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


First hexagram, Chien for "Heaven" tells of the "Great Leader"

The ancient Chinese emperor is called the Lung, which is the symbol of Heaven's power. It is represented by the first hexagram of the King Wen Yi Jing. Any person, like the modern executive and manager, who wishes to become a great ruler could do so by adopting the strategic advice contained in first hexagram, Chien for "Heaven". As the King Wen Yi Jing concerns a strategic philosophy for dealing with high pressure troubled conditions, it has particular appropriate relevance to the likewise high pressure war-like circumstances of the modern society and business atmosphere.

Duke Chou gave six lines of interpretation to each hexagram. His six lines of the first hexagram, Chien for "Heaven" are related to the six necessary sequential stages in the development of the great ruler, the Lung (Wilhelm 1951 p.3-5, 369).

Six Sequential Stages of Development of the "Great Ruler"

The Yi Jing, in the changes to the lines of the hexagram Ch'ien, shows that the Lung must be humble enough to realise his power could be restricted by various conditions, and has to developed through six stages.

Reflecting that each hexagram is made up of two trigrams, the six stages are in two major groups, the first three stages corresponding to the lower trigram, and the next three stages corresponding to the upper trigram. The lower trigram deals with the development of the qualities of the individual, while the upper trigram deals with how the leader handles the external conditions, particularly those created by people outside him. That is, the lower trigram concerns primary inner development, while the upper trigram relates the inner development to the external.

  • Lower Trigram's Three Stages:

    1. Nine at the beginning means
    Hidden Lung. Do not act.

    The lowest line denotes the lowest place, which is far down deep below the earth. The Lung who is true to himself is still unrecognised. In his concealed position, he bides his time, wisely consults the oracle and does not prematurely expose himself nor act too soon. That is, the initial task of the rising Lung is the need to prepare himself and harness the resources before he could act. He must practise self-examination and reform himself first, especially in gathering wisdom.

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

    The second line often represents the surface of the earth. It is also the central line of the lower trigram denoting its regulating influence over whole of the lower trigram. The Lung has declared his intention, he is surfacing. He is with peers but is different in his disposition. Destiny is with him. Those who could recognise him should associate with him. The Lung must seek the Great Man

    Line 2, therefore, refers to the disposition of the Lung, in that he must acquire the ability to foster rapport with people. Without this ability to relate to people, his skills and leadership would have no basis. The Lung must particularly attract to him the advisor known as the Great Man or Superior 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

    Third line is the position of the transition from the lower to the higher trigrams. It thus always denotes unsettled conditions and potential danger. The fame of Lung increases and the masses flock to him. There are many things to do. But danger lurks in the transition from lowliness to greatness. Ambition can destroy integrity.

    The Superior Man who advises the Lung has many things to do. But he must exercise care in evaluation and must particularly watch out for danger. Line 3 denotes that the Lung must share in the prudence and care in evaluation - do not be carried away and stick to fundamentals.

  • Upper Trigram's Three Stages:

    4. Nine in the fourth place means
    Wavering flight over the depths
    No blame

    No longer is the Lung on square ground. Any further actions must be equal to the elements of Heaven. A cross-road is reached. A leader either could become the hero or withdraw to be the holy hermit sage. Confucius, recognising the auguries of the times, retired to be a sage.

    The starting line of a trigram seems to denote a beginning. Thus, Line 4, being the starting line of the upper trigram, means that the initial task in dealing with external conditions is that the leader must carefully analyse the people. The Lung and his Great Man can only move if the masses respond to accept them as the leaders. Otherwise, they have to prudently retreat and abandon the mission.

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

    Like the central line of the lower trigram, this fifth line is the central; and hence influencing line of the whole of the upper trigram. Like Line 2, the middle of the lower trigram, Line 5, the middle of the upper trigram, concerns disposition. Line 2 urges the hidden Lung to develop his disposition, while Line 5 reminds the emergent Lung to listen to the Great Man in order to deal with the masses. Disposition seems to be the controlling factor in both the lower and upper trigrams.

    Water flows to what is wet and fire to what is dry. Cloud follow the Lung and wind the tiger. The Lung now in his venture automatically attracts those he needed to him. Once the people flock to him, he must listen to the Great Man to handle and lead them. The correct response of the people is the criterion and test of his disposition.

    6. Nine at the top means
    Arrogant Lung will have cause to repent

    Whatever reaches the top must now turn back. Do not be extreme. The Lung is isolated in the heights and failure can follow. Such a ruler stands high but have no real following. Advisors abound but their advice, especially those of the Great Man, are not heeded.

    The top line of the upper trigram, like the top line of the lower trigram, seems to denote some form of danger. Near to the top and end of his mission, the danger in handling the external is that there may be strife, split, division and even betrayal among his people. Line 6 shows that the danger would arise from arrogance in the leader causing the mission to collapse owing to disunity among the people.

In brief, the six stages cover:

  • Initial internal step: Buildup of sublime wisdom, through self examination and quiet building up of resources.
  • Middle internal controlling step: Develop disposition that could attract people, especially advisors.
  • Top internal danger step: Intrinsic carefulness in evaluating danger.
  • Initial external step: Adaptive consideration of the people situation.
  • Middle external controlling step: Active disposition in listening to advisors to handle people.
  • Top external danger step: Humility, to avoid danger of arrogance.

As an aftermath, Duke Chou also wrote:

  • 7. When all the lines are nines, it means
    There appears a flight of Lungs without heads
    Good fortune

Should the Lung and his advisor the Great Man be able to steer through the six stages of both internal and external development, the success is complete and they are the leaders par excellence.

The "Great Leader" Moves According to the Times and Selects his Advisors

Duke Chou's six lines to the first hexagram Ch'ien indicate that the most crucial initial action of Lung the ruler is to find the "Great Man", i.e. establish his "think tank" or panel of advisors. Lung is seen as a man of destiny with the "Mandate of Heaven." Lung is something very close to Heaven itself, but not Heaven. Lung may be said to be the representative of Heaven or the One with the "Mandate of Heaven." But, the Yi Jing shows that Lung requires the assistance of the Great Man.

Therefore, the Lung is not infallible. He must be able to gauge the changing conditions of time and adapt to them. As Sun Tzu would say:

  • "Just as water retains no constant shape, in war there are no constant conditions. He who can modify his tactics according to the enemy's situations shall be victorious and may be called the Divine Commander". (Sun Tzu 6:32-33).
  • "If it is to your advantage, move; quit when there is no more advantage". (Sun Tzu 12:19).

Correct behaviour, appropriate to the changing circumstances, is paramount in the development of righteous power. With success, this would be said of the person:

  • "In his own time he mounts toward heaven on six Lungs. The clouds pass and the rain falls" All this means peace coming to the world in the ordering of the empire (Wilhelm 1951 p.379).

This Lung often has to deal with the evil in the guise of the last emperor of the former dynasty, in order to restore calm, peace and prosperity to the nation. As such, he, with the assistance of the Great Man, is often the next emperor and founder of a new dynasty.

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.