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Yellow Emperor's Internal Medicine

8 March 2008

There are four classic works in Chinese medicine: Yellow Emperor’s Internal Medicine (《黄帝内经》), Treatise on Febrile Diseases (《伤寒论》), Synopsis of Golden Chamber (《金匮要略》) and Doctrine for Seasonal Febrile Diseases (《温病条辨》). Among the four, Yellow Emperor’s Internal Medicine, believed to be first compiled during the Warring State period (475BC - 221BC), is the earliest and most influential in the Chinese Medicine field, which systematically formulated the doctrine of Chinese medicine.

Based on yin-yang principle and Five-agents theory (阴阳五行学说) derived from I Ching - Chinese comprehension of the fundamental laws of the universe and the philosophical groundwork for Chinese culture - The Internal Medicine drew upon the sophisticated knowledge of that time on pulse condition (脉象学说), visceral manifestation (藏象学说), meridian (经络学说), etiological (病因学说), pathogenesis (病机学说), pathognomy (病症学说), diagnostic methods (诊法), treatment determination (诊法), health preservation (养生学) and qi movement and manipulatoin (运气学).

The book consists of two parts, Simple Questions (《素问》) and Miraculous Pivot (《灵枢》). In the Simple Questions the big questions about the disposition and transformation of nature are pondered and explained, and the relationships between man and his natural environment are asked and answered, while the Miraculous Pivot presents detailed studies on the tangible internal organs and intangible qi channels in human body.

The view expressed in the book reflects an essential difference between Chinese medicine and that of the modern West. It does not see the world in a dumb version of black and white that sets man and nature in the opposing mode, nor does it keep going extreme, from a total self-denial to an absolute self-obsession. Instead, it considers man as an organic whole, regards him as a micro version of the universe, and appreciates the fact that different versions of the universes are mirroring one another.

Yin and yang - from the viewpoint of Yellow Emperor's medicine - represent the negative and the positive quality of each thing, and are the driving forces of all manifestations in the universe ever since the double expressions were split into existence from an united nothingness. As the relationship between the dual forces is highly volatile and incredibly dynamic, when human health is concerned, his wellbeing very much depends on the delicate balance between yin and yang.

According to Profession Zhang Qicheng (张其成), of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (北京中医药大学), there are four characteristics that set Chinese medical approach apart from the modern Western methodology:

Its mature and deep humanity, that regards patients not as assembled machines but human beings with emotions and spirits;

Its recognition of the distinctiveness of each individual, that requires not an standard response but unique handling of each case;

Its holistic approach to health issues that views illness not as an isolated incident but the event taken place in broad context and the consequence of all previous occurrences;

Its organic and dynamic comprehension of life that does not try to understand it exclusively through microscope in laboratory or autopsy on corpses but by way of direct observation and enquiry of people.

To best comprehend the Chinese medicine, as Professor Zhang believes, one will need to break out of the rigid confinement of the modern Western definition, as Chinese medicine is neither so-called social science nor supposed natural science. Chinese medicine IS Chinese medicine, which is something beyond the current scientific expressions.

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