Workshop ‘Practical application of the Yijing as a tool for diagnosis in Chinese medicine’



The famous doctor Sun Yikui (ca. 1522-1699) is credited with the words “If you don’t know Yijing, you are inadequate to be called a great physician.” Several doctors in Chinese history used the Yijing or Book of Changes as a diagnostic tool to gain deeper insight in a patient’s condition or to pinpoint the cause of an illness. But how did they do that? One of the tools they used was Wenwanggua.

In this fascinating workshop we will examine the use of the hexagrams from the Yijing as a diagnostic tool in Chinese medicine. You will learn:

  • a short history of the Yijing
  • a short history of the Yijing and Chinese medicine
  • the components of a hexagram and their application:
    • trigrams
    • lines
    • …and their relationships
    • the value of these components for a diagnosis
  • The application of Wenwanggua 文王卦 for medical purposes:
    • the wuxing 五行, ‘the Five Phases’ and where to find them in a hexagram
    • the purpose of the liuqin 六親, ‘the Six Relationships’ and their mutual connections
    • the function of the Office & Ghost line as indication of the illness and the Offspring line as indication of the cure
    • the application of the ganzhi 干支 Stems & Branches and where to find them in a hexagram
    • the weakness and strength of the wuxing, liuqin and ganzhi in a hexagram and what this means for your diagnosis
    • examples of medical Wenwanggua from classical and modern literature.

At the end of this workshop you have learned to use Wenwanggua as a tool that complements your own initial diagnosis.

The workshop comes with a workbook that contains all the material that will be covered during the day.

The facts:

  • Your teacher: Harmen Mesker, Yijing Research Centre (
  • Date & time: Friday June 9th, 10:00 -17:00
  • Location: Shenzhou University
    Geldersekade 67
    1011 EK Amsterdam
  • Language: English
  • Admission fee: € 60,–
  • Information & enrollment:

Hexagram 9, line 3

輿說輻. 夫妻反目.

Yu 輿: a chariot, but also the box of the chariot:

Shuo 說: loan for tuo 脫, ‘fall off’ or ‘remove’. It also is a loan for shui 税, ‘to stop, to halt’:

[This] umbrageous sweet pear-tree; –
Clip it not, bend not a twig of it.
Under it the chief of Shao halted.
Shijing (tr. Legge) Continue reading

Hexagram 9, line 1 & 2

Line 1

復自道. 何其咎. 吉.

I have struggled for many months with the segmentation of the first sentence, 復自道. I was not sure if I should read it as (1) 復自 – 道, (2) 復 – 自道 or (3) 復 – 自- 道.

(1) Fuzi 復自 can mean ‘to return of one’s own accord’, like in the Lun Heng:

When a plant comes forth, its fluid is green, which is, as it were, given it. When the same plant dies, the green colour disappears, or is taken away. Endowed with the fluid, the plant is green, deprived of it, it loses the green color. After the latter is gone, it cannot be added again, nor can the plant grow green again of its own accord. Sound and colour correspond to one another, and are both derived from Heaven. The brilliant green colour is like a lugubrious cry. The color of a faded plant cannot become green again, it would, therefore, be a mistake to assume that a dead man’s cry could still be produced of itself.
– Lun Heng, 論死 (tr. A. Forke, p. 197-198)

(2) Zidao 自道 can mean ‘one’s own way/method’, like in the Liji:

Sincerity is the completion of oneself. Its way is your own way.

(3) Zi 自 can be read as ‘from’, just as in the Judgment of hexagram 9 and line 4 of hexagram 5.

It is therefore possible to translate 復自道 in three different ways:

(1) Returning to the way on his own accord.
(2) Return to one’s own way.
(3) Returning from the way.

The character fu 復, ‘to return’ also occurs in the 2nd line (see below) but in a different context and that made me decide to go for option (1). Fu carries a sense of ‘to regain, to recover’.

Heqi 何其: ‘how, why’.

Returning to the way on one’s own accord.
How could there be blame?

Line 2

牽復. 吉.

Qian 牽: to lead, or to be led (like a cow or horse on a rope). The Mawangdui text uses qian 堅, a character related to qian 掔 and qian 摼, both known variants of 牽 (Ma Rusen, 殷墟甲骨学, p. 461; 古文字通假字典, p. 861; 漢語大字典 (2nd ed.), p. 2058). I have wondered if the MWD form might be a reference to ci/qian 㹂, a character which means almost the opposite of qian 牽 – ‘untamed cattle that refuses to be guided by a rope’ (漢語大字典, p. 2126). This idea crossed my mind because ‘untamed cattle returning (by itself)’ reads like a reinstatement of the 1st line. But there is no factual data to back this up.

At the 1st line the return is on its own accord. At the 2nd line the return is a return by being led. Maybe these lines talk about cattle used for the rain sacrifice at the Western altar (see Judgment). At the 1st line the cattle does not need guidance, at the 2nd line it does. Both lines are auspicious because either way the cattle will reach its destination.

Return by being led.

Going back to the source: the manuscripts of Richard Wilhelm (4) – The End

2016-09-10-19-26-59The prospect of spending more than three hours on a train & bus was not very tempting but the journey that I was about to make had been on my wish list for many years and so it became a matter of  ‘its-now-or-never’. I took an early train to Ulm, changed trains to  Göppingen and took the bus to Bad Boll. It is the place where Richard Wilhelm worked and lived. And it is the place where he is buried. Continue reading

Going back to the source: the manuscripts of Richard Wilhelm (3)

Wenn die Begriffe nicht richting sind, so stimmen die Worte nicht;
Stimmen die Worte nicht, so kommen die Werke nicht zustande…
Lunyu, Ch. 13.3, tr. Richard Wilhelm
If the terms are not correct the words do not agree;
If the words do not agree the works are not realised…
Lunyu, Ch. 13.3, tr. Richard Wilhelm

You might wonder why I am making such a fuzz out of something that seems to be a minor detail in Wilhelm’s translation of the Yijing. Is it really important whether ⚍ and ⚎ are either called shao yin 少陰 or shao yang 少陽? Are the names really that important? Continue reading