower and the upper trigrams (i.e. both the executor and the leader), are at their right positions acting righteously and moderately; therefore the reform or revolution of hexagram Ge can be carried out and accomplished properly. After long-standing bad practices are stopped and new measures implemented, the regret caused by wrongdoings in the past will be gone.
Reform or revolution is like the change of the four seasons which are created according to the rule of Nature. Shang Tang (商湯) overthrew the Xia dynasty (夏), and then King Wu of Zhou (周武王) toppled the Shang Dynasty (商) because of their tyranny. These are examples of acts according to the mandate of Heaven and catering to the wishes of the people.
Ji is the 6th stem of the ten Heavenly Stems; ‘on the day of Ji’ can be understood as ‘right after the first half of an undertaking.
Footnote: The revolution of Shang Tang overthrowing Xia to establish the Shang Dynasty is regarded as the first revolution of nobility in Chinese history. King Wu of Zhou toppling King Zhou (紂王, approx. 1100 B.C.) to establish the Zhou Dynasty (周) was the second revolution. In the last phase of the Shang Dynasty, King Zhou was ruthless and tyrannical. Ji Fa (姬發, the son of King Wen, King Wu of Zhou) had a long-standing aim to topple King Zhou. At one point, when he was reviewing his troops, it is said that 800 dukes visited the site to ask him to take immediate action and overthrow the Shang. However, Ji Fa replied, “I haven’t yet determined the intent of Heaven” and turned them down. In fact, Ji Fa was making use of the parade to determine how many dukes would support him and how strong their intent was. The following year when King Zhou killed his uncle, Bi Gan (比甘), and put another uncle, Gi Zi (箕子), into jail, Ji Fa realized that the day had come to terminate the tyrant, for the sake of Heaven and the people. He launched an attack and defeated the Shang within a month.
The ten Heavenly Stems are Jia, Yi, Bing, Jing, Wu, Ji, Geng, Xin, Ren and Gui. Their relationship to the eight trigrams is established in accordance with the sequence of Qian, Kun and the six trigrams resulting from them, as follows. Ji is the sixth stem and is attributed to trigram Li.
See hexagram Gu (18) for more information on the Heavenly Stems and the Earthly Branches.
Commentary on the image: In the marsh there is fire; Ge. A gentleman in accordance with this arranges his calendar to allow for prompt action.
Fire in the marsh signals that something might happen, i.e. the fire might erupt like a volcano, or it just might be gas burning off. A gentleman must observe the changes and arrange his time to allow for prompt action, if necessary.
Hexagram Ge addresses righteously carrying out reform or revolution in a civilised and credible manner. Sincere trust (i.e. trust and faith) along with its effects will emerge after the first half of the task underway. Afterward, it will progress in a very smooth manner. It is appropriate or advantageous to persist, and regret will be gone.
A government must serve its people unselfishly and without discrimination as illustrated by the well of hexagram Jing (48). The well needs to be constantly reconditioned to fulfil its duty. Likewise, an ineffective or unjust government requires reform to carry out its mission. Should reform fail, revolution will occur. No matter whether it is reform or revolution, innovation must follow like the next hexagram, Ding (50).
Hexagram Ge possesses all four virtues (origination, smooth progress, advantage, and persistence) given by hexagrams Qian and Kun in the form of great and smooth progress, and persistence bringing forth benefit, signifying that eradicating whatever is bad is the mandate assigned by Heaven and earth. Ge is the only hexagram in the second volume of the I Ching that possesses all these four virtues. Its mission is to restore the virtue of Heaven and earth.
Its changing hexagram is Meng (4), whose mission is to dispel ignorance and enlighten intelligence, signifying that people become renewed after reform or revolution has taken place.
The commentary on the image suggests that people should observe the changes occurring around them, work out appropriate measures and act in a timely manner.
The lower trigram is regarded as the preparatory and initial stage of reform or revolution. The upper trigram is where the reform or revolution takes place. Reform or revolution should proceed gradually according to its plan. Therefore line 1 first learns how to resign itself to adversity and tackle the task in a moderate way. Line 2 demonstrates the necessity for reform or revolution and wins the support from line 5. Line 3 which intends to reach the goal in one step must follow the plan. Line 4 is the only line of hexagram Ge which doesn’t stay at its right position and requires correction. Line 5 is at the position where a hexagram reaches its full development and the reform or revolution bears fruit. Line 6 is the end, with the task accomplished.
Trigram Kan (abyss, water) denotes sincerity and trust in the form of a solid heart (i.e. to act strongly and firmly with self-confidence). Like the image of hexagram Zhong Fu (61), trigram Li (clinging, fire) is signified as sincerity and trust but in the form of a humble heart (i.e. to sincerely fulfil one's mission with humility, or to sincerely trust with heartfelt admiration).
The 1st line
Text: (The subject ought) to reinforce (one's self) by using Ge (the leather) of the yellow cattle.
In carrying out reform or revolution, one must be competent and act at the right time. In this phase, one should enhance oneself.
Line 1 is at the beginning of the hexagram (where it is less energetic and lacks knowledge) and has no correlation with line 4, the one requiring correction. Therefore it can't and shouldn't take any action toward reform or revolution; rather it should enhance itself according to the principle of moderation and submission.
Yellow is the colour of the axle centre where the principle of moderation can be accessed; cattle are symbolic of submission. Line 1 is ridden over by feminine line 2, which is the axle centre and originates from trigram Kun (submissiveness, earth, cattle). This is like being wrapped in the leather of yellow cattle.
When Duke Ji Chang (姬昌, King Wen of Zhou) passed away, the Dukedom Zhou already ruled two thirds of ancient China. However his son, King Wu of Zhou, spent another eleven years preparing his mission, waiting for the right time to topple the Shang.
Commentary on the image: (Line 1 ought) to reinforce (itself) by using Ge (the leather) of the yellow cattle, (signifying) not allowing any action.
Line 1 reinforces itself by wrapping itself in the leather of the yellow cattle, which also renders it unable to move.
Enlightenment through nine one: Now it is the preparatory and waiting stage; one should enhance oneself and combine all resources into a joint force. At this moment one should not take any action. Lines 1 and 4 will correlate with each other if this line changes to feminine; however the hexagram will appear as Xian (31), telepathy, which doesn't involve any physical action.
The 2nd line
Text: (The subject starts) Ge (reform or revolution) on the day of Ji (i.e. right after the first half of the lower trigram); to undertake a venture is auspicious, (an auspiciousness which will lead to) no calamity (or fault).
After a period of preparing (at position 1) and demonstrating (as the brightness of its representing trigram Li performs) the necessity for reform or revolution, it becomes auspicious to take aggressive action. One can be free from calamity if correct actions (which auspiciousness entails) are taken in a timely manner.
Line 2 is a feminine axle centre at its right position; therefore it will act righteously and moderately. It came from trigram Kun (submissiveness, earth), the people, and sustains the inner upper trigram Qian (perseverance, heaven). In this way it submits to the mandate of Heaven and complies with the wishes of the people. Therefore taking aggressive action is auspicious.
Commentary on the image: (Line 2 starts) Ge (reform or revolution) on the day of Ji (i.e. after the first half of the lower trigram); the act will be praised (or, the act will benefit both sides) (行有嘉).
The reform or revolution submits to Heaven and caters to the people, deserving praise.
Line 2 correlates with line 5 and represents the civilisation of the lower trigram Li, suggesting that the reform or revolution is authorised by the great lord and will be carried out in a civilised way.
嘉jia signifies good and to praise, as well as the favourable change between the masculine and feminine. 行xing2 (to do) 有you3 (have) 嘉 translates as “the act will be praised”. It can also be paraphrased as “the act will be beneficial to both sides (i.e. lines 2 and 5)”; this is auspicious to take aggressive action.
Enlightenment through six two: It is the day of action; take action after adequate preparation and communication, and do it in a manner beneficial to both sides. One can start action once the task has gone through preparation and communication. It is auspicious to take aggressive action, and it will be free from calamity or fault if all has been correctly and auspiciously done. Should this line changes to masculine, it would lose righteousness and correlation with line 5, and the hexagram would become Guai (43), (the masculine) getting rid of (the feminine) (with determination but peacefully), since a counter-strike from the feminine could be like a torrential downpour of water washing away everything in its path. Here attention must be paid to the returning fire from the opponent.
The 3rd line
Text: To undertake a venture is ominous, (and) to persist is stern and cruel. Ge (reform or revolution) requires being carried out in three steps, (and with) sincerity and trust.
Reform or revolution should not be carried out in one abrupt shot. It must be considered and properly determined; as well it should be divided into several stages and realized, step by step, with sincerity and trust.
Line 3 is masculine and in correlation with line 6, the end of hexagram Ge; masculine tends to move and it arrives at the position for marching upward; this signifies that it is eager to accomplish the task. However line 4, the one requiring correction standing in front, will be overlooked if it takes aggressive action.
Reform or revolution must be carried out, step by step, like line 3 arriving at the engagement point after it has properly prepared at position 1 and won the support of the great leader at position 2. Now it must focus its activities on the planed target and accomplish it accordingly. The above three steps construct the lower trigram Li which denotes sincerity and trust, i.e. to sincerely fulfil one's mission with humility.
Three steps can be also paraphrased as: the plan must be comprehensive but not overdone, as three in Chinese culture signifies a large number, but it is also a figure before the middle five when ten is taken for one complete unit.
From the viewpoint of the revolution that saw the Dukedom Zhou overthrow the Shang Dynasty, Duke Ji Chang moved the capital from Mountain Qi (岐山) to Feng Yi (豐邑), where Zhou would be closer to attack the Shang in the future (i.e. to occupy an advantageous position); this was the first step. King Wu of Zhou summoned dukes, under the guise of viewing his troops, to determine how many of them would support his plan; this was the second step (i.e. to win the support of the dukes). Then, once the time was right, King Wu dispatched his troops and successfully toppled King Zhou.
From the viewpoint of reform, after King Wu toppled the Shang and
established the Zhou Dynasty, he occupied Shang's capital and
deployed his troops there; this was the first step (i.e. to occupy
an advantageous position). Then he released Ji Zi (箕子)
from prison and rebuilt the tomb of Bi Gan (比甘).
He also distributed grain stored in the royal barn to the people;
this was the second step (i.e. to win the support of Shang's
people). He didn't make significant political changes, which were
planned for the third step, until the new regime was stabilised
(i.e. to act at the right time).
If a task requires implementation in stages, along with proper planning, there is no reason to disregard the plan.
Enlightenment through nine three: to carry out the task in an opportune manner according to the plan, and sincerely with trust. To take aggressive action is ominous and to persist is dangerous, signifying that a rash advance will lead to difficulties. One must plan what to do, and act accordingly. Reform or revolution must be carried out, sincerely and with trust, step by step. The hexagram that appears while this line is activated changing to feminine, disconnecting correlation from line 6 and remaining still, is Sui (17), to follow, signifying to make adjustments timely and act in accordance with the occasion.
The 4th line
Text: Regret will be gone, (which will create) sincerity and trust, (reform or revolution is in a position) to change destiny, (which leads to) auspiciousness.
Reform or revolution is being carried through; one’s destiny will undergo an important change. That which caused regret in the past will be gone.
Line 4 is the masculine in place of feminine. It is the only line of hexagram Ge that doesn’t stay at its right position to act righteously; therefore it requires correction. The reform or revolution will change its destiny, i.e. from masculine to feminine. Then it will be at its right position and in correlation with line 1, the commons, as well as sustaining line 5, the king; therefore regret will be gone. Both the upper and the inner upper trigrams will change to Kan (the abyss, water), sincerity and trust, signifying that the reform or revolution creates sincerity and trust which cover almost the whole hexagram as illustrated below. Afterward, the hexagram becomes Ji Ji (63), completion, where all the lines stay at their right positions and righteously correlate with one another; this is auspicious.
Commentary on the image: The auspiciousness of changing destiny, (signifying reform or revolution results in) aspiration being widely realized (or, which is due to trust or faith in the aspiration of reform or revolution) (信志).
Trigram Kan also denotes aspiration. After reform is accomplished, the upper and the inner upper trigram become Kan; Kan appears signifying that aspirations come true.
Thanks to the success of the reform or revolution, the people have trust or faith in it; there-fore, it can be carried out with the people's support; this is auspicious.
信 of 信志zhi4 (aspiration) can be pronounced in xin4 (trust or faith) or shen (to stretch).
Enlightenment through nine four: to reform what is incorrect; trust and faith will be established after it is accomplished. After the reform is successfully carried out, regret caused by wrongdoings (or due to lack of support) in the past will be gone; trust and faith will emerge and fate will reveal an extra brilliance; this is auspicious. The hexagram that forms after this line is reformed, changing to feminine and becoming righteous, is Ji Ji (63), completion, signifying that the mission has been accomplished.
The 5th line
Text: The great lord (changes like) a tiger shedding; (the subject ought) not to divine (but rather exhibit) sincerity and trust.
Reform or revolution has been successfully accomplished and the great leader has changed as well; he becomes more confident and authoritative; he knows what to do and how to do it. The people have sincere trust in him.
Line 5, the great lord, is a masculine axle centre in the place of masculine. It acts righteously and correlates with line 2, the one that undertakes reform and represents those below (of the lower trigram). After the successful reform, it is sustained by line 4 and becomes the representative line of the upper trigram Kan, sincerity and trust (of a solid heart), signifying that he acts strongly and firmly with self-confidence like a glossy tiger after shedding. The lower trigram Li represented by line 2 denotes the sincerity and trust of a humble heart and resembles the tortoise whose shell was used as an oracular tool in ancient times. As the people's sincere trust with heartfelt admiration constitutes the oracle and he is full of self-confidence in what has been done and will be done, there is no need for him to divine.
Before King Wu of Zhou launched an attack on the Shang, his prophets prayed to the oracle and the results were all ominous warnings. Zhou Gong Dan (周公旦, his younger bother who later assisted him and his son in governing Zhou) and Jiang Zi Ya (姜子牙, the state tutor) burned out all the yarrow sticks and tortoise shells erasing the opposing opinions and persuaded King Wu to dispatch the troops. Finally Zhou succeeded in overthrowing the Shang. Divination acts as an adviser when people have doubts in their minds; but one must not divine when a task is necessary. This is especially true for leaders who must act with full self-confidence; otherwise people will lose faith and stop following them.
Commentary on the image: The great lord (changes like) a tiger shedding; its stripes become even more apparent and orderly.
Line 5 is the great leader and here refers to King Wu of Zhou, Zhou Gong Dan and Jiang Zi Ya who carried out a revolution and established the Zhou Dynasty. Their performances are bright and splendid like a tiger’s stripes, becoming especially clear and orderly after shedding.
Enlightenment through nine five: 1) follow the trend to carry on the task, and 2) be confident in doing what must be done. The great leader acquires more confidence and prestige like a tiger which becomes glossier after shedding; he is so faithful and determined that there is no need for divination and people have faith in him. After this line is activated, the hexagram changes to Feng (55), a grand and abundant state. Here it must seek assistance from line 2 in order to maintain Feng.
The 6th line
Text: The gentleman (changes like) a leopard shedding, (but) the villain reforms his countenance; it is ominous to undertake a venture; it is auspicious to persist in remaining steady.
Reform or revolution reaches its end; what needs to be done now is to maintain what has been achieved, and prevent turmoil caused by ceaseless reforms or revolutions. Therefore it is ominous to undertake a venture (to do more) but auspicious to persist in maintaining steadiness. This is like feminine line 6 righteously remaining still at its position in order to maintain the reformed state of hexagram Ji Ji and avoid disorder at the end.
The change in a gentleman is interior, yet it is displayed externally like a glossy leopard after shedding. But the villain has only undergone a superficial reform; his heart is still unchanged. The lower (or internal) trigram is the phase of the reform or revolution still in process; feminine line 6 in correlation with line 3 symbolises that internally it still keeps the old thoughts, and the feminine (representing Yi) here is referred to as the villain. On the other hand, there will be no correlation if line 6 changes to the masculine, i.e. a gentleman, which signifies that a gentleman can make a complete change and separate from his pass.
After King Wu of Zhou toppled King Zhou of Shang, the oppressed gentlemen were reinstated and became rejuvenated and vital like a glossy leopard after shedding. The villain rejoiced over the dynastic change and submitted to Zhou but maintained his old thoughts; King Wu accepted them all. Later, dissenters were exiled by his son in hexagram Yi4 (42) after he passed away five years later and the new regime became stabilised (see postscript of hexagram 42).
Commentary on the image: The gentleman (changes like) a leopard shedding; its stripes become especially luxuriant. The villain changes his countenance, (and appears) submissive in following the king.
Enlightenment through six six: to recuperate and consolidate achievements. The reform or revolution reaches its end; the gentleman has changed completely but the villain has undergone only a superficial change. It is ominous to take aggressive action in continually reforming or revolting; but it is auspicious to persist in maintaining steadiness. Ceaseless reform or revolution will result in exhaustion and cause turmoil in society. If this line is activated accordingly, the hexagram will appear as Tong Ren (13), to put differences aside and seek a common ground, suggesting unification and consolidation.