Origins of the Eight Trigrams

In the beginning there was nothing but a formless chaos. Out of this chaos, there was born an egg. When the egg split the heavy yolk sank to become the Earth, while the light egg white rose to become the Heavens.

That the Universe is made of two forces, a heavy yin aspect and a lighter yang aspect whose separation and interaction are constantly creating all aspects of the Universe, is the foundation of Daoism. This line of thought developed to include all the social and physical interactions of man.

Before it developed into a complex system of creation and organization, Daoism was more practical. Yin and yang represented different times of the day and of the year. Daylight was the time for work, night was for rest.

Yin and yang are represented by two lines. Yang is a solid line that represents brightness, lightness, masculinity, and the tendency to move upwards. Yin is a broken line that represents darkness, heaviness, the feminine, and the tendency to move downwards.

Yin is a time to plant and rest, while yang is time for harvesting and working. Being in accord with nature meant living into the next year, and if your crops did well, then you might prosper from your good virtue.

Fu Xi

Fu Xi is a cultural hero reputed to have taught the Chinese people the skills needed to form a civilization. He is depicted with his female predecessor, the goddess Nuwa. They are holding a compass and a square, further illustrating the complementary, and yet opposite forces of yin and yang.

In 2852 BCE Fu Xi is also credited with creating the bagua (Eight Trigrams), which formed the basis for the Yi Jing (Book of Changes). The trigrams of the bagua, and the hexagrams of the Yi Jing, are more complex representations of the simple yin and yang symbols of a broken and solid line. Chinese calligraphy developed from these representations. (See Trigram Associations for the names and associations of the eight bagua trigrams.)

Fu Xi further developed the eight trigrams into an arrangement revealed to him on the back of a turtle that emerged from the Yellow River.

The dots are unitary (base one) representations of the integers one through ten. In this diagram the sum of all the odd or even integers on the periphery equal twenty. Adding any number on the inside squares with five (the center) will equal the number on the outer square. A modern representation looks like a cross with ten and five in the center.

The legend says that Fu Xi created the pre-heaven bagua circle from his understanding of this arrangement.

In this arrangement the trigrams across from each other represent opposites, much like the even and odd numbers oppose each other on the diagram. A later method of divination associated the numbers on the outer edge of this arrangement to four values, or conditions, of yin and yang. Where six is Old Yin, seven is Young Yang, eight is Young Yin, and nine is Old Yang.

Yu the Great

Another legend associates the arrangement of the trigrams to Yu the Great. Yu is regarded as the founder of the Xia Dynasty (2205 – 1600 BCE) and inventor of flood control techniques. Yu was dedicated to flood control, passing by his house three times without going in, saying that he could not rest in his own home as long as the floods were leaving others homeless.

Yu reportedly saw this arrangement on the back of a tortoise from the Lou River. The dots are unitary (base one) representations of the integers one through nine. The odd and even numbers alternate in the pattern’s periphery, the four even numbers are at the four corners, and the five odd numbers form a cross in the center of the square. The sums in each of the three rows, in each of the three columns, and in both diagonals, is fifteen. Fifteen is the number of days in each of the twenty-four cycles of the Chinese solar calendar. Since five is in the center, the sum of any two cells opposite each other is ten. The pattern’s modern representation is a magic square.


Troy Williams

Troy Williams is a technology and science fiction nerd. The Fundamentals, was his first work of science fiction and there are many more stories in The Fundamental’s Universe. At his day job, he is a web and application developer experienced at coding and managing projects as small as an individual’s website to large enterprise integrations.

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