The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor

【Classics & Concepts】Time:2023-01-23      Source:China.org      Views:170

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The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor is one of the earliest books found in the corpus of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It enunciates the systematic structure of the theoretical system of TCM and reflects the theoretical principles and academic thoughts associated with it. This theoretical system has formed the basis for the development of TCM since its establishment. Nearly all academic thoughts of many well-known medical masters and medical schools appearing during the history of TCM have grown out of the theoretical system of The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor. Consequently, it is one of the basic theoretical curriculums of TCM today.

All medical theories come from practice and, in turn, direct practice. Throughout the millennia, the great contributions of TCM to ensure the well-being of Chinese people depended on the theoretical system of The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor. Therefore, it received lavish attention from medical practitioners throughout Chinese history and was venerated as an ancestral work of physicians, not to mention being a compulsory classical work in TCM.


Times of Compilation and Its Author

Many historians and physicians throughout Chinese history studied and verified that the major contents of The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor had appeared in the Warring States Period (475 BC -- 221 BC). It had been added during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC -- 206 BC) and Han Dynasty (206 BC -- AD 24).

The Yellow Emperor is the legendary first ancestor of the Chinese nation, and many Chinese people are proud of being regarded as his offspring. Many Chinese living in earlier times ascribed all their culture to him. This book was titled with his name in order to lead it to fame and authority. The academic divergence of thoughts in this book sufficiently indicates that it is neither a work of a single individual, nor medical achievement of a certain period or a local region, but rather the summarization of experiences of many medical practitioners over a long time.


Components of the Book

The currently universal version of The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor encompasses two parts: The Plain Questions and The Divine Pivot. Each part has 81 articles. Thus, the book is composed of 162 articles.

Basic Academic Thoughts Found in the Theoretical System of The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor

The compilation of The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor established the unique theoretical system of TCM, and formed the basis for the development of TCM. According to the development regularity of medicines and the inference from the theoretical contents of The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor, this distinct system is based on anatomical knowledge, and directed by ancient philosophical thoughts. It was produced after long observation of life's phenomena, and proved repeatedly through medical practice. It developed gradually to form from perceptual cognition to rational knowledge and from scraps to comprehensiveness. Therefore, the theoretical system described in this work is under the guidance of ancient plain materialist dialectics, combining with the regularity of human life's activities. This system also presents a lot of significant theoretical principles and academic thoughts. They are also ideological ways that we must master when we study The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor. This theoretical system has two typical features, i.e., plain materialist dialectics and integral idea that man and nature are mutually corresponding.


Plain materialist dialectics

A. The "essential qi" is the source of the generation and formation of everything. The ancient Chinese philosophers regarded that the source of the cosmos was the essential qi. Everything in the world was produced by the essential qi, namely, original qi. The qi is an invisible materialistic element that forms everything. Of course, the "everything" also encompasses the human beings. Man is endowed with the essential qi from nature, and it is called qi, essential qi, vital qi, or original qi. The concept of qi permeated the medical field. This, the idea that everything consists of qi, is inevitably shown in The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor. The qi is not only the basic material that forms the body, but also the dynamic power of the body. The life's activities of human beings are the manifestations of movements of the qi. Different combinations of the qi may generate different things. So, according to different places an different functioning of the qi, different names of qi are determined, such as true qi, ancestral qi, nutritive qi, defensive qi, liver qi, spleen qi, heart qi, etc.

B. The materialism is highlighted. Prevailed the theories of yin-yang and the five elements in plain materialist dialectics, which were used to explain the changes of nature in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC -- 476 BC) and Warring States Period (475 BC -- 221 BC). It let more people become suspicious of the religious superstitions towards gods and ghosts. Life science was led to the realm of materialism.

C. The proposition that the life is antagonistic and united is prominent. Not only the body's structures but also life's activities are antagonistic and united, and too are man and nature. Everything has its two antagonistic and united sides, i.e., yin and yang. The antagonistic and united movements of the yin and yang push everything to develop forward incessantly, originating birth and death of everything.

D. Life is undergoing constant flux all the time. The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor regards the entity of nature, living things and diseases as not being motionless and still, but incessantly moving, developing and changing under the mutual actions of the yin and yang. Consequently, we should analyze and treat a disease with the idea of movement. This is the theoretical reference to syndrome identification and treatment determination in TCM.


The integral idea that man and nature are mutually corresponding

Man and nature are mutually corresponding. This is a unique feature of TCM that differs from almost all other world medicines. TCM regards the physiological processes and pathological changes of human beings are closely related to nature. Many things involved are put into correspondences organically, such as the waxing and waning of the yin an yang of nature; the five elements that constitute the world, i.e., wood, fire, soil, metal and water; the running of the sun and moon and stars. The climatic changes of spring, summer, autumn and winter; the spring generation, summer growth, autumn harvest, and winter storage; the human functional system in which the five zang-organs are the chief body, and such things, are linked up as well. The occultness and the intrinsic links of both the universe and human beings are incredibly demonstrated.


Chapter Sorting

The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor was compiled over 2,000 years ago. The language used in this book is archaic and laconic, and its expressions are gracious, far-reaching, and abstruse. The time when it was written is very distant. The book was copied again and again by hand. In ancient times people wrote on bamboo slips which were then tied together. Over the years the binding would sometimes fall apart and the slips would smudge or break. Therefore, pieces of the original text might become mixed up, incomprehensible or incomplete. This history gives us some difficulty in trying to study The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor.

In this book, all the contents are arranged in eight chapters, except for "acupuncture" and "five movements and six climatic qi". The eight chapters are respectively the yin-yang and the five elements, zang-organs and manifestations, channels and network-channels, pathogens and pathomechanisms, diseases and symptoms, diagnostic methods, therapeutic principles and methods, and health preservation.


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