30 Li2

The lower: Li (clinging, fire). The upper: Li (clinging, fire).

Li: clinging; fire (the symbol of both civilisation and war); to tenderly cling to righteousness





Kan is an abyss. In the abyss there must be something to cling to; therefore Li is granted.  Li signifies to cling to. Li () originally meant yellow bird. Its extended meaning is separation, or ......, or li2 or li3 annotated in Tuan Zhuan (commentary on the hexagram text). li2 depicts deer (鹿) moving side-by-side () toward a grassland after scenting it. This is seen as the deer's instinct, like fire clinging to wood. li3 is also used to describe something beautiful and brilliant (like a yellow bird). Li is the changed hexagram of Kan, composed of two Kan trigrams which denote water flowing downward. Trigram Li is fire and its flames blaze upward.

The clinging in trigram Li is undertaken by the masculine lines, one on each side, clinging to the feminine line in the middle. The bright masculine outside with the shaded feminine inside resembles a flame which is the image of trigram Li. The flame must have combustible material to cling to in order to blaze up. In this way, civilisation must cling to righteousness and moderation to progress smoothly and endure. With no righteousness to cling to, the conflagration of war will destroy civilisation. In addition to brightness and heat, trigram Li is also seen as civilisation and war.

The reversal of hexagram Li is itself. Its inner hexagram is Da Guo (28), large excess, which is brimming with crises, suggesting that one must attach oneself to what is righteous.

Li is the last hexagram of the first volume of the I Ching which starts with hexagram Qian, the origination of life. It ends up with Li, the brilliance of human civilisation and its destruction caused by war.


Text: Li (clinging); it is advantageous (or appropriate) to persist (in righteousness), (this will lead to) smooth progress. To herd cattle, (which is of) auspiciousness.

Commentary on the text: Li, (signifying) clinging to ().  The sun and moon cling to the heavens; grass and trees cling to the earth; repeated brightness clings to righteousness, whereby the world is cultivated.  (The one of) tenderness (line 2) clings to moderation and righteousness; thus it progresses smoothly.  Therefore, to herd cattle is auspicious.

Text explanation:

As long as clinging is to something righteous, it is advantageous and the task will progress smoothly. Clinging must be carried out with tenderness, in the way of meek cattle; therefore it is auspicious to herd cattle, i.e. to nourish tenderness thereby strengthening clinging.

Both trigrams are Li, brightness; therefore hexagram Li is repeated brightness. The sun and moon cling to the heavens brightening the world. Grass and trees cling to the earth prospering the world. Repeated brightness (i.e. those at high and low ranking positions) clings to righteousness civilising the world. Civilisation here mainly refers to the spiritual realm, like the action of feminine line 2, its representative line. It tenderly clings to its right position at the axle centre, i.e. righteousness and the principle of moderation. This way civilisation grows, progresses smoothly and endures.

Cattle are symbolic of docility. Once righteousness is embraced, clinging must remain tender, i.e. with heartfelt submission. Tenderness takes time to nourish, like raising cattle. However, if trigram Kun is taken for cattle as specified in the Shuo Gua Zhuan (Confucian commentary on trigrams), there is no cattle in hexagram Li. This can be paraphrased as people know what is right, but aren't able to submissively cling to it.

Commentary on the image: Brightness rises twice; Li.  The great lord, in accordance with this, inherits brightness and continues to brighten the world.

The great lord sees that brightness rises twice; he inherits brightness, i.e. civilisation, from his ancestors and continues to cultivate the world.


Fire needs something combustible to cling to, then its flames can rise and radiate brightness. It is advantageous to persist in clinging to the right object; then what is intended can progress smoothly. When clinging to the right object, one must act with tenderness, i.e. remain steady with it and nourish tenderness like raising tame cattle to enhance clinging; this is auspicious.

People have many things to cling to, from thought, religion, aspirations and career; what we cling to must be righteous and carried out with heartfelt submission.

Hexagram Li possesses the virtues of advantage and persistence (expressed in the form of persistence bringing forth benefit), as well as smooth progress, but excludes that of origination. This signifies that fire can't burn by itself; therefore it must persist in maintaining what has been achieved through clinging, then it can progress smoothly.

Human civilisation begins with fire; therefore, the brightness of hexagram Li is seen as brilliant civilisation. The changed hexagram of Li is Repeated Kan (29), water and multiple peril, suggesting that civilisation is destined to face the risk of being destroyed like fire encountering water.

According to Xi Ci Zhuan (Confucian commentary on the text tagging), through the enlightenment of hexagram Li, people invented nets and used them for fishing and trapping animals. Therefore, hexagram Li is regarded as a net and can also refer to modern networks.





According to Confucian commentary, the norm of hexagram Li is to cling to righteousness. Tenderness makes way for smooth clinging, while the principle of moderation allows for enduring clinging. Righteousness is possible when the line occupies its right position; tenderness is the instinct of the feminine line; and the principle of moderation is located at the middle position of the lower and upper trigrams.

The brightness of trigram Li symbolises brilliant civilisation, while the flames can also be seen as the conflagration of war. All the lines of the lower trigram Li act righteously, allowing civilisation to take place. On the other hand, war befalls the upper trigram Li as none of its lines conform to righteousness.

The footsteps of line 1 are still in disorder, line 2 reaches brilliant civilisation like the sun at midday, while line 3 is the sun at sunset. Therefore, just before the end of lower trigram Li, the sun is setting and the rapidly developing civilisation ends with it.

Not clinging to righteousness is the enemy of civilisation. Attention must be paid to the enemy's scouting (unstable clinging) at position 1. Otherwise, overwhelming destruction by a sudden assault will occur when righteousness perishes at position 4. Line 5 mourns for the dead and assigns line 6 to undertake a sacred war. What hexagram Li achieves in the end is simply freedom from fault or calamity. In this way, the first volume of the I Ching ends only with the absence calamity.


The 1st line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) footsteps in disorder, (but) respecting this; (this is of) no calamity (or fault).

Text explanation:

Clinging starts in a disorderly manner. To place importance on this and correct it accordingly permits the avoidance of fault or calamity.

Line 1 has just stepped into the hexagram. As position 1 is designated for masculine, the place is right for clinging. But it isn't able to cling in a tame way because it is masculine. This signifies that it can't adapt to the new situation, resulting in disorderly footsteps. As long as it takes account of this discrepancy, and adjustments are made in time, there will be no fault or calamity.

Commentary on the image: (Line 1 ought) to respect the disordered footsteps, thereby avoiding calamity (or fault).

Line 1 has just arrived at civilisation from the prison of hexagram Kan (29); it needs to adapt itself to righteousness.

No one is seen but the footprints left are disordered; this signals that an enemy scout has been there. Recognizing the warning and taking precautions can eliminate the calamity.

Enlightenment through nine one: to adapt oneself to the new occasion and remain submissive but alert. In the beginning of clinging to righteousness, one might take some missteps. To place importance on the cause and correct it accordingly can lead to freedom from calamity. If this line is activated, the hexagram will appear as Lu (56), to journey (in adversity). Here it arrives at a place not right for it and must submit meekly to adversity, reflecting the importance of adaptability. 


The 2nd line

Text: (The subject is) yellow Li (clinging), (which is of) great auspiciousness.

Text explanation:

Line 2 is a feminine axle centre at its right position. The colour of the axle centre is yellow; therefore it is yellow clinging. This signifies that it tenderly clings to righteousness and acts in a moderate way. It is the host line of hexagram Li, i.e. the one that cultivates the world and makes it civilised. This is greatly auspicious.

Commentary on the image: Yellow Li (clinging) is greatly auspicious, (which is due to its) attaining the principle of moderation.

The principle of moderation (i.e. neither aggression nor laxity) allows what is intended to endure.

Enlightenment through six two: be devoted to what engages one, and bring one's talents into full play. To tenderly cling to what is righteous and act in a moderate way, like the sun at midday brightening and civilising the world, is greatly auspicious. If this line is activated, the hexagram will become Da You (14), abundant possessions, where all resources will converge to line 5 and then be distributed to all people through line 6 in order for this to endure. 


The 3rd line

Text: (The subject is in the state of) Li (brightness) of the setting sun, (and) not beating an earthen pot and singing; as a result (this becomes) the lament of an old man; (this is) an ominous omen.

Text explanation:

Line 3 is at the end of the lower trigram Li, like the sun at sunset and a man in his old age. Instead of beating an earthen pot and singing (to extol and cling to the righteousness that creates civilisation), he laments that his life is almost over. This is ominous.

Line 3 is masculine staying at its right position but also at the position for marching upward to the upper trigram Li. Therefore, it doesn't cling tenderly to the righteousness at hand to maintain civilisation but eagerly looks for a new one. This is because the masculine tends to move. But, there is no righteousness available ahead as positions 4 and 6 are not right for it. Civilisation will fall once righteousness is abandoned.

The inner upper trigram Dui (the marsh), denoting the mouth and joy, is signified here as singing. The lower trigram Li, denoting a big belly, is referred to as the earthen pot. This suggests that it should nourish its tenderness and remain with what is righteous. Then it can beat the pot and sing to celebrate the maintained civilisation.



Commentary on the image: (Line 3 is in the state of) Li (brightness) of the setting sun; how can it last long?

Civilisation is brief. While line 1 was still mis-stepping, civilisation had already reached its peak. When line 3 can no longer cling tenderly to righteousness and loses the principle of moderation, the end of civilisation is reached.

Civilisation without righteousness will perish like an old man dying when life ends; this is the course of Nature.

Enlightenment through nine three: 1) to cling tenderly to righteousness so as to maintain civilisation, or 2) to prepare for an assault after nightfall. The sun is about to set, and civilisation approaches its end. Civilisation without righteousness, like humans losing their life, will perish. Not beating the earthen pot and singing signifies that one doesn't extol and cherish righteousness but laments that civilisation won't last much longer; this merely leads to misfortune. Hexagram Shi He (21), biting through, forms after this line changes to feminine and clings to what is not righteous. Shi He implies ferocious conflict which will destroy civilisation.


The 4th line

Text: As if coming all of a sudden, (the subject is in a state) like being burned up, dying down, (and) deserted (which occur one after another).

Text explanation:

As if a sudden fire or assault occurred, it is completely destroyed.

The flames of the lower trigram Li blaze upwards, breaking through the boundary (between the lower and upper trigram) and reaching position 4 where the upper trigram is Li as well. As a result, line 4 is engulfed in flames and completely burned down.

Line 4 isn't at its right position and, therefore, doesn't cling to righteousness. It is one step behind the middle of the upper trigram so can't act moderately either. This signifies that it doesn't comply with the norm of hexagram Li at all.

Commentary on the image: As if coming all of a sudden, (signifying that) there is no room for (line 4).

It neglects the advice of line 3 and moves to a place where it shouldn't be. Here it has no correlation with line 1 to receive the warming that an enemy scout has arrived. After sunset, the enemy launches an attack.

Enlightenment through nine four: 1) to leave as soon as possible, otherwise 2) remain alert all the time. When this line is triggered to move, it signifies that like a sudden fire or assault, one is completely destroyed. If this line changes to feminine and clings tenderly to righteous-ness, the hexagram will become Bi4 (22), to grace. Bi is also seen as camouflage which people learned about from the ferocious strife in hexagram Shi He (21), and which they need to prepare for Bo (23), evil overpowering goodness.


The 5th line

Text: (The subject is in a state of) weeping a flood of tears, (as well as) sighing with sorrow; (this can still be of) auspiciousness.

Text explanation:

The upper trigram Li denotes the eyes, and the contour from line 2 to 5 is similar to that of trigram Kan, water; therefore it weeps a flood of tears. Trigram Kan is also an ill heart, and the inner upper trigram Dui (joy, the marsh) resembles a mouth; therefore it sighs with sorrow. Both indicate that line 5 laments the fall of civilisation from its midday peak to complete destruction.



Line 5 is a feminine axle centre but isn’t at its right position. It is not in a position to cling to righteousness (and achieve what line 2 has), and its instinct toward tenderness makes the situation worse as it is unable to rescue civilisation. But by behaving moderately it can remain at its position without being hurt (by the rising conflagration of war).

Commentary on the image: The auspiciousness of line 5, (which is due to) Li (clinging to) the king and duke (i.e. the imperial position).

Line 5 arrives at the king's position after surviving position 4. It must cling to the imperial position and maintain its power to support line 6 repelling the invader, and restore the brilliance of civilisation. Then it will be auspicious.

Enlightenment through six five: to remain moderate at the core position. One laments over the misfortune with a flood of tears and sighs with sorrow over the inability (to rescue civilisation). However, this will turn out to be auspicious if one can withstand the blow, learn a lesson and maintain one's strength to prepare for a reinstatement. Hexagram Tong Ren (13), to build fellowship, appears while this line is activated, changing to masculine and becoming one who wins it, i.e. succeeds in integrating different people.


The 6th line

Text: The king uses (it, signifying that the subject is assigned by the king) to undertake an expedition; (it ought) to honour those surrendering (有嘉折首), (and) to capture those unyielding (獲匪其醜); (this is of) no calamity (or fault).

Text explanation:

yu3 (to have) jia1 (praise) zhe2 (to bow) shou3 (the head) is understood and paraphrased as honouring those who surrender. hou4 (to capture) fei1 (not) qi2chou3 (the similar) is to capture those who are unyielding. This is a moderate and civilised way to undertake war.

Line 6 is masculine and doesn't stay at its right position, signifying that it is neither tender nor clings to righteousness. In other words, it is fierce and doesn't abide by the norm of hexagram Li. This supposedly is an ill omen. However, it reaches the extremity of brightness and with its bright and masculine characteristics it can expel those who are evil. Therefore line 5, the king, assigns it to launch a punitive war. Since it acts according to the king who is at the axle centre and possesses the principle of moderation, its actions can be free from fault or calamity.

The upper trigram Li denotes weaponry and armour, the symbol of war. Line 5 represents it and sustains line 6, signifying that it supports line 6 to carry out the war.



Commentary on the image: The king uses (it, signifying that line 6 is assigned by the king) to undertake an expedition, thereby (devoting itself to) rectifying the state.

Enlightenment through nine six: to subdue opposition and rectify what is incorrect in a civilised way. When this line is triggered to move, it signifies that one is requested to undertake a mission forcibly (to bring normality back). The job is aggressive and destructive, but it is carried out moderately; therefore there will be no calamity. After the mandate of this line is achieved, the hexagram becomes Feng (55), a grand and abundant state, which can be seen as a great achievement worthy of merit. People should be free from fault or calamity first; then pursue achievement and merit. This is the message that the I Ching always intends.