1 comments 30 October 2008

Presentation for the course Understanding Chinese Medicine 理解传统中医药
Xiamen University, Ruben Verwaal

Man and Nature in Harmony

The philosophical basis for TCM is the holistic principle of integration of man and nature: the human body is regarded as a whole, and man and nature are regarded as a whole (e.g. the circulation of blood and qi through the body and to the flow of water and rivers in the natural world). Natural disasters and diseases of the human body reflect the lack of harmony between man and the world.


Heaven and Earth were composed of the same substance qi. Mencius: the ‘gentleman’ cultivates qi within himself, which is sufficiently refined to bridge the gab between Heaven and Earth, making the cosmos a balanced whole.

Han Confucianism and the theory of ‘Five Elements’: Heaven employs the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water; and there exist systematic correspondences between these elements and human life. For example, fathers stand to sons in the ‘begetting’ relation of soil to metal, so that an improper paternal relationship would be ‘unnatural.’

Heaven had the yin and yang, while human nature is composed of ‘congenital goodness’ (yang feature) and ‘natural emotions’ (yin feature); thus harmony between the self and Heaven.

气 (, air, breath): the extremely fine and tiniest substance of the universe.
阴阳 (yīn yáng): two opposite principles of the universe. Yin (feminine, moon, shade) is characterised as passive, earth, cold. Yang (male, sun, positive) is characterised by heaven, light, heat. The opposition is relative, not absolute.
五行 (wǔxíng, five elements): wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These elements are the basic properties of five categories of substances in nature.

The Huángdì Nei Jing《黄帝内经》(Yellow Emperor's Interiors Classic) is from around the Warring States period. The book is written in conversation between the Yellow Emperor and his ministers Qi Bo, Lei Gong and Bo Gao. They discuss the different ideas in medicine: either to adopt the theory of the Five Elements or yin yang.
Also the Huángdì Bāshíyī Nanjing《黄帝八十一难经》 (Yellow Emperor's 81 Difficult Issues Classic) is written as a conversation, compiled in the late Western Han dynasty. Nanjing (Difficult Issues) studies medicine by combining the theories of qi, yin yang and Five Elements together, rather than separate, and by applying pulse diagnosis, channels, and zang fu organs with manifestations with the qi, yin yang, and the Five Elements.

Some Questions:

- “The study of functions and relationships of the five zàng systems can not be confined to the theory of five elements which only works as a naive theoretical tool of TCM” (p. 237). To what extent is the practice of TCM dependent on the theories of qi, yin yang, and the Five Elements?

- The philosophical theories provide explanations to the practice of TCM. Have these theories led to new medical practices and know-how? Are the philosophical theories actually contributing to the medical practice, or are they just means of remembering symptoms and treatments?

- If so, could we simply add a fourth theory in case the theories of qi, yin yang and the Five Elements fall short? In other words, what is the justification for using these three in particular?

2 comments 07 October 2008

An enjoyable read and exciting theory: that the Chinese fleet of the early 15th century would have travelled all the way to Italy and would have ignited the Renaissance. I am halfway now, but no single proof have been offered yet, only more hypotheses.