by Stefan Stenudd


I Ching Hexagram 1.
Ch'ien / The Creative

Hexagram 1

Upper trigram: Ch'ien The Creative, Heaven

Lower trigram: Ch'ien The Creative, Heaven

The Judgement

The Creative works sublime success,
Furthering through perseverance.

The Image

The movement of heaven is full of power.
Thus the superior man makes himself strong and untiring.

The Lines

These texts apply only for the lines that were marked, when the hexagram was cast. Note that the lines are counted from the bottom up.

The bottom line marked means:

Hidden dragon. Do not act.

The 2nd line marked means:

Dragon appearing in the field.
It furthers one to see the great man.

The 3rd line marked means:

All day long the superior man is creatively active.
At nightfall his mind is beset with cares.
Danger. No blame.

The 4th line marked means:

Wavering flight over the depths.
No blame.

The 5th line marked means:

Flying dragon in the heavens.
It furthers one to see the great man.

The top line marked means:

Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent.

All six lines marked means:

There appears a flight of dragons without heads.
Good fortune.

The interpretations above and comments below are from Richard Wilhelm's version of the I CHING.

Comments on the Hexagram

The first hexagram is made up of six unbroken lines. These unbroken lines stand for the primal power, which is light-giving, active, strong, and of the spirit. The hexagram is consistently strong in character, and since it is without weakness, its essence is power or energy. Its image is heaven. Its energy is represented as unrestricted by any fixed conditions in space and is therefore conceived of as motion. Time is regarded as the basis of this motion. Thus the hexagram includes also the power of time and the power of persisting in time, that is, duration.

       The power represented by the hexagram is to be interpreted in a dual sense in terms of its action on the universe and of its action on the world of men. In relation to the universe, the hexagram expresses the strong, creative action of the Deity. In relation to the human world, it denotes the creative action of the holy man or sage, of the ruler or leader of men, who through his power awakens and develops their higher nature.

The Judgement

According to the original meaning, the attributes [sublimity, potentiality of success, power to further, perseverance] are paired. When an individual draws this oracle, it means that success will come to him from the primal depths of the universe and that everything depends upon his seeking his happiness and that of others in one way only, that is, by perseverance in what is right.

       The specific meanings of the four attributes became the subject of speculation at an early date. The Chinese word here rendered by "sublime" means literally "head," "origin," "great." This is why Confucius says in explaining it: "Great indeed is the generating power of the Creative; all beings owe their beginning to it. This power permeates all heaven." For this attribute inheres in the other three as well.

       The beginning of all things lies still in the beyond in the form of ideas that have yet to become real. But the Creative furthermore has power to lend form to these archetypes of ideas. This is indicated in the word success, and the process is represented by an image from nature: "The clouds pass and the rain does its work, and all individual beings flow into their forms."

       Applies to the human world, these attributes show the great man the way to notable success: "Because he sees with great clarity and cause and effects, he completes the six steps at the right time and mounts toward heaven on them at the right time, as though on six dragons." The six steps are the six different positions given in the hexagram, which are represented later by the dragon symbol. Here it is shown that the way to success lies in apprehending and giving actuality to the way of the universe [Tao], which, as a law running through end and beginning, brings about all phenomena in time. Thus each step attained forthwith becomes a preparation for the next. Time is no longer a hindrance but the means of making actual what is potential.

       The act of creation having found expression in the two attributes sublimity and success, the work of conservation is shown to be a continuous actualization and differentiation of form. This is expressed in the two terms "furthering" (literally, "creating that which accords with the nature of a given being") and "persevering" (literally, "correct and firm"). "The course of the Creative alters and shapes beings until each attains its true, specific nature, then it keeps them in conformity with the Great Harmony. Thus does it show itself to further through perseverance."

       In relation to the human sphere, this shows how the great man brings peace and security to the world through his activity in creating order: "He towers high above the multitude of beings, and all lands are united in peace."

       Another line of speculation goes still further in separating the words "sublime," "success," "furthering," "perseverance," and parallels them with the four cardinal virtues in humanity. To sublimity, which, as the fundamental principle, embraces all the other attributes, it links love. To the attribute success are linked the morals, which regulate and organize expressions of love and thereby make them successful. The attribute furthering is correlated with justice, which creates the conditions in which each receives that which accords with his being, that which is due him and which constitutes his happiness. The attribute perseverance is correlated with wisdom, which discerns the immutable laws of all that happens and can therefore bring about enduring conditions. These speculations, already broached in the commentary called Wn Yen, later formed the bridge connecting the philosophy of the "five stages (elements) of change," as laid down in the Book of History (Shu Ching) with the philosophy of the Book of Changes, which is based solely on the polarity of positive and negative principles. In the course of time this combination of the two systems of thought opened the way for an increasingly intricate number symbolism.

The Image

Since there is only one heaven, the doubling of the trigram Ch'ien, of which heaven is the image, indicates the movement of heaven. One complete revolution of heaven makes a day, and the repetition of the trigram means that each day is followed by another. This creates the idea of time. Since it is the same heaven moving with untiring power, there is also created the idea of duration both in and beyond time, a movement that never stops nor slackens, just as one day follows another in an unending course. This duration in time is the image of the power inherent in the Creative.

       With this image as a model, the sage learns how best to develop himself so that his influence may endure. He must make himself strong in every way, by consciously casting out all that is inferior and degrading. Thus he attains that tirelessness which depends upon consciously limiting the fields of his activity.

The Lines

The bottom line marked
In China the dragon has a meaning altogether different from that given it in the Western world. The dragon is a symbol of the electrically charged, dynamic, arousing force that manifests itself in the thunderstorm. In winter this energy withdraws into the earth; in the early summer it becomes active again, appearing in the sky as thunder and lightning. As a result the creative forces on earth begin to stir again.

       Here this creative force is still hidden beneath the earth and therefore has no effect. In terms of human affairs, this symbolizes a great man who is still unrecognized. Nonetheless he remains true to himself. He does not allow himself to be influenced by outward success or failure, but confident in his strength, he bides his time. Hence it is wise for the man who consults the oracle and draws this line to wait in the calm strength of patience. The time will fulfill itself. One need not fear least strong will should not prevail; the main thing is not to expend one's powers prematurely in an attempt to obtain by force something for which the time is not yet ripe.

The 2nd line from the bottom marked
Here the effects of the light-giving power begin to manifest themselves. In terms of human affairs, this means that the great man makes his appearance in his chosen field of activity. As yet he has no commanding position but is still with his peers. However, what distinguishes him form the others is his seriousness of purpose, his unqualified reliability, and the influence he exerts on his environment with out conscious effort. Such a man is destined to gain great influence and to set the world in order. Therefore it is favorable to see him.

The 3rd line from the bottom marked
A sphere of influence opens up for the great man. His fame begins to spread. The masses flock to him. His inner power is adequate to the increased outer activity. There are all sorts of things to be done, and when others are at rest in the evening, plans and anxieties press in upon him. But danger lurks here at the place of transition from lowliness to the heights. Many a great man has been ruined because the masses flocked to him and swept him into their course. Ambition has destroyed his integrity. However, true greatness is not impaired by temptations. He who remains in touch with the time that is dawning, and with its demands is prudent enough to avoid all pitfalls, and remains blameless.

The 4th line from the bottom marked
A place of transition has been reached, and free choice can enter in. A twofold possibility is presented to the great man: he can soar to the heights and play an important part in the world, or he can withdraw into solitude and develop himself. He can go the way of the hero or that of the holy sage who seeks seclusion. There is no general law of his being. If the individual acts consistently and is true to himself, he will find the way that is appropriate for him. This way is right for him and without blame.

The 5th line from the bottom marked
Here the great man has attained the sphere of the heavenly beings. His influence spreads and becomes visible throughout the whole world. Everyone who sees him may count himself blessed. Confucius says about this line: Things that accord in tone vibrate together. Things that have affinity in their inmost natures seek one another. Water flows to what is wet, fire turns to what is dry. Clouds (the breath of heaven) follow the dragon, wind (the breath of earth) follows the tiger. Thus the sage arises, and all creatures follow him with their eyes. What is born of heaven feels related to what is above. What is born of earth feels related to what is below. Each follows its kind.

The top line marked
When a man seeks to climb so high that he loses touch with the rest of mankind, he becomes isolated, and this necessarily leads to failure. This line warns against titanic aspirations that exceed one's power. A precipitous fall would follow. All six lines marked

When all the lines are nines, it means that the whole hexagram is in motion and changes into the hexagram K'un, THE RECEPTIVE, whose character is devotion. The strength of the Creative and the mildness of the Receptive unite. Strength is indicated by the flight of dragons, mildness by the fact that their heads are hidden. This means that mildness in action joined to strength of decision brings good fortune.

Further Reading

Here I add some perspectives on this hexagram, as well as other methods to read its meaning, in additon to what Richard Wilhelm derives from it above.

Meaning of the Trigrams Combined

Each hexagram combines two trigrams, making one the upper and the other the lower. The meaning of the hexagram is mainly derived from that combination. Here's what it means for this hexagram:

Heaven upon Heaven

Heaven resting on Heaven — what can be more magnificent? This hexagram is the principle of the heavenly. In ancient Chinese tradition, as well as in many other cultures, Heaven is regarded as the supreme cosmic domain, from which everything else stems and the laws of which rule the earth and everything on it. Well, modern astronomy would not disagree.

       It's the creative principle in the very utmost sense of being that out of which the world was born and still is nurtured. The Chinese philosophers spoke of Heaven's Way (T'ien Tao), as sort of the natural law governing everything below it.

       When Heaven rests on Heaven, this primordial creative force acts completely on its own. That's superior as well as utterly mysterious. Who can understand the Way of Heaven? Still, none can oppose it.

       If this hexagram appears in divination, it suggests that things are working out in accordance with the Way of Heaven, i.e. as they should. There can be no blame or any cause for worry. Nor can there be any failure. What follows the natural Way of Heaven has the mightiest ally there is.

Yin and Yang Significances

Since this hexagram consists of only Yang lines (full lines instead of broken), it's also the ultimate Yang of the I Ching hexagrams. Yang stands for the heavenly, of course, as well as light, warmth, the dry and the male.

       Read more about the polarity of Yin and Yang here:

Yin and Yang

Compare to the Reversed Trigrams

It's common to compare a hexagram to the one where the lines are the opposite: a full line is broken and a broken line full. But I find it much more interesting to compare hexagrams with the trigrams reversed: the upper trigram becomes the lower, and the lower trigram becomes the upper. That deepens the understanding of the trigrams at work — when they're not identical.

       Since these two are identical, it makes more sense to compare with the hexagram that has reversed lines (see below) — especially in this particular case, as you will see.

Compare to the Reversed Lines

You can also compare this hexagram to its opposite according to the six lines, where each broken line is full, and vice versa. In some cases it leads to the same hexagram as the one where the trigrams are switched. Here is the hexagram with reversed lines (click it to get to its webpage):

I Ching Hexagram 2
Hexagram with opposite lines

The I Ching Trigrams

Click the header to read more about the eight trigrams that are combined into the 64 hexagrams.

The 64 I Ching Hexagrams

An I Ching hexagram is composed of two trigrams. Each of the 64 hexagrams has its own name, meaning, and divinatory text. Here they all are, in the traditional order. Click on the image of an I Ching hexagram to get to its webpage.

I Ching Hexagram 1
I Ching Hexagram 2
I Ching Hexagram 3
I Ching Hexagram 4
I Ching Hexagram 5
I Ching Hexagram 6
I Ching Hexagram 7
I Ching Hexagram 8
I Ching Hexagram 9
I Ching Hexagram 10
I Ching Hexagram 11
I Ching Hexagram 12
I Ching Hexagram 13
I Ching Hexagram 14
I Ching Hexagram 15
I Ching Hexagram 16
I Ching Hexagram 17
I Ching Hexagram 18
I Ching Hexagram 19
I Ching Hexagram 20
I Ching Hexagram 21
I Ching Hexagram 22
I Ching Hexagram 23
I Ching Hexagram 24
I Ching Hexagram 25
I Ching Hexagram 26
I Ching Hexagram 27
I Ching Hexagram 28
I Ching Hexagram 29
I Ching Hexagram 30
I Ching Hexagram 31
I Ching Hexagram 32
I Ching Hexagram 33
I Ching Hexagram 34
I Ching Hexagram 35
I Ching Hexagram 36
I Ching Hexagram 37
I Ching Hexagram 38
I Ching Hexagram 39
I Ching Hexagram 40
I Ching Hexagram 41
I Ching Hexagram 42
I Ching Hexagram 43
I Ching Hexagram 44
I Ching Hexagram 45
I Ching Hexagram 46
I Ching Hexagram 47
I Ching Hexagram 48
I Ching Hexagram 49
I Ching Hexagram 50
I Ching Hexagram 51
I Ching Hexagram 52
I Ching Hexagram 53
I Ching Hexagram 54
I Ching Hexagram 55
I Ching Hexagram 56
I Ching Hexagram 57
I Ching Hexagram 58
I Ching Hexagram 59
I Ching Hexagram 60
I Ching Hexagram 61
I Ching Hexagram 62
I Ching Hexagram 63
I Ching Hexagram 64

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I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism as well as other East Asian traditions. I'm also a historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.