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The tidal gua and the moons, the TaiJi symbol
Searching for the origins of the gui-biao
The sundial, how does it work



Mails from Thomas Hood or

   The shadow of the gnomon is cast toward the north and is observed at noon, when the shadow is at its shortest for the day. At the winter solstice the shadow is long and will cut all the lines, producing hexagram 2, the hexagram of the winter solstice. At the summer solstice the shadow is short and will not cross any lines, giving 6 whole lines, or hexagram 1, the hexagram of the summer solstice.

   The gui is read in the direction that the shadow is moving. Yin hexagrams are read from the round south end, looking northward. Yang hexagrams are read from the flat north end looking southward.

   Yang months (11, 12, 1-4): the shadow is moving toward the sun (shortening).

   Yin months  (5-10): the shadow is moving away from the sun (lengthening).

   The remarkable power of LiSe's theory is its ability to unify and explain. One way or another, much of qimancy [Stephen Field's term: URL below] seems to be reducible to the gui, as the original working model of the interaction of heaven and earth. Fluctuations in the vitality (qi) of nature are shown on the gui's dial. The connection between shadow and spirit is obvious. (LiSe is not responsible for these speculations.)


   The hexagrams and the standard representation of yin (shadow cut) and yang (shadow free) lines may be as old as the gui -- perhaps 10,000 years old or older. At its simplest a stick in the ground with pebbles or twigs to mark graduations [see shadow stick, below], the gui was a possibility in the most primitive conditions of human life.

   The hexagrams came before the trigrams as well as before any text.

   The hexagrams represent energy cycles inherently, rather than symbolically.

   Fundamental yijing ideas are implicit in the gui: Hexagram inversion (King Wen's pairs) is a consequence of the direction of shadow movement. The changing (moving) line is the line and adjacent area on the gui where the tip of the shadow falls. The idea of one hexagram changing into another and the cycles of endless change are also exemplified.

   Legge (p.14 of his I Ching) wonders why the Chinese stopped with six lines. They did not stop with six lines; they began with six.

   The hexagrams represent states of qi as exemplified in the life of the year, thus justifying the hexagram calendar (Meng Xi or Blofeld). A yijing diviner (IMO) aims to determine the qi of the subject of divination.

   Traditional Chinese Medicine:

   "The ancient sundial of the Zhou was a Gui, a tablet which was at one end round, at the other end straight." The human body is also round at one end and flat at the other, so it is likely that the tablet symbolized the human body. The life of the body is sustained by the circulation of qi just as the life of the universe is sustained by the circulation of qi in the cycle of the year.

   Recent discussion in IChing_YiJing (Message 2073) concerned "Medical Use of I-CHING (TCM)" with the claim "there is no relationship between yijing and chinese medicine." A better understanding of the gui might alter such a view.

   (First sentence of 'Yijing', by Wu Jing-Nuan: "When I first began my study of Chinese medicine, one of my instructors told me that to be an Yi, a Chinese Doctor, one must understand the Yi of the Yijing". - LiSe)

   Feng Shui:

   Feng shui is about qi, and the gui is apparently the original model for detecting and harmonizing qi. In his webpage "QIMANCY The Art and Science of Fengshui" Dr. Stephen L. Field says: "This practice [feng shui] is as old as Chinese culture itself (neolithic Yangshao villages date from about 6000 BCE)...."

   Also: "A neolithic grave unearthed recently in Henan province is a microcosm of the Chinese world as it was perceived at this early period. Its southern face (beyond the head of the skeleton) was round, while its northern face (at the skeleton's foot) was square."

   That is, the shape of the grave is similar to the shape of the gui, which gui might very well have been used to site the grave. Here's how:

   There is a simple procedure for determining directions from a gnomon, the "shadow stick" as it is called in outdoor lore:

   "All you need is a straight stick about 3 or 4 feet long. Set the stick in the ground in an open area where sunlight will strike it and cast a shadow. Mark the tip of the shadow with a stone. After a few minutes, when the shadow has moved over the ground, place another stone at the tip of the shadow. Draw a straight line through both stones.

   This line runs east and west. The first stone is at the west end of the line. Now, if you draw the shortest line from the base of the stick to the east-west line, you will have found north (in the Northern Hemisphere)."

   I do not know how accurate this procedure is, but if Field's Qimancy webpage is correct, the ancient Chinese used it or something like it: "Liu [c. 1796 BCE] was measuring the shadow of the gnomon, or sundial, to determine the cardinal directions."

   Considering that the weather in ancient China was more humid than now and thus the polestar (whichever star it was then) could often not be observed because of clouds, it seems likely that before the lodestone came into use the gnomon would have been the primary means for orienting graves and temples.

   Calibration of a Gui

   The graduations of the gui should represent the midpoints (the hight) of each season, as is the Chinese convention, rather than the limits (beginning and end), as is the Western convention. Thus, only six lines are needed to mark the seasons (solar-determined months). If the seasons were represented by spaces rather than by lines, seven lines would be needed.

   This confusing matter is (I believe) discussed by Lorraine Wilcox in her "A Chinese View of the Seasons" webpage: "In China the seasons were traditionally calculated with the solstices and equinoxes as the midpoint of the season, not the beginning." In the Chinese day of 12 two-hour periods, midnight falls in the middle of a two-hour period.

   The ancient Chinese would have determined the placement of the graduations empirically. The mathematical construction of a precise gui for a particular latitude is beyond me.

   (See for many different sundials, and also an instructions for making one LiSe)




   The Art and Science of Fengshui  1998 Dr. Stephen L. Field

   The quote about the shadow stick is from Complete Book of Outdoor Lore by Clyde Ormond, Harper & Row, 1971, p.77.

   Oct. 8, 2003,
   Hello LiSe,

   Your idea about the gui is simply the best thing going, and anyone who is interested in the Yi or any area of qimancy ought to consider it. If your idea were false, there should be some contradictory evidence somewhere, and I haven't found any.

   I did have questions about calibration, but Lorraine's article seems to answer that. Thanks for a wonderful idea.

   Did you see this:


   This is the most ancient time-measuring instrument. The record of the use of the gnomon-and-ruler in the ancient book The Rites of Zhou confirms the long history of this instrument. The gnomon-and-ruler indicates the time [date] by the length of the shadow of style in the sun. It consists of two parts. The post or stone pillar standing upright on the ground to cast a shadow is called biao (gnomon) and the marked tablet lying north-south is called gui (ruler); hence, the name guibiao. Since time can be measured in the length of the shadow, to describe duration of time with length units like "inch" becomes logical."

   Somewhere there should be books and scholarly papers about the details of the gui. Too bad we don't have them.


   Connection with tidal gua

   Tom (to IChing_YiJing mailing list:
   I refer to the gui as a sundial, because that is the closest western analogue. However, the typical western sundial is an hour dial. The gui is better described as a calendar dial, since it determines position within the cycle of the year. If the graduations on the gui were fine enough, as is perhaps the case on the huge stone gui that LiSe has pictured at her website, then the gui could mark each day of the year.

   I should say that LiSe is much more reserved about her theory being historical fact than I am. In spite of my very limited information, I think the circumstantial evidence is conclusive that the gui is the origin of the hexagrams.

   IChing_YiJing mailing list: In as to hexagrams tai and pi, spring equinox occurs at second (mao) month, and autumn equinox occurs at the eighth (you) month, mao and you months are yinyang balance. If hexagrams originated from the change of sun's shadow or 'gui', would you please tell us the reason why the hexagrams tai and pi are assigned to the first (yin) month and the seventh (shen) month, refer to 12 xiaoxigua/bigua/growth & decay hexagrams/sovereign hexagrams, not mao and you months. and how about the rest hexagrams?
>(snip) "please just tell me how to associate sun's shadow or "gui" with ALL hexagrams and ALL xiantian and houtian trigrams and charts for proving your words.

   No problem. The gui is the original Chinese qimantic calendar and the source of yin and yang lines and of the hexagrams. Xiantian (Before Heaven) and houtian (After Heaven) are qimantic and calendrical and are made up of yin and yang lines. Therefore, the gui is the primordial source of xiantian and houtian. Time is place in Chinese thinking (1). To relate to the calendar is to relate to a place on the gui. For xiantian and houtian, see Complete Idiot's Guide to Feng Shui (1999), pp.74-5.  

   The xiantian emphasizes the qi flowing through the four seasons, while the houtian emphasizes the elements. Xiantian (Before Heaven) originally meant (IMO) "before appearance," that is, the qi that exists before something is actualized. Knowing such qi makes divination possible.

   Each hexagram of the hexagram calendar is associated with a place on the gui. (Persons interested in binary might prefer Shao Yong's hexagram circle.) If the gui is large enough, each individual line of a hexagram has its own place. Here is a rectangular arrangement of the hexagram calendar:

Month       Hexagrams

 1                11      5        17      35      40      51

 2                34     16      6        18      49

 3                43     56      7        8        9

 4                1        14      37      48      31      30

 5                44     50      55      59      10

 6                33     32      60      13      41

 7                12     57      45      26      22      58

 8                20     54      25      36      47

 9                23     52      63      21      28

10               2       64      39      27      61      29

11               24     3        15      38      46

12               19     62      4        42      53


   The rightmost column represents the seasons and intercalary time. The other five columns are the hexagrams of 30-day months (5*6 = 30), each line representing a day. This is the simple 360 day calendar, but the same pattern was used for 365.25 day calendars too.

   That is the basic sequence, but variations occur. Peter thinks this hexagram calendar began with Meng Xi. I think it is far older. Anyway, it is the foundation of the Taixuanjing (2 BCE) and I think is now used in the calculation of auspiciousness in the tongshu, the Chinese almanac from Hong Kong, but I don't have this for sure.

   (1)"An inch of time [on the gui] is worth an inch of gold; yet you can't buy an inch of time at an inch of gold."


   Dear LiSe,

   In my opinion your idea about the guibiao is a major contribution to Chinese studies, and I am grateful to have it.

   Your idea is simple, but for many people who have studied the zhouyi extensively and know its details, it's hard to stop focusing on details and see the whole picture. It was hard for me.

   How one looks at things determines what one can see.

   It is now an accepted theory that all multiple-cell forms of life -- trees, horses, people, rabbits, and so on -- began as a single cell creature some billion of years ago. Most likely the person who started the single-cell theory was asked a question like "If your theory is true, then explain why birds have feathers." But the truth of the theory did not at all depend on whether its originator could explain why birds have feathers. To see the relevance of the guibiao, a person much first stop looking at familiar details that are especially important to him. That's hard to do. Someone wanted me to use the guibiao to explain the Later Heaven arrangement. He was asking for feathers.

   Then there's the emotional reaction. Twelve hexagrams are produced on the gui so quick and easy that it seems like a trick. To put the emotion in words, "OK, you've got twelve hexagrams. So what?" At that point, I had to put the idea on the back of my mind and let it stew. Things kept being added to the pot (a moving line with real movement, one hexagram changing into another, etc.), and the aroma got better and better. This takes time.

   To be persuaded, I even had to stop looking at the the details of guibiao itself and consider vague general conditions that the origin of the zhouyi should satisfy. So far as I can see, the guibiao is the only thing that satisfies these conditions.

   It's hard to put these things into words. The zhouyi is magical (xuan), so its parent must be magical too. What is magical about the guibiao?

   Well, shadows are magical, and the guibiao is like a device for taking the vitality (qi) of the universe -- like devices for taking human blood pressure and temperature. Just looking at a shadow move gives one a sense of cosmic vitality (dragon's breath). So all those associations with any form of qimancy link to the guibiao. I have long argued that hexagrams are best thought of as representing state of qi. The relationship between cosmic process (dao), qi, time in the cycle of the year, and the tetragrams is explicit in the taixuanjing, and the taixuanjing reveals how thoughtful Chinese understand the zhouji. So to have a hexagram on the guibiao as a cosmic state of qi just confirms what I already believed to be true about the zhouyi.

   The person who accords with cosmic process (dao) in a timely manner is virtuous (te). Such personal acts are supported by the universe as a whole -- 'correlatively', Bradford would say. Nature conspires to aid the virtuous person. By acting prematurely or retardedly, persons who act out of season fail. Their crops don't grow, and their meat spoils; their families,  enterprises, or dynasties decline. God structures time, and when we accord with this structure we flourish. The guibiao provides religious insight into the structure of time and one's place in that structure, just as does the zhouyi.

   Such general, philosophical ideas about xuan, dao, de, and qi are what persuaded me that the guibiao is the remote parent of the zhouyi. Everything fits beautifully.


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