Ancient Chinese Secret: The 8 Trigrams of Bagua

Illustration of the Chinese bagua or eight trigrams.

The eight trigrams of Bagua (八卦) pervade Chinese civilization. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

The 8 trigrams of Bagua (八卦) are a set of ancient symbols with mystical meanings. These symbols pervade Chinese civilization. The eight trigrams have influenced the development of many aspects: martial arts, fortune telling, fengshui, literature, religion, architecture, and philosophy are just some of the areas that are based on or influenced by the eight trigrams. The trigrams are pervasive because they represent Chinese cosmology. This cosmology has been used to understand the organization of life and the universe, and the many phenomena that occur. It is a system for organizing and understanding the forces of nature.

Each trigram has a name:

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A chart showing the Chinese names of the eight trigrams.
(Image: Aizhu Lu / Nspirement)

Each of trigram also corresponds to one of eight natural phenomena:

Diagram of 8 natural phenomenae associated with the Chinese 8 trigrams.
(Image: Aizhu Lu / Nspirement)

And one of eight parts of the human body:

Chart showing the 8 parts of the body associated with the Chinese 8 trigrams.
(Image: Aizhu Lu / Nspirement)

In the eight trigrams theory, nature represents the large universe, and the human body represents the small universe.

The construction of the 8 trigrams of Bagua

Each trigram consists of a combination of three lines. Each of these lines is either a broken line, representing yin, or an unbroken line, representing yang.

Drawing of the Taoist yin-yang symbol with the Chinese 8 trigrams of Bagua.
The 8 trigrams of Bagua. (Image: Aizhu Lu / Nspirement)
  • 乾 (qián) consists of three unbroken lines. It signifies Heaven. It is all yang. For a country, it is the head of state; for a family, it is the father.
  • 巽 (xún) consists of two unbroken lines and 1 broken line. It implies the wind.
  • 坎 (kǎn) consists of one broken line, one unbroken line, and one broken line. It can represent a sunken area, water, or an obstacle.
  • 艮 (gěn) consists of one unbroken line and two broken lines. It represents a mountain, and can also imply hardness or firmness.
  • 坤 (kūn) consists of three broken lines. It means earth or land. It is all yin. For a country, it is the queen; for a family, it is the mother.
  • 震 (zhèn) consists of two broken lines and one unbroken line. It implies thunder, shock, or terror.
  • 離 () consists of one unbroken line, one broken line, and one unbroken line. It implies fire.
  • 兌 (duì) consists of one broken line and two unbroken lines. It means speech or to speak.
  • Four of the eight trigrams are considered yang, which implies masculine and positive: 乾, 震, 坎, 艮
  • The other four are considered yin, implying female and negative: 坤, 巽, 離, 兌

The 8 trigrams of Bagua are an expression of the mysticism that runs through Chinese thinking, and what has developed from Chinese thought throughout the ages. Understanding the eight trigrams is believed to give a person the ability to know the past, the present, and to predict the future of a person, a country, or the entire world, or even the universe.

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