ARTICLES in Strategy


Dr. Ong Hean-Tatt. 31st December 1998
Adapted from "I Ching's View of Lung", Chapter 8 in "Legend of the Lung" (Ong 1996)

King Wen Yi Jing
as the strategy manual par excellence


What is the Purpose of Yi Jing?

The Yi Jing concerns deep wisdom: "When it happened... that someone, on being told the auguries for the future, did not let the matter rest there but asked, "What am I to do?" the book of divination had to become a book of wisdom." (Wilhelm 1951 p.liii). However, there must be different reasons why the different Yi Jings were compiled. That is, what could be the major purposes, not of the various Yi Jings in general, but, more specifically, of the King Wen Yi Jing?

Strategic Manual for the Great Man

The King Wen Yi Jing hexagrams repeatedly address the man known as the "Great Man" or "Superior Man". They contain advice offered to leaders on what to do, on how to handle the men, including how to follow a lord. Examples are as indicated below, in hexagrams selected from the beginning, middle and end of the classic:

  • Some of the Duke Chou's lines to the first hexagram, Chien for "Heaven":

    2. Nine in the second place means
    Lung appearing in the field
    It furthers one to see the Great Man

    3. Nine in the third place means
    All day long the Superior Man is creatively active
    At nightfall his mind is still beset with cares
    Danger. No blame

    5. Nine in the fifth place means
    Flying Lung in the heavens
    It furthers one to see the Great Man

  • Duke Chou's Line 4 to the hexagram 33, Tun for "Retreat":

    4. None in the fourth place means:
    Voluntary retreat brings good fortune to the Superior Man
    And downfall to the inferior man.

  • Duke Chou's Line 5 to the last hexagram, Wei Chi for "Before Completion":

    5. Perseverance brings good fortune
    No remorse.
    The light of the Superior Man is true.
    Good fortune.

King Wen Yi Jing is rich in repeated references to the "Great Man" or "Superior Man". The "Images" to the main hexagrams invariably refer to the "Superior Man". Commentators have often regarded the "Great Man" or"Superior Man" as the "Lung" (Wilhelm 1951 p.8; Legge 1899 p.59). However, some of the hexagrams shows that the "Great Man" or "Superior Man" is someone who follows, and, thus, advises the "Lung", the traditional symbol of the ruler:

  • Part of King Wen Judgement to the second hexagram, Kun for "Earth":

    If the Superior Man undertakes something and tries to lead,
    He goes astray;
    But if he follows, he find guidance.

  • Duke Chou Line 4 to hexagram 42, I for "Increase":

    If you walk in the middle
    And report to the prince
    He will follows...

What the first hexagram, Chien for "Heaven", means is that the emerging ruler, the "Lung" needs to seek the assistance of the "Great Man" or "Superior Man", who is the strategist who can help the ruler. Conclusion: The King Wen Yi Jing is meant to be a sort of strategic management leadership manual for leaders, especially those assisting rulers.

The Summer Solstice Enigma: Strategic Manual for Extenuating Circumstances

The true purposes of the King Wen Yi Jing are hinted in that the initial hexagrams alude to the Summer Solstice. The first of the 64 hexagrams of the Yi Jing, Ch'ien (Creative Heaven), is associated with the 4th Moon (about May to June) Light-giving power is at its zenith and must decrease thereafter. The association of the 4th Moon with the "power of Heaven" is significant, for the 4th Moon would be followed by the 5th Moon, which signals the waning power of Chien and the beginning of evil influences. The transition from the 4th Moon to the 5th Moon is regarded even today as the most evil period of the year.

Thus, the first two hexagrams of the King Wen Yi Jing hint that the classic must have been framed to deal with the most evil type of circumstances faced by the great leader. Circumstances which threaten not only the great leader but the whole nation of people. The rest of King Wen Yi Jing is to show the great leader how to overcome the great evil and bring peace and prosperity to the nation and people.

Hence, Confucius noted, "The Change came into use in the period of middle antiquity. Those who composed the Changes had great care and sorrow." (Wilhelm 1951 p.345, also Legge 1899, p.5). Wilhelm (1951 p.345) stated that this passage refers to King Wen and his son, the Duke of Chou, who both lived through very difficult times.

Another clue to a relevance to troubled conditions is that, while the Fu Hsi Yi Jing is based on the Five Elements in the peaceful Mutual Production Order, the King Wen Yi Jing is based the Five Elements in the fighting Mutual Production Order. The King Wen Yi Jing concerns forces cointending against each other, i.e. a serious war-like situation.

The nature of the evil is reflected in the rituals to neutralise the inauspicious 5th Day of the 5th Moon are celebrated in the Dragon Boat Festival. So, at the inauspicious 5th Day of the 5th Moon, special rituals have to be carried out against the rising evil. The King Wen Yi Jing's first hexagram Chien and second hexagram Kun concern the "Great Man" or "Superior Man" helping the leader called the "Lung". During the Dragon Boat Festival people offer prayers to the Lung for rains to come. It is likely that the Yi Jing's first hexagram Chien and the 4th Moon together with the second hexagram Kun and the 5th Moon are related to the secrets and stories of the ceremony and customs of the Dragon Boat Festival.

Conclusion: The King Wen Yi Jing is meant to be a strategic management leadership manual for dealing with serious circumstances, where there are dangers of great evils.

Cause of Extenuating Circumstances: the "False Lung"

The King Wen Yi Jing also reveals what is the force casuing the extenuating circumstances. This cause is reflected in the complete transformation of all the yang lines in the first hexagram Chien into yin lines. The hexagram Chien for "Heaven" then becomes the second hexagram K'un for "Earth". The advice on the top line of the second hexagram K'un for "Earth" concerning the Lung is:

  • Six at the top means
    Lungs fight in the meadow
    Their blood is black and yellow

This line has been interpreted by commentators as representing a dark power which managed to rise to an unwarranted top powerful position - it is the "false Lung". It is this "false Lung" who is causing all the serious trouble. He is also no small thing, but has great power to effect evil. Wilhelm (1951 p.15) out the footnote: "This change is said to represent Lucifer's rebellion against God and forms a parallel to the Greek legend of Icarus. It also resembles the battle between darkness and the gods of Valhalla that ended with the Twilight of the Gods".

The true Lung, symbolising Heaven, has to come to fight the "false Lung". But both powers are strong and hence both forces could be injured in the fight. Despite the eventual victory of the true it is unlikely that much blood-letting and gruesome consequences could be avoided. That is, a grim fight is promised.

In fact, the compilation of the Yi Jing by King Wen was likely related to his struggles against Chou Hsin, the last emperor of the Shang dynasty (1700-1126 B.C.). Chou Hsin must be the very manifestation of the "false Lung" meant in the first two hexagrams of the Yi Jing. The whole strategic philosophy in the King Wen Yi Jing is likely mirrored in the tussles between Chou Hsin, the last emperor of the Shang dynasty, and King Wen and his son Wu Wang, Wu Wang being the eventual founder of the Chou dynasty. However, these tussles were not unique, but appeared to occur again and again down human history. As such, the great strategic philosophy of the King Wen Yi Jing has universal applications in human civilisations and history.

The relevance of the universal application of the great strategic philosophy of the King Wen Yi Jing appears to originate from the period of Yellow Emperor Huang Di (circa 2685 B.C.). The first two hexagrams of the King Wen Yi Jing concern the transition from the 4th Moon to the 5th Moon, i.e. the Dragon Boat Festival. The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the sage Chang Tao-ling riding out on the tiger to destroy evil, and this is based on an ancient series of battles: "As the modern high priest repeats the struggles of Chang Tao-ling, so did Chang Tao-ling imitate that of the Human Sovereign. The Human Sovereign (Lao-Chun) was also called Lao-Kuei (Old Devil), after having won his battle with the demons of the Six Heavens." (Lagerway 1972, p.28).

"Human Sovereign" is the traditional term for Yellow Emperor Huang Di (circa 2685 B.C.) also known as "Golden Lung". Huang Di, with the assistance of several important advisors, successfully fought a titanic series of battles against Ch'ih Yu, the bull-headed leader of the giants. Ch'ih Yu was formerly the trusted marshall of Huang Di's army, but fled south and started a terrible ancient world rending rebellion. Ch'ih Yu was the world first arch-rebel.


The King Wen Yi Jing concerns great evil caused by a powerful evil leadership, and how a righteous leader could help a ruler overcome this sort of evil. The King Wen Yi Jing does not only not concern ordinary mundane things, but the quest it addresses will be no bed of roses. Any one who thinks otherwise is not the caliber of person who can use the real power of the strategies of King Wen Yi Jing.


Legge, James. 1899. The I Ching. Dover Publications, Inc. New York.
Ong, H.T. 1996. Legend of the Chinese Lung. Eastern Dragon Press. Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
Wilhelm, Richard. 1951. The I Ching. Routledge & Kegan Paul. London and Henley.