”It is as profound as the Heaven and the Earth and as deep as the four great seas. If you can not understand this theory, you will remain muddled even if you were taught clearly.” (The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, 770BC-220AD)
The origin and formation of Chinese medicine came from social & cultural factors merging with ancient philosophical concepts from as early as the 21st century BC. The Yellow Emperors Internal Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing), The Classic of Questioning (Nan Jing), Treatise on Exogenous Febrile and Miscellaneous Diseases (Shang Han Za Bing Lun) and Classic of Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing) literatures combined represent the establishment of theoretical system of Chinese medicine.
Ancient physicians continually explored and expounded the theories contained within these four major books for generations to come and continues through to present day.
Improvements in trade, transport and communications, travelling monks and doctors lead to the infiltration of Chinese medicine books, theory and practice into many other countries and cultures. This gave rise to mutually beneficial exchanges which saw the Chinese gain new substances, new advances in medical techniques and perspectives on differing theories. India for instance benefited from herbs such as ephedra, ginseng and angelica.
The following is some of the Chinese medical classic literature and ancient medical physicians who have influenced the formation and development of Chinese medicine:
Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing):
The earliest extant work of Chinese medicine contains 162 chapters written by unknown authors within 2 volumes; Su Wen (Plain Questions) & Ling Shu (Miraculous Pivot). This set the framework for the theoretical system of Chinese medicine despite being written over hundreds of years (Spring-Autumn & Warring States ‘ East Han Dynasty 770BC-220AD). Even today the work is held in high regard due to its accuracy and is commonly regarded as having ‘symbolised the formation of the theoretical system of Traditional Chinese Medicine’ (NZ College of Chinese Medicine, 2015).
The importance of holism in regard to both mankind’s internal interconnected physiology and the external connection to our environment was emphasised by The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic. Whilst clarifying the Zang-Fu organs, their composition & distribution, channels & collaterals, it also incorporated ancient philosophical thought into medicine. This book also gave birth to rise to disease diagnosis, prevention & treatment.
Classic of Questioning (Nan Jing):
A question & answer styled book written by anonymous authors during the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), supplementary to Huang Di Nei Jing. It mainly comprised of 81 problems Nei Jing lacked. Nei Jing discussed channels and collaterals, Ming Med (life gate theory) and San Jiao theories which are expounded upon within Nan Jing. Ancient Chinese physicians gained direction to the clinical practice, as per Xue-sheng (2007).
Treatise on Exogenous Febrile & Miscellaneous Diseases (Shang Han Za Bing Lun):
Authored by Zhang Zhongjing, the ‘Sage of Medicine’, of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD). This can be divided into two books, Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Exogenous Febrile Diseases) and Jin Gui Yao Lue (Synopsis of Golden Chamber). The first clinical treatise of Traditional Chinese Medicine came from these books. His work contains theory, method, prescriptions and herbs, and founded a major theoretical system of syndrome differentiation & treatment (Xue-sheng, 2007).
Moxibustion Classic of the Eleven Channels of the Legs & Arms (Zu Bi Shi Yi Mai Jiu Jing) and Moxibustion Classic on the Eleven Yin & Yang Channels (Yin Yang Shi Yi Mai Jui Jing):
Found located in a tomb the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) in Changsha City, China, these two books written by unknown authors on silk scrolls were unearthed in 1973 . They are the earliest extant books explaining the theory of channels and collaterals.
A-B Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing):
The earliest extant detailed work on the science of acupuncture and moxibustion in China authored by Huang-fu Mi during the Jin Dynasty (265-420AD).
It comprises twelve volumes with 128 chapters and include 349 acupuncture points (49 individual points and 300 double points). His work was a compilation of material from the ancient books Plain Questions, Canon of Acupuncture and Essential of Points, Acupuncture and Moxibustion, which individually were incorrect, contained mistakes or differences and had missing information (China Internet Information Center, 2015).
As per China Internet Information Center (2015) is one of the most influential works in the history of acupuncture and moxibustion.
A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies (Zhouhou Beiji Fang):
Written during the Jin Dynasty (283-363AD) by Ge Hong who was a great physician, herbalist, alchemist and Taoist.
It contains 109 prescriptions applied to both acupuncture and moxibustion altogether, of which 99 prescriptions are about the latter. Indirect moxibustion therapy was first recorded in this book and there are as many as 7 other prescriptions about it, including therapies using salt, garlic, pepper, bread, beeswax, fermented soy beans, realgar and more (Yuan, 2013).
This book provides detail on earliest therapies in finger-pressure (Tuina), spine-pinching and indirect moxibustion.
A physician and surgeon of the late Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). Believing in simplicity, using only a few prescriptions and a couple of points for acupuncture, and is best known for his surgical operations and the use of mafeisan, an herbal anaesthetic formulation made from hemp and was the first in the world to further the Chinese knowledge of anatomy (Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc, 2015). He is also ascribed the authorship of now lost Classic of Moxibustion and Acupuncture Preserved in Pillow (Zhen Zhong Jiu Ci Jing).
He developed medical gymnastics named Wu Qin Xi (Five Animal Frolics), an exercise that imitates the physical movement of tigers, deer, monkeys, bears and birds and practiced Qi Gong.
In later times, a set of 34 paravertebral acupuncture points was named the “Hua Tuo Jiaji” in his honour. Hua is considered a shenyi and is worshiped as a medicinal god or immortal in Daoist temples. “Hua Tuo zaishi” (“Hua Tuo reincarnated”) is a term of respect for a highly skilled doctor (Hua Tuo – New World Encyclopedia, 2011)
A famous doctor of the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). His interest in medicine came from his ill health. He believed prevention was better that cure.
Best known works are Essential Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold Pieces (Qian Jin Yao Fang) and A Supplement to Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold Pieces (Qian Jin Yi Fang).
Renowned for his identification and treatment of deficiency disorders. Other advances made were in the areas of acupuncture, moxibustion and pharmacy, and stressed using the A-shi point, which is still used by acupuncturists today. His nickname was the ‘Herbal King’.
A pharmacist and naturalist of the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). He was born into a family of doctors in and spent much of his childhood in the mountains with his father acquiring a lot of knowledge on animals, plants and medicine.
Only three books of the ten he wrote survive.
Binhu’s Study on the Pulse has guided medical workers for generations, even through to today.
A Study of the Eight Extra Channels confirmed the basic methodology of diagnosis on the basis of analysis of the eight extra channels. It laid the foundation for Chinese theories on channels and clinical medicine (Chinadaily.com.cn, 2003).
The Compendium of Materia Medica made some outstanding advances. Flora and fauna classifications were recreated. Precise names, places of origin, curing properties and process methods of the medicinal materials were given. 374 new medicinal materials were included. It contains ten thousand recipes, most of which are newly recorded.
Since The Compendium of Materia Medica was originally published, it has been repeatedly reprinted over the last four centuries and translated into several languages. In the conference of the World Peace Council held in Vienna in 1951 Li Shizhen was unanimously honoured as an eminent cultural figure of the world (Chinadaily.com.cn, 2003).
The above, reflects some of the many advances in Chinese medicine. Social reform, war, philosophy, academic theory, interaction with other cultures and the development of other various disciplines over the centuries has formed Chinese medicine as we know it today.
I find it astonishing that the work carried out across thousands of years contains such incredible accuracy and detail. So much work carried out by the ancients to compile this information shows a level of understanding and depth of passion we still strive to achieve today.
Chen, J. K., & Chen, T. T. (2008). A Brief Biography of Hua Tuo. Art of Medicine Press.
China Internet Information Center. (2015). A Brief History of Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from China.org.cn: http://www.china.org.cn/english/MATERIAL/185663.htm
Chinadaily.com.cn. (2003). Li Shizhen. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from www1.chinaculture.org: http://www1.chinaculture.org/library/2008-02/01/content_26329.htm
Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. (2015). Hua Tuo. Retrieved February 17, 2015, from Encyclopaedia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1530857/Hua-Tuo
Hua Tuo – New World Encyclopedia. (2011, August 5). (Paragon House Publishers) Retrieved February 18, 2015, from Newworldencyclopedia.org: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Hua_Tuo
Integrated Chinese Medical Holdings Ltd. (n.d.). The Sui & Tang Dynasties. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from Shen-nong.com: http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/history/suitang.html
Integrated Chinese Medical Holdings Ltd. (2002). TCM History – The Sui & Tang Dynasties. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from Shen-nong.com: http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/history/suitang.html
Jiuzhang, M., & Lei, G. (2010). A General Introduction to Chinese Medicine. Boca Raton, Florida, USA: CRC Press.
Lu, H. C. (2005). Traditional Chinese Medicine. Toronto, Canada: Key Porter Books.
NZ College of Chinese Medicine. (2015, February 1). History of TCM. Auckland, New Zealand.
The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic. (770BC-220AD). China.
Wu, I. (Ed.). (2002, December 5). English Channel. Retrieved from CCTV.com: http://www.cctv.com/english/TouchChina/GloryofChineseCivilization/ScienceTechnology/20021205/100068.html
Xue-sheng, Z. (2007). Chinese Medicine Study Guide: Fundamentals. P.R. China: People’s Medical Publishing House.
Yuan, K. (2013). Ge Hong and Zhou Hou Bei Ji Fang. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from tcmfield.com: http://tcmfield.com/doctorsdynasty/2013-07-20/460.html

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