21 Shi4 He2 噬嗑



The lower: Zhen (to move, the thunder). The upper: Li (clinging, fire).

Shi He: biting through (a barrier); the mission of hexagram Shi He is to use the penal code to eliminate wrongdoing in order to restore an orderly and harmonious society. 






After things become observable (Guan), they can join; therefore Shi He is granted. He () signifies to join. When the shape and features of things become clear, they can engage with and match each other. Hexagram Shi He indicates a barrier in the mouth, while shi4 signifies to bite. he2 (to join) was originally pronounced ke4 and meant talking too much. Therefore Shi He of hexagram 21 is annotated as ‘to bite (through a barrier) and (then the jaws can) join (and the mouth can talk)’, which can be further understood as eliminating an obstacle in order to resume normal functioning.

Hexagram Yi2 (27), to nourish, comprises the lower trigram Zhen (to move) and the upper trigram Gen (keeping still); it looks and acts like a mouth. Line 4 of Shi He is the barrier in the mouth.


There are many barriers existing in human society that need to be removed in order to make things progress smoothly. Shi He is a hexagram that uses the penal code to eliminate wrongdoing, so that people can live free from its impact. The lower trigram Zhen of Shi He is thunder, while the upper trigram Li is lightning. Thunder can deter people from wrongdoing, while lightning can dispel evil in darkness, therefore the penal code can be properly implemented and manifested in Shi He.

After the penal code is published and announced at Guan4 of hexagram 20, it will be carried out in Shi He. The internal hexagram of Shi He is Jian3 (39), difficulty in proceeding due to peril lying in front. This reveals that the task of Shi He is laden with difficulties and peril. Shi He and Jing (48, the well) are the changing hexagram of each other. The well is reconditioned to eliminate an obstruction, so its water can be drawn up and people will settle around it. Eventually people will fight over the well water at which point Shi He will be needed to ensure order.


Text: Shi He (biting through), (which will lead to) smooth progress; it is instrumental in making use of the penal code ().

Commentary on the text: Something is in Yi2 (the mouth); it is called hexagram Shi He; Shi He (biting through) and then (the mouth can obtain) smooth progress.  (Those of) rigidity and tenderness are discriminated against; (Shi He is exhibited in the form of) movement (like the lower trigram Zhen) and then brightness (like the upper trigram Li); thunder and lightning join and then (their actions) are manifested; (the one of) tenderness attains the axle centre so as to move upward (to tackle the criminal); although it doesn’t stay at the right position, it is instrumental in making use of the penal code.

Text explanation:

People’s wrongdoings, like a barrier in the mouth, must be removed. To enact the penal code is instrumental in removing them. The barrier must be bitten off with force; therefore the penal code must be powerfully implemented, then it will be manifested. yu4 depicts two dogs (and ) barking (yan2) at each other and originally meant conflict between two aggressive parties. It later was extendedly to signify lawsuits and imprisonment, and is here annotated as the penal code (i.e. goodness confronting evil and imprisoning it).

Hexagram Shi He is formed after the bottom line of trigram Kun (submissiveness, earth) ascends to the middle position of trigram Qian (perseverance, heaven).




After that, trigrams Zhen and Li are created respectively. Zhen is a Yang (masculine) trigram and is regarded here as goodness, while Li is a Yin (feminine) trigram and taken for evil. One is at the bottom and the other at the top, like goodness and evil being clearly defined (in the penal code). Additionally Zhen is thunder and in charge of movement, signifying that it powerfully executes the penal code. Li is lightning and takes charge of brightening, i.e. it denies evil a place to hide and manifests the penal code as well. Goodness is moving toward evil, with thunder and lightning as the orderly chorus; the penal code is implemented and manifested accordingly.

After Shi He is formed, the feminine line 5 attains the core position of the upper trigram and is the host of the hexagram. Although position 5 is designated for masculine, it is instrumental in executing the penal code as line 5 occupies a strong position (i.e. a strict penal code) but it is lenient and acts moderately.

Commentary on the image: Thundering and lightning; Shi He.  The late king, in accordance with this, outlined penalties with clear definitions and promulgated them.

The thunder deters people from wrongdoing, and the lightning illuminates this. In accordance with this, the late king enacted the penal code and made it clear to the people.


Biting through the barrier entails smooth progress, signifying that enacting the penal code is instrumental in deterring people from committing evil, and that implementing the penal code is also instrumental in eliminating wrongdoings. A lenient executor implementing a strict penal code in a moderate way is instrumental in confronting evil power and restoring public order. Its changing hexagram is Jing (48), the well; after a penal code is in force, people will no longer fight over water.

Hexagram Shi He possesses the virtues of smooth progress and advantage (expressed in the form of being instrumental), but excludes those of origination and persistence, just like a penal code which will curb creativity and is not designed to be implemented persistently.

Biting through a barrier in order to progress smoothly can also refer to allaying misunderstandings between people, or eradicating an impediment to a task etc. As for biting through with force, it can be taken for the ferocious struggle of jungle law, where the weak are prey to the strong.

According to Xi Ci Zhuan (Confucian commentary on the text tagging), hexagram Shi He denotes a busy market, where the business like trigram Zhen acts under the sun of trigram Li.

The text of Shi He suggests enacting and implementing the penal code to eliminate people’s wrongdoing; its commentary on the image emphasises that the penal code must be clear to the people.





The line texts mainly discuss how to implement the penal code properly under different conditions involving law enforcers and criminals. Contrary to the image of biting through a barrier in the mouth, lines 1 and 6 are outlaws. Line 1 is a first offender, while line 6 is a repeat offender, or felon. Lines 2 to 5 are the law enforcers; the masculine line is tough, while the feminine lines are lenient. The position occupied by the law enforcer stands for the penal code. A strong penal code is available at the masculine position, while a tender and weak code occupies the feminine positions. The hexagram text suggests that the penal code must be strict, the executor lenient, and the execution moderate.

When Shi He is referred to as ferocious strife, it indicates that people are scrambling for power and benefit, and that meat is taken as booty, like the prey to the predator. From the bottom to the top, strife builds step by step. Lines 2, 3, 4 and 5 are the beneficiaries, while the losers are lines 1 and 6, i.e. the commoners and the country.


The 1st line

Text: The feet are shackled and the toes concealed; (there will be) no calamity (or fault).

Text explanation:

The feet are shackled and the toes concealed, signifying that line 1 is a criminal. The shackles cover his toes, hiding them.

Position 1 is the beginning phase of the hexagram; therefore line 1 is seen as a first offender. His feet are shackled, so he is stopped by the penal code. There will be no calamity (or fault) if the first offender is stopped from committing additional crimes at beginning.

The lower trigram Zhen is to move and the foot; the inner lower trigram on top of it is Gen (keeping still), which here refers to shackles. The feet are shackled and the shackles conceal the toes. The toe moves in advance of the body; the toes are also covered by the shackles, signifying that wrongdoing is completely prevented from advancing.



Confucius’s remarks in Xi Ci Zhuan (the commentary on the text tagging): “The villain is not ashamed for not being benevolent, not afraid of living without justice, not diligent before he sees advantages, and not deterred if there is no penal code. He is restrained from committing a serious crime if he is punished for a misdemeanour; this is good fortune for the villain.”

Commentary on the image: The feet are shackled and the toes concealed, (so the criminal is) unable to act.

Line 1 is ridden over by line 2, like a first offender being subdued by a law enforcer; therefore its actions are under control and no wrongdoing is possible.

Enlightenment through nine one: to take every precaution at the beginning. The feet are shackled and the toes concealed, signifying that the criminal is subdued. As wrongdoing is halted at the beginning, there will be no calamity or fault. If this line is activated, it will become feminine and remain still, and the hexagram will become Jin (35), to advance toward brightness, where the sun lights up the world; darkness is dispelled and evil has nowhere to hide.

From the viewpoint of ferocious strife, it is subdued with no calamity as it is a commoner, i.e. nobody important.


The 2nd line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) Shi (biting) skin, and sinking the nose into flesh; (there will be) no fault (or calamity).

Text explanation:

Line 2 is a law enforcer and a feminine axle centre at the position of feminine, signifying it is lenient and the penal code is weak as well. Though the trial requires a just and lenient approach, the sentence must be the severest, like biting the skin until the nose sinks into the flesh; otherwise crime won't be suppressed. As line 2 is moderate, it can properly act according to the demand, like feminine line 2 riding on and oppressing masculine line 1. Even though the penal code available is weak and the law enforcer lenient, there will be no fault or calamity.

The inner lower trigram Gen looks like skin with flesh (as the hard masculine is the skin and the tender feminine the flesh); it also represents the nose. The tip of the nose touches the flesh at position 2, indicating that line 1 is in its mouth.



Commentary on the image: (Line 2 is in a state of) Shi (biting) skin and sinking the nose into flesh, (as if) riding on rigidity.

Line 1 is a first offender. Because of this, line 2 must be tough in order to subdue it before it becomes incorrigible. If its misdemeanour can be addressed in time, it won't become a felon in the end.

Enlightenment through six two: Wrongdoing must be completely stopped at the beginning. A lenient law enforcer must perform his job righteously, balancing leniency and toughness. The criminal must be subdued like the masculine being oppressed by the feminine; then there will be no fault or calamity. Even though the hexagram becomes Kui (38), alienation, after this line is activated and changes to a tough masculine. The crime must be stopped first, as alienation that occurs amongst people can be eliminated in Kui. 

This line can be also seen as the vanguard that prevails in the first battle of the ferocious fight; it wins the skin of meat which is a reward for its achievement and an incentive to encourage others to join in and follow.

The 3rd line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) Shi (biting) salted and preserved (i.e. sun-dried) meat, and contracting food poisoning, (which is of) a little resentment, (but there is) no calamity (or fault).

Text explanation:

To halt and convict a repeat offender requires a strict penal code and tough law enforcer. However line 3, the enforcer, at the masculine position (where a strict penal code is available) and in correlation with line 6 (the felon) is a lenient feminine line. The strict penal code makes it feel unwell like biting hard aged meat. Therefore it contracts food poisoning when it deals with a repeat offender. There will be a little resentment but no calamity or fault if a correction is made in a timely manner. Line 3 at the fringes of the inner upper trigram Kan (the abyss, water), peril, is approaching its centre. However, if it can make a correction and change to masculine, i.e. execute the strict penal code forcefully and righteously, Kan will leave and there will no longer be any correlation with line 6, signifying that line 6 will no longer trouble it.




The inner lower trigram Gen is skin with flesh, the inner upper trigram Kan is water (i.e. brine) and the upper trigram Li is the sun. Therefore it is salted and preserved meat, which is often mouldy. People can contract food poisoning from it if they are not strong enough.



Commentary on the image: (Line 3 is in a state of) contracting food poisoning, (which is because) the position (it occupies) is inappropriate (to it).

Position 3 is designated for masculine, signifying it must be tough and use severe penalties in troubled times.

Enlightenment through six three: to adjust and act according to what is required. A lenient enforcer unable to apply the strict penal code deals with a repeat offender; he encounters trouble, like biting hard aged meat and contracting food poisoning. He will feel resentful. However, since the law available is strict, he can be free from calamity or fault if he makes a correction, i.e. executes the penal code correctly and forcefully, like line 3 changing to masculine and the hexagram becoming Li (30), where the penal code is manifested like the brightness of Li denying evil a place to hide.

Line 3 is at the position for marching upward to the upper trigram (i.e. elite society). It is an ambitious but inept speculator in the time of great strife and is pursuing material gains; it loots salted and preserved meat and contracts food poisoning as a result.


The 4th line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) Shi (biting) dried meat with bones, but gaining a golden arrow; it is instrumental in persisting adamantly (or persisting in difficulties), (which is of) auspiciousness.

Text explanation:

Line 4 is a law enforcer and a masculine line at a feminine position, signifying a tough exterior but inner powerlessness as the available penal code is weak. He has difficulty performing his job and manifesting justice, so that the barrier of hexagram Shi He remains in the mouth. On the other hand, the masculine line is rigid like gold and straight as an arrow; straightness and rigidity are signified as justness and making no concessions, in terms of personality. This is instrumental for it to steadfastly persist in performing its job under difficult conditions, and will lead to auspiciousness.

The inner upper trigram Kan (the abyss, water) is a piece of meat with a bone inside dried by the sun of the upper trigram Li. So, line 4 is in trouble with the bone, like sitting on top of the barrier and trapped in the middle of the inner upper trigram Kan, peril. It may be bitten off (by lines 1 and 6), because it is tough while the available penal code is weak.



Commentary on the image: It is instrumental in persisting adamantly (or persisting in difficulties), (as) auspiciousness has not yet brightened.

Line 4 is approaching but hasn't yet reached the middle of trigram Li, brightness (where the penal code is manifested) and the position where the principle of moderation is available. Therefore auspiciousness will come with the principle of moderation. Before that, it must persist in acting according to its just and unyielding character. 

Enlightenment through nine four: to maintain what one has and bide one's time. When the available penal code is weak, a tough and less moderate enforcer encounters difficulty in performing his job, like biting dried meat with a bone; the barrier of hexagram Shi He remains in place. He must persist steadfastly like a golden arrow, just and unyielding. It will eventually turn out to be auspicious. If this line were feminine, the hexagram would become Yi2 (27), to nourish. Here the golden arrow disappears; lines 1 and 6 (the mouth and outlaws) move freely. This can be understood that a weak enforcer executing weak law with no moderation is that which causes society to become disorder.  

Line 4 at the courtier's position is the schemer and instigator of the ferocious strife. It would seem that it got the most difficult meat to eat, dried meat with a bone, but actually it gains both fortune and power, i.e. a golden arrow.

The 5th line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) Shi (biting) dried lean meat, and gaining yellow gold; to persist (regardless of) sternness and cruelty; (there will be) no calamity (or fault).

Text explanation:

Line 5, the founding and host line, is a law enforcer. It is feminine at the position of masculine, signifying it is a lenient enforcer with a strict penal code. It is under the heel of the evil line 6 and encounters similar troubles as line 3. However it obtains dried lean meat, like the feminine tenderness which it possesses and which is baked by the sun of the upper trigram Li. It bites into it without being poisoned. This is because it possesses the principle of moderation. As long as it persists in executing the penal code through the principle of moderation (i.e. coupling hardness with softness according to the principle of moderation), no matter how stern and cruel the situation is, he will be free from fault or calamity (as the vicious power will be eliminated, see line 6).


Line 5 attains the core position after leaving trigram Kun and arriving at trigram Qian which denotes gold with its yellow centre. Although position 5 is at a place for masculine where the available penal code is rigid as gold, there also exists the principle of moderation. Therefore it gains yellow gold.

Commentary on the image: To persist (regardless of) sternness and cruelty (resulting in) no calamity (or fault), (which is because) it attains what is appropriate.

It can be free from calamity even though it is in a stern and cruel state because the position it occupies is instrumental for it to enforce the penal code in an appropriate way.

Enlightenment through six five: to couple hardness with softness according to the principle of moderation. A lenient enforcer implements the strict penal code through the principle of moderation; the job can be done like biting dried lean meat, hard but without poison. As long as he can persist in doing what is appropriate, no matter how stern and cruel the situation is, there will be no fault or calamity. The hexagram that forms after this line is activated becoming masculine is Wu Wang (25), no pretence, where Zhen moves behind Qian, signifying to act according to the norm of Heaven. Here masculine line 5 represents the norm of Heaven.

Where the ferocious strife is concerned, it is a king on top of the world but outside the inner workings of the game or intrigue. Apparently what he has gained, i.e. dried lean meat, is better than what the courtier gained. But actually, he only obtained fortune and lost power.

The 6th line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) wearing a wooden cangue and concealing the ears, (which is of) an ominous omen.

Text explanation:

Line 6 is a criminal and reaches the end of hexagram Shi He. He wears a wooden cangue around his neck but it conceals his ears. He hasn’t listened to advice (along the way from lines 2 to 5) and no correction has been made. As a result, he becomes a felon; this is ominous.

The cangue is a large wooden yoke wore by the criminal as a form of punishment. The criminal who wears the cangue needs help to eat and drink as his hands can't reach his mouth. A criminal conceals his ears behind the cangue, signifying that he refuses to listen to any advice. The upper trigram Li (clinging, fire) is a hollow and withered tree which here is taken for the cangue; the inner upper trigram Kan represents the ears.



Confucius states in Xi Ci Zhuan (the commentary on the text tagging): “It isn’t good enough to lead to fame if goodness is not well accumulated; it isn’t evil enough to perish if evil is not accumulated to a certain extent. The villain thinks that the small goodness brings no benefit, so he doesn’t do it; the villain thinks that the small evil causes no harm, so he doesn’t get rid of it. Hence evil is so heavily accumulated, that it can’t be veiled; the offense is so big, that it can’t be pardoned.”

Commentary on the image: (Line 6 is in a state of) wearing a wooden cangue and concealing the ears, (signifying that its) hearing is muffled.

Enlightenment through nine six: to be prudent at the beginning and remain alert to the end. A criminal wears a wooden cangue which covers his ears, signifying that he refuses to take any advice. Therefore he becomes guilty of innumerable crimes in the end; this is ominous. If this line is corrected to feminine and acts righteously, the hexagram will become Zhen (51), the thunder, i.e. the wrath of Heaven, where the repeating thunder forcefully executes the penal code and tolerates no evil, but line 6 here won't be hurt.  

After having gone through the ferocious strife, one suffers a crushing defeat and the country is the ultimate loser, which is a misfortune.