BA-GUÀ [pa kwa] (Chinese, literally “eight [bipolar] diagrams“, trigrams)—a concept of Chinese philosophy of nature that came from the Yin-Yang school. It designates eight basic powers of nature (and systems of social order) symbolized by 8 trigrams, which are diagrams composed of three horizontal continuous or interrupted lines.

The diagrams present the system of complementary powers and overlapping polar forces: the power of yang (clear, masculine) is represented by the continuous line (      ), and the force of yin (dark, feminine) represented by an interrupted line (      . The basic line that provides an image of the actual trend of change is always the lower line. The underlying belief in ba-guà is that the one “stable” element in the universe is change, which is caused by the incessant transformation of forces. When one of the forces, especially yang, achieves its maximum and occupies the dominant position in a certain fragment of the universe (so-called “old yang”), it turns into its opposite (so-called “young yin”). The opposition is understood dialectically, not logically. The passage into opposition does not consist in a change of the whole of the element (all the component forces) into the opposite ones (revolutionary change) but in a slow passage of one element into the next element by the change of only one of the component forces (evolutionary change). The basic transformation is rendered by the four diagrams: “young yang” (the lower line is continuous, the upper line is interrupted), “old yang” (both lines are continuous), “young yin” (the lower line is interrupted, the upper line is continuous), and “old yin” (both lines are interrupted). The most complicated social situations require for their explanation a more complex system of primitive forces that that of the four diagrams (si gua). Hence the use of 8 trigrams (ba gua) and 64 hexagrams (liushisi gua, as the combinations of all possible connections of two trigrams, the contents of Yi Jing—Book of Changes, also transliterated as I Ching).

In accordance with the principle of correspondence generally accepted in Chinese philosophy, certain phenomena of nature (cosmic, meteorological, geographic), botanical elements (plants, grain, vegetables), zoological elements (wild and domestic animals), anatomic and physiological elements (parts of the body, life processes, illnesses, foods), social phenomena (relations of consanguinity, social relations, feelings, vices, and virtues) etc., are ascribed to each power, and the power is supposed to account for the origin of these elements or phenomena.

Ba-guá—the systems of lines (primitive forces), images and some of the social and physical phenomena that correspond to them are as follows:

NameArrangement of forcesImageAttributesSocial Phenomena
quian (creativity)      
sky force, differentiation, dryness, roundess, harmony, appraisal father, prince
dui (tranquillity of spirit)       
lake joy, progress, bearing fruit, reflection third daughter, hunter
li (adherence)       
fire light, beauty, division, affiliation second daughter, buyer, official
zhen (waking)       
lightning motion, elevation, hardness, development first son, soldier, strap or belt
sun (mildness)       
wind (tree) perspicacity, flexibility, vegetation, form first daughter, shepherd
kan (abyss)       
river danger, effort, descent, concentration second son, thief
gen (peace)       
cliff obstacle, rest, silence third son, servant, eunuch
kun (passivity)       
earth obedience, vigilance, squareness mother, farmer

Ba-guà comes from the tradition of divination (the rationalization of which is one of the sources of Chinese philosophical thought), where three lines corresponded to dents that appear on the burnt shell of turtle (or the scapula bone of a cow) during divination. According to the tradition the legendary emperor Fu Xi (2952–2836 BC) in the system called “the order of the early sky” discovered and described quian (south, summer), sun (south-west), kan (west, autumn), gen (north-west), kun (north, winter), zhen (north-east), li (east, spring), dui (south-east). According to Sim Qian (Historical Writings, 145–86 BC), King Wen, the founder of the Zhou dynasty (1027–1024 BC) made a detailed description of the trigrams and the system of 64 hexagrams. He also established other matches between ba-guà and the cardinal directions and times of the year: qian (north-west), kan (north), gen (north-east), zhen (east), sun (south-east), li (south), kun (south- west), dui (west), called “the system of the late sky” (which was supposed to render a complicated name that was used in the society of China from the time of Fu Xi). Both systems became part of the Yi Jing (Book of Changes) and served further historiosophical interpretations or were used to explain the individual situations of persons in society (by an ethical analysis of an omen). From the time of Wang Bi (226—249) ba-guà and the Yi Jing were treated more as a book of wisdom than as a document of omens. From the times of the neo-Confuncians Shao Yonga (1011–1077), who analyzed the Yi Jing in the light of mathematical theories, and Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073), ba-guà became a permanent part of Confucian thought as one of the elements of its philosophy of nature and of its rational ethics of self-perfection.

The theory at the basis of ba-guà motivated G.W. Leibniz in his development of the principles of binary arithmetic. Contemporary scholars of the east (e.g., C. G. Jung and R. Wilhelm) connect the theory of ba-guà and the Yi Jing with the theory of synchronic connections (connections that are not cause-effect) and archetypal connections.

R. Wilhelm, The I CHing, I–II, Lo, NY 1950 (I Cing, Wwa 1998); F. Bykow, Powstanie chińskiej myśli politycznej i filozoficznej [The origin of Chinese political and philosophical thought], Wwa 1978; I. P. McGreal, Great Thinkers of the Eastern World, NY 1995 (Wielcy myśliciele Wschodu [Great thinkers of the east], Wwa 1997, 76–83, 130–149).

Maciej St. ZiŽba

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