Ching / The Well
Wood is below, water above. The wood goes down into the earth to bring up water. The image
derives from the pole-and-bucket well of ancient China. The wood represents not the buckets,
which in ancient times were made of clay, but rather the wooden poles by which the water is
hauled up from the well. The image also refers to the world of plants, which lift water out of
the earth by means of their fibers.
The well from which water is drawn conveys the further idea of an inexhaustible dispensing of
THE WELL. The town may be changed,
But the well cannot be changed.
It neither decreases nor increases.
They come and go and draw from the well.
If one gets down almost to the water
And the rope does not go all the way,
Or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune.
In ancient China the capital cities were sometimes moved, partly for the sake of more favorable location,
partly because of a change in dynasties. The style of architecture changed in the course of centuries, but
the shape of the well has remained the same from ancient times to this day.
Thus the well is the symbol of
that social structure which, evolved by mankind in meeting its most primitive needs, is independent of all
political forms. Political structures change, as do nations, but the life of man with its needs remains
eternally the same --this cannot be changed. Life is also inexhaustible.
It grows neither less nor more; it
exists for one and for all. The generations come and go, and all enjoy life in its inexhaustible abundance.
However, there are two prerequisites for a satisfactory political or social organization of mankind. We
must go down to the very foundations of life. For any merely superficial ordering of life that leaves its
deepest needs unsatisfied is as ineffectual as if no attempt at order had ever been made. Carelessness --by
which the jug is broken-- is also disastrous. If for instance the military defense of a state is carried to
such excess that it provokes wars by which the power of the state is annihilated, this is a breaking of the
This hexagram applies also to the individual. However men may differ in disposition and in education, the
foundations of human nature are the same in everyone. And every human being can draw in the course of
his education from the inexhaustible wellspring of the divine in man's nature. But here likewise two
dangers threaten: a man may fail in his education to penetrate to the real roots of humanity and remain
fixed in convention --a partial education of this sort is as bad as none-- or he may suddenly collapse and
neglect his self-development.
The well is symbol of the essence of things as an unalterable factor, which cannot be modified, no matter
how much it is sought to give it another configuration or external appearance. The well represents the
deep thing in which bottom the true thing lies, the source of life, the water. The well is symbol of what
doesn't change: the human nature, the temperament, and the essence of a person. Also, the well
symbolizes going to the source of things, because the well is only an instrument, a mean to arrive to the
source that is inexhaustible and pure.
Getting to the water of the well implies to arrive at the bottom of the question, to reach the truth, the
"The rope does not go all the way, or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune" means that the truth is not
reached, the action is useless and the matter will continue dark. It also means what is not known how to
look for, what is not known how to obtain, what is not known how to extract. Also, it denotes foolish action,
lack of caution.
Water over wood: the image of THE WELL.
Thus the superior man encourages the people at their work,
And exhorts them to help one another.
The trigram Sun, wood, is below, and the trigram K'an, water, is above it. Wood sucks water upward. Just
as wood as an organism imitates the action of the well, which benefits all parts of the plant, the superior
man organizes human society, so that, as in a plant organism, its parts co-operate for the benefit of the
A well is to the people in a neighborhood, and indeed to men in general, what a government is to the
people. The value of the well depends on the water being actually raised. And so the principles of
government must be actually carried out. (Legge comment)
Six at the beginning means:
One does not drink the mud of the well.
No animals come to an old well.
If a man wanders around in swampy lowlands, his life is submerged in mud. Such a man loses all
significance for mankind. He who throws himself away is no longer sought out by others. In the end no
one troubles about him any more.
A muddy well means cloudy matter or denaturalized source. Neither man nor animals trust it. The time
has aged it, says the comment, thus it also means an outdated source that is no more valid.
A lot of men with authority are like a well: corrupt, useless, unrecorded (Legge comment).
Nine in the second place means:
At the well hole one shoots fishes.
The jug is broken and leaks.
The water itself is clear, but it is not being used. Thus the well is a place where only fish will stay, and
whoever comes to it, comes only to catch fish. But the jug is broken, so that the fish cannot be kept in it.
This describes the situation of a person who possesses good qualities but neglects them. No one bothers
about him. As a result he deteriorates in mind. He associates with inferior men and can no longer
accomplish anything worth while.
The fish represents the factors necessary to reach the surface: unknown factors, unconscious forces. But
if the matter is faced in an inappropriate way everything will be useless. The broken jug means
insufficient means; that is to say, it lacks of necessary support. The water that gets lost means that this
way there finally won't be clarity.
Nine in the third place means:
The well is cleaned, but no one drinks from it.
This is my heart's sorrow,
For one might draw from it.
If the king were clear-minded,
Good fortune might be enjoyed in common.
An able man is available. He is like a purified well whose water is drinkable. But no use is made of him.
This is the sorrow of those who know him. One wishes that the prince might learn about it; this would be
good fortune for all concerned.
A well that is cleaned refers to something that is recovered, but the fact that nobody drinks out of it
means that it doesn't still generate trust, that certain doubts exist.
Such cleaned well means misused source of resources or person. The king represents the authority. The
king should be clear-minded means that the common sense should prevail.
Six in the fourth place means:
The well is being lined. No blame.
True, if a well is being lined with stone, it cannot be used while the work is going on. But the work is not
in vain; the result is that the water stays clear. In life also there are times when a man must put himself in
order. During such a time he can do nothing for others, but his work is nonetheless valuable, because by
enhancing his powers and abilities through inner development, he can accomplish all the more later on.
A lined well means a recovered structure. This is a preparation time. One can correct the own faults and
improve oneself but the external action is not possible.
Nine in the fifth place means:
In the well there is a clear, cold spring
From which one can drink.
A well that is fed by a spring of living water is a good well. A man who has virtues like a well of this sort
is born to be a leader and savior of men, for he has the water of life. Nevertheless, the character for "good
fortune" is left out here. The all-important thing about a well is that its water be drawn. The best water is
only a potentiality for refreshment as long as it is not brought up. So too with leaders of mankind: it is
all-important that one should drink from the spring of their words and translate them into life.
A well with crystalline waters means sincerity and fidelity. The original state of the water in the well is
clear and cold, to mention it means that the water is pure. The drinkable waters are symbol of what is
useful and reliable.
Six at the top means:
One draws from the well
It is dependable.
Supreme good fortune.
The well is there for all. No one is forbidden to take water from it. No matter how many come, all find
what they need, for the well is dependable. It has a spring and never runs dry. Therefore it is a great
blessing to the whole land. The same is true of the really great man, whose inner wealth is inexhaustible;
the more that people draw from him, the greater his wealth becomes.
The well reaches its purpose in this line. To be without hindrance means that one does not monopolize
the use of the well. It must be accessible to all people.