15 Qian1

The lower: Gen (keeping still, the mountain). The upper: Kun (submissiveness, earth).

Qian1: humility (modesty); to construct and form the qualities of humility.






One must avoid overflowing after having gained abundant possessions (Da You); therefore Qian1 is granted. Qian1 () means humility.

The mountain should be above the earth, but here it stays below. The internal trigram Gen remains still, while the external trigram Kun exhibits submissiveness. This signifies that one should restrain oneself internally and appear submissive externally; this is the main aspect and virtue of humility.

The inner hexagram of Qian1 is Xie (40), to alleviate or dissolve, signifying the intent of humility is to dissolve conflict and alleviate strained relationships. Its changing hexagram is Lu (10), to carry out tasks in accordance with etiquette which is the consequence of humble actions. Hexagrams Qian1 and Lu are two facets of the same subject.

It won’t do any harm if a person always behaves with appropriate humility in accordance with his status and circumstances; hence neither the hexagram text nor the texts of its six lines contain any ominous signs.

Text: Qian1 (humility), (which is of) smooth progress; a gentleman carries (it) through to the end.

Commentary on the text: Qian1 (humility), (which is of) smooth progress. The norm of Heaven is to provide aid downward and brighten (those below); the norm of earth is to be lowly (at the lower position) but go upward.  The norm of Heaven is to lessen what is full and add to Qian1; the norm of earth is to convert what is full and pour it into Qian1; (the norms of) ghost and god signify to harm what is full and bless Qian1; the norm of humans is to dislike what is full and adore Qian1.  Qian1 is dignified and brilliant, lowly but not overtaken; it is where a gentleman finally belongs.

Text explanation:

Line 3, the representative line of hexagram Qian1, also represents the inner upper trigram Zhen (to move, the thunder) while the upper trigram Kun represents the plains. The plains are in front and line 3 moves toward them; thus it will progress smoothly. Line 3 is a gentleman and correlates with line 6, the end of hexagram Qian1; hence he can carry through Qian1 (humility) to the end.


Line 3, the bright masculine, of hexagram Qian1 was originally line 6 of hexagram Bo (23) which descends from the heavenly domain (see 'Commentary on the image' below for further information). It thus forms hexagram Qian1 and brightens its norm. On the other hand, line 3 of hexagram Bo is located at a low rank then ascends and causes the lower trigram Kun (the norm of earth) to move to the top. This signifies that hexagram Qian1 is created by accommodating those below while staying high. While staying low, one should strive upwards. Hereafter hexagram Qian1 performs in such a way that one will be neither arrogant at the top nor overtaken when lowly, humble and dignified.


Things that are full (i.e. proud) will overflow, which leads to loss. However, things that are not full (i.e. humble) can take in more, i.e. a gain. Heaven, earth, ghost and god (i.e. fate), as well as humans, tend to lessen what is full and add to what is insufficient. This is like the moon which wanes after it is full, and water which flows downward to lower ground. This signifies that a proud person is destined to fail while it is easier for a humble person to gain assistance from others.

Commentary on the image: Within earth, a mountain; Qian1.  A gentleman, in accordance with this, lessens that which is excessive and increases that which is insufficient, weighing and making things equal.

In hexagram Bo (23), all lines below line 6 are overpowered by feminine, so line 6 descends as suggested by its commentary on the image: to be generous to those below to reinforce the foundation. By moving the mountain of trigram Gen below the earth, hexagram Qian1 is formed.

If the mountain can remain below the earth, those with a surplus can certainly use it to provide for those in need.


With humility, things can progress smoothly. A gentleman can carry through his mission to the end, or he is someone who can attain the goal of Qian1. The norm of Qian1 is to not be proud while staying high, and to strive upward while staying low. Humility is not arrogant but dignified, like someone keeping a low profile but not tolerating offense.

Humility aims to dissolve conflict and alleviate people from strained relationships, as suggested by its inner hexagram Xie (40). When humility is practiced, people won't be bitten even if treading on a tiger's tail, as its changing hexagram Lu (10) indicates.

Humility must not be keen to create benefit; it should attain goals but not take credit for them. Thus it only possesses the virtue of smooth progress, which leads one to one’s goal.

In addition to the advice of hexagram Da You (14), abundant possessions to be shared by all, the commentary on the image of hexagram Qian1 further suggests lessening surplus and increasing what is deficient while weighing and making them equal. 






Line 3, the representative line of Qian1, stands for the true humility toward which it perseveres. The other five feminine lines behave differently according to their relations with it. Line 1 has no connection with line 3; thus it must count on its own humility and use it as a basic virtue for dealing with others and accomplishing tasks. Line 2 is in the internal trigram and occupied by line 3; thus it enhances its interior with true humility. Line 4 is riding on line 3 and must radiate humility at the exterior. Line 5 at the king’s position is independent from line 3; it need not be humble but neither should it oppress. Then it can subdue those who are disobedient. Line 6 corrects its excessive humility by correlating with line 3.



The norm of Heaven is to assist those below in performing with humility and brighten the norm of hexagram Qian1. That of earth is to be at a low rank but striving upward. Therefore, lines 1 and 2 in the earthly domain must humbly cultivate themselves and establish their inner quality in order to develop upwards while staying low. If they are activated together, the hexagram will become Tai (11), (those above and below engage in) a smooth, unobstructed, harmonious and peaceful state. Lines 5 and 6 in the heavenly domain must correct those actions that don't conform to the norm of hexagram Qian1 in order to manifest true humility. If both act simultaneously, the hexagram will become Jian4 (53), the image of which suggests amassing virtue in order to improve customs. Lines 3 and 4 in the human domain must act humbly in order to be promoted, or avoid calamity. If they both are activated accordingly, the hexagram will become Yu (16), wherein it is instrumental to launch a new undertaking and take aggressive action when carrying out an arduous mission.


The 1st line

Text: (The subject is a) Qian1 Qian1 (humble and humble) gentleman; by virtue of this he undertakes crossing a great river; (this is of) auspiciousness.

Text explanation:

A gentleman is humble and humbly cultivates himself. This way he can overcome the difficulties he encounters and undertake a great task; this is auspicious.

Line 1 is at the bottom of the hexagram which stands for humility. It is a tender feminine, but at a masculine position (i.e. a place not right for it); it must humbly cultivate itself.

The inner lower trigram Kan (the abyss, water) is a river. If line 1 intends to cross it, it must change to masculine, i.e. it must cultivate itself to become righteous and active in order to exchange positions with line 4. After it crosses the river and reaches position 4, the upper trigram becomes Zhen (to move, the thunder) signifying that it can move ahead towards what is intended, i.e. to serve the king, line 5.



From the viewpoint of dealing with a task, behaving humbly will enable one to easily obtain assistance from others. To humbly cultivate oneself means admitting one's weakness and enhancing oneself accordingly. This is the comportment and attitude required for undertaking a great task.

Commentary on the image: (Line 1 is a) Qian1 Qian1 (humble and humble) gentleman; (this signifies) cultivating oneself by virtue of humility.

Line 1 has no association with line 3, the representative line of Qian1, true humility; it counts on its own humility to cultivate itself.

Enlightenment through six one: to act very humbly at a low rank in order to develop upward. A gentleman is doubly humble, i.e. he is humble and humbly cultivates himself; this enables him to overcome difficulties undertaking a great task. This is auspicious. When this line is triggered to move, it is advised to be doubly humble and ready for the task. However, the hexagram will become Ming Yi (36), brightness being tarnished, which suggesting that people must suspend their aspirations and actions, if it ends up as masculine. Here it flees along the timeline for life like a bird fleeing with its wing hanging down. Then the hexagram will become Xiao Guo (62) as indicated above, and the bird can fly freely as long as it isn't greed for high.


The 2nd line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) resonating Qian1 (humility) (鳴謙); to persist is auspicious.

Text explanation:

Tenderness (wen), goodness (liang2), reverence (gong), simplicity (in living) (jian3), and acquiescence (rang4) are the five elementary virtues integral to humility. If these five virtues act together in a harmonious manner, humility will be exhibited.

Line 2 stays at its right position, signifying it acts righteously according to what is good. It sustains masculine line 3 expressing its reverence, and it doesn't correlate with line 5 meaning it possesses simplicity as it is content with its lot. Additionally it is a feminine axle centre. Feminine is tender and the principle of moderation (neither striving to be first nor fear of lagging behind) is available at the axle centre. These five virtues resonate with line 3, the representative line of Qian1 and the inner upper trigram Zhen (to move, the thunder) which occupies them and creates resonance.

Commentary on the image: Resonating Qian1 (humility) and to persist is auspicious, (signifying that to be) moderate (in following the) heart (of humility leads to the) attainment (of this resonance).

ming2 of 鳴謙qian1 (resonating Qian1) literally means the call of birds; it is interpreted here as resonance as it is cooperation in harmony.

Achieving “just right” humility entails moderate cultivation in accordance with its core value. The inner lower trigram Kan denotes a solid heart. Line 3, its representative line and the representative line of hexagram Qian1, is the core of humility. Line 2, which possesses the principle of moderation, sustains line 3 which occupies it. It acts justly in following the tone of line 3, creating resonance.


Enlightenment through six two: to make use of inborn virtue (or talent) to foster one’s humility (or ability) in order to gain people’s recognition. One’s virtues resonate and create humility; one becomes humble and is recognised as possessing humility, thus it is auspicious to persist. The hexagram that forms after this line is activated accordingly is Sheng (46), to rise, where virtuous people will be promoted.


The 3rd line

Text: (Like) hardworking () Qian1 (humility), a gentleman (acts) without seeking merit; to carry (it) through to the end is auspicious.

Text explanation:

To work hard on Qian1 (i.e. always exerting oneself to act with true humility), or to work hard without seeking merit (which is the utmost demonstration of humility). To exhibit these qualities through to the end is auspicious.

Line 3 is the only masculine line of hexagram Qian1, i.e. it is the representative line of hexagram Qian1 and exhibits its true significance. In addition, the inner lower trigram Kan (the abyss, water) represented by it denotes hard work, i.e. it works very hard on humility. Consequently it can carry through true humility to the end as signified below.



Confucius’s statement in Xi Ci Zhuan (i.e. the commentary on the text tagging): "To work hard but without exaggerating, (and) to attain merit but without taking credit for it, (is) honesty and reliability reaching the utmost, (and) refers to one who bestows achievement and merit on those below (or, who attains achievement and merit but stays below others). Virtue is something which must be grand, (and) etiquette is something which must be reverent. Qian1 means (that one behaves with) the utmost reverence at one’s post."

According to King Wen’s diagram, trigram Kan is winter and in the north where people have to work hard to make a living. In addition to the meaning of working hard, lao2 can also be signified as achievement or merit. Humility related to achievement or merit is paraphrased here as someone attaining achievement or merit but not taking credit for it.

Commentary on the image: (Like) hardworking Qian1 (humility) not seeking merit a gentleman (acts); (so) hundreds of thousands of people obey (him).

It is the only masculine line sitting amongst five feminine lines. The upper trigram Kun denotes people and is signified as submissiveness. Line 3 represents the inner upper trigram Zhen, to move. Hence, in addition to line 2 sustaining line 3, line 3 also drives the people who submissively stay above. Thus, hundreds of thousands of people obey it.

On the other hand, line 3 is at the position for marching upward to the upper trigram, i.e. elite society. It must work hard but not seek merit which will enable it to obtain the support of those above while moving upward.

Enlightenment through nine three: to bear hardship with humility and last to the end. A gentleman must always strive to act with true humility and work hard without seeking merit. To carry these efforts through to the end is auspicious, and all people will support him, including those above. The hexagram that forms after this line acts accordingly and ends up as feminine is Kun (2), earth, which submits to Heaven acting as an assistance and adherent.


The 4th line

Text: Nothing is unfavourable; (this is due to) manifesting Qian1 (humility) like waving it (撝謙).

Text explanation:

To manifest humility like waving a flag means to exhibit humility in an eye-catching way. hui of 撝謙qian1 is commonly annotated as waving, signifying that in this way humility is flaunted and brought into full play.

After having worked hard with humility at position 3, the line arrives at the upper trigram and at a position for resting. However, position 4 is also a place for serving the king, line 5. Thus line 4 must work and rest with humility as it is situated between line 3, the representative line of Qian1, humility, and line 5, the representative line of Kun, submissiveness. Therefore there is nothing unfavourable by carrying out what one is obligated to do.

Commentary on the image: (Line 4 is in a state of) nothing unfavourable to manifest Qian1 (humility) like waving it, (as) it does not offend the rule.

With all the cultivated virtue of humility, line 4 arrives at elite society but turns to ride on line 3, the representative line of Qian1 and the inner lower trigram Kan (i.e. the rule, as water is a measuring medium used to check levels). It waves humility as if flaunting it. However, this doesn’t offend the rule of acting with humility, i.e. with a low profile, as it has to exhibit humility from the interior to the exterior at the position of serving the king.



originally meant to split. 撝謙 can be also paraphrased as humility splitting like a cell dividing, from one to two, then from two to four. Line 4 stays at the courtier's position and next to the king. One can never be too humble.

Enlightenment through six four: 1) to stick strictly to humility and bring it into full play, or 2) to exhibit what is necessary (in order to perform one’s job without incurring calamity). Exhibiting humility in full is nothing unfavourable. The hexagram will become Xiao Guo (62), a little excess of moderation, i.e. being slightly overly-reverential in conduct, slightly overly-restrained in desire and so on, if this line is activated and changes to masculine.


The 5th line

Text: (The subject should) not (count on its) wealth to live with its neighbours; (however) it is advantageous (or appropriate) to undertake an invasion and attack; nothing is unfavourable.

Text explanation:

Solid masculine (Yang) is seen as one with wealth, and void feminine (Yin) is one not wealthy. Line 5 is a feminine axle centre at the king’s position, like a king who tenderly engages his subjects through the principle of moderation rather than power (i.e. wealth). However, if there is disobedience, line 5 can use the force of power to attack and conquer it. The king is dignified and esteemed, and while not arrogant, he is not feeble either.

Instead of using the word, Qian1 (humility), as the other lines do, this line mentions “not (counting on its) wealth”. This signifies that there is no need for the king to be humble, yet he shouldn't abuse his power to oppress others either. However line 5 is the king, while line 3, the duke, receives all the people’s support. Line 5 could change to the strong masculine, move to position 2 and exchange positions with it. Afterward, the lower trigram would become Xun (to enter, the wind), which denotes prostration. Then all those below would become obedient, and line 5 would remain feminine, maintaining its former attitude. In the resulting hexagram, Sheng (46), those below would obtain an opportunity to rise in a tender and opportune manner.



Commentary on the image: It is advantageous (or appropriate) to undertake an invasion and attack, (and) to conquer the one who is disobedient.

Obviously obedience to the king is an important part of the humility of those below. Line 2 sustains line 3 (the duke) instead of correlating with line 5 (the king), which incurs an attack by the king.

Enlightenment through six five: 1) be neither arrogant with one's power nor compromising with disobedience, or 2) to forcibly correct what is wrong. Not to associate with others based at one's wealth signifies not abusing power to oppress others. But if someone is disobedient, one is allowed to attack and conquer him, i.e. to correct him forcibly. Then nothing is unfavourable. Should this line change to masculine and remain masculine, the hexagram would become Jian3 (39), difficulty in proceeding. Here line 5 sits in the middle of the upper trigram Kan, a grave crisis, and is trapped in peril.


The 6th line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) resonating Qian1 (humility); it is advantageous (or appropriate) to undertake the dispatch of troops, (and) to conquer the manor.

Text explanation:

When one becomes excessively humble, one must use rigid forces to correct oneself to have true humility restored.

The tender feminine line 6 stays at the feminine position and reaches the upper extremity of hexagram Qian1, humility, and the top of the upper trigram Kun, submissiveness. It becomes extremely humble. It correlates with line 3, the representative line of Qian1 and the representative line of the lower trigram Gen, to stop. Therefore, it resonates with true humility and is then regulated accordingly.

To undertake the dispatch of troops to conquer the manor’ means ‘to take forcible action to correct oneself’. The image which lines 2 to 6 presents resembles that of hexagram Shi (7), troops, with line 3 representing the inner upper trigram Zhen (to move). This presents a scene of dispatching troops, and also indicates that line 6 makes use of line 3, true humility and masculinity, to conquer its own extreme humility and femininity.



Commentary on the image: (Line 6 is in a state of) resonating Qian1 (humility); the aspiration (of carrying out humility) can't be realized.  (It ought) to undertake the dispatch of the troops, (and) conquer the manor.

Owing to excessive humility, true humility can't be properly carried out nor its aspirations realised. This line must make use of rigid masculinity to counter-balance its excessive femininity and humility.

Enlightenment through six six: 1) too much is as bad as too little, or 2) to reflect on and correct oneself. When one has carried humility to its extreme, one must take forcible action to correct oneself. Otherwise true humility can't be manifested and the aspirations (of carrying out humility to the end) won't be realised. The hexagram that forms while masculine appears here is Gen (52), which stops and moves when required. Thus, when humility acts appropriately and at the right time, the norm of hexagram Qian1 radiates accordingly.





The performance of humility outlined in hexagram 15 can be seen in the example of three men who lived at the end of the Shang Dynasty and the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty.

Duke Ji Chang (姬昌), honoured as the founder of the Zhou Dynasty and commonly known as King Wen of Zhou, possessed two thirds of the states of ancient China, yet still served the Shang as he was humble and humbly cultivated himself. By virtue of his humility, he bravely left his home state to respond to King Zhou’s (紂王) summons, which is reflective of line 1. He was imprisoned by King Zhou at You Li (羑里), but remained humble and exhibited it through the principle of moderation. His sincerity was recognized in the end, as seen in line 2; as a result, he was released.

Zhou Gong Dan (周公旦) assisted his brother, King Wu of Zhou (周武王), and his young nephew, King Zheng of Zhou (周成王), in establishing and governing the Zhou. He achieved much merit, but did not take credit for it. He held a powerful position but always behaved with humility. All this is exhibited in lines 3 and 4.

Duke Ji Chang served King Zhou with humility, which is the ultimate expression of not using strength in associating with neighbours. Conversely, King Zhou was tyrannical; instead of being friendly to his neighbouring dukes, he confiscated their lands and properties, i.e. he used his power in associating with neighbours. As a result of his oppression, King Wu of Zhou launched a war and overthrew him, as seen in line 5.

After King Wu of Zhou passed away, Zhou Gong Dan became the most powerful man, but he still loyally served his young nephew; this showed his utmost modesty. However, three of his brothers mistakenly suspected that he intended to take over the throne, and allied with the ex-prince of Shang against him. Consequently Zhou Gong Dan had to dispatch troops to quell their rebellion.