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The Chinese Medicine for Dummies

Updated on June 7, 2012

 Chinese medicine dated back to its early civilization more than 4500 years ago. It was based on the empirical knowledge collected and refined by the people who treated illness and sickness at the time. The empirical knowledge was first documented in a medical treatise in 200 BC called the Huang Ti Nei Ching. It consisted of two parts, namely, the Su Wen – simple questions of the Emperor Huang Ti and the Ling Shu – on the usage of Acupuncture. What made Chinese medicine unique, long lasting, and useful even to the present day was the philosophical ideas that explained and enhanced its workings.

 Philosophical Ideas

Chinese saw themselves as an integral part of Nature. They observed how Nature regulated the alternating and opposing forces of day and night, drought and flood, heat and cold, decay and rejuvenation in order to make life possible on Earth. When one of the opposing forces dominating, disaster and chaos usually ensued. Chinese deduced that the same force was running inside their bodies maintaining the equilibrium between the opposing energies that they called Yang and Ying. When one was dominating, the body would be susceptible to internal illness or sickness from the outside world.

There are 12 vital organs in the body to keep people alive. Chinese designated the 6 vital organs – large and small intestines, stomach, urinary and gall bladder, triple warmer - that process food and excrete waste - as Yang. The 6 vital organs – heart, lung, liver, spleen, kidneys, heart governor - that convert food to energy and store it as Ying. Chinese observed that the life force flowed through the 12 vital organs in the timeline and order in a 24 hour period as described below.

1 am – 3 am Liver                      1 pm – 3 pm Small Intestine

3 am – 5 am Lungs                    3 pm – 5 pm Urinary Bladder

5 am – 7 am Large Intestine      5 pm – 7 pm Kidneys

7 am – 9 am Stomach               7 pm – 9 pm Heart Governor

9 am – 11 am Spleen                9 pm – 11 pm Triple Warmer

11 am – 1 pm Heart                11 pm – 1 am Gall Bladder

Since the proper functioning of each organ was crucial to the overall health of the body, Chinese medicine devised the following 3 methods to detect and regulate any abnormality that the organs were behaving.

Pulse Examination

Chinese had detected that when organs were not functioning properly, the symptoms would manifest themselves in the irregular pulse beats in the wrists of each hand. There are 14 different pulses that can be felt at the styloid process of the radius on the radial artery. Each pulse corresponds to a specific organ. There are 6 pulses on the left wrist and 8 pulses on the right wrist. They can be felt with 3 fingers positioned on a resting hand by applying different pressures as described below.

(Left) Index Finger - superficial: Small Intestine, deep: Heart

(Left) Middle Finger - superficial: Gall Bladder, deep: Liver

(Left) Ring Finger - superficial: Urinary Bladder, deep: Kidneys

(Right) Index Finger - superficial: Large Intestine, deep: Lungs

(Right) Middle Finger - superficial: Stomach, deep: Spleen, Intermediate: Pancreas

(Right) Ring Finger - superficial: Triple Warmer, deep: Sex Organ, Intermediate: Heart Governor

 An experienced practitioner can discern the pulse beat’s rhythm, amplitude, and characteristics and deduces if an organ’s functional disorder is due to an excess of Ying or a deficiency of Yang energy and vice versa. However, the final diagnose will also depend on the examination of the patient’s physical signs and recent activities.


Chinese noticed that some organ disorders also showed up as discomfort in specific areas on the body’s skin. Stabbing the affected areas with sharp object brought relief to the disorders. Further, some rural physician observed that in time of war, patients were free from some long suffering ailments (like the back pain) when certain arrows inflicted on specific areas of the body were removed. Through trial and error, Chinese had discovered finite points of sensitivity for specific organ arranged in a line along the skin of the body. A total of 14 such lines called Jing or Meridian were defined over various part of the body as describe below.

1)     Lung meridian – begins at the left collarbone and ends at the left thumb.

2)     Large Intestine meridian – begins at the right index finger and ends besides the right nostril.

3)     Stomach meridian – begins at the right hairline of the head and ends at the right 2nd toe.

4)     Spleen meridian – begins at the left big toe and ends below the left armpit.

5)     Heart meridian – begins in the left armpit and ends at the tip of the left little finger.

6)     Small Intestine meridian – begins at the nail of the left little finger and ends in the left front ear.

7)     Urinary Bladder meridian – begins at the inner angel of left eye and ends at the left little toe tip.

8)     Kidneys meridian – begins at sole of the left foot and ends below the left collarbone.

9)     Heart Governor meridian – begins at the right breast and ends at the right middle finger tip.

10) Triple Warmer meridian – begins at the right middle finger tip and ends below the right eyebrow.

11) Gall Bladder meridian – begins at the left outer eye and ends at the second joint of the left 4th toe.

12) Liver meridian – begins at the right nail of the big toe and ends at the right 8th intercostals space.

13) Governing Vessel meridian – begins at the back’s tailbone and ends at the upper gum of the mouth.

14) Conception Vessel meridian – begins at the perineum and ends at the chin in the front of the body.

 By inserting sterilized, thin, and metallic needle at specific points and depth along the meridian, the Yang and Ying energy equilibrium can be adjusted. It was also found that applying heat at those points produces similar results. So, acupuncture refers to the use of either needle or heat at the points on the meridian to reestablish the organ’s Yang and Ying energy equilibrium to assist the organ to heal itself.

Herb Medicine

Chinese herb medicine is primarily based on plants, although some animal parts, insects, and minerals are also employed. The earliest known book - Shen Nong Roots and Shoots Treatise - that documented their properties and remedies were written around 2200 years ago. It contained 356 individual ingredients, their characteristics, and how each was prepared to be used in combination to treat ailments. It started out as a collection of local folklore on how certain plants having magical healing power. Later, the magic was dispelled through careful study employing techniques of taste, smell, and experiment. Formal schools were sanctioned by the imperial court to further the study of the old and the development of new medicine and their treatments of ailments. Today, a total of 11146 varieties of plant, 1581 varieties of animal part, and 80 varieties of mineral are documented to have disease fighting or healing properties.

Before the designated plants, animal parts, insects, or minerals can be used as medicine, they are cleaned with water, boiled, or steamed to rid of the impurity and toxicity. They are then dried, made into pill, paste, or powder for ease of application and long term storage. The herb medicine is prescribed as a complement to the acupuncture treatment, though some are used alone for certain illnesses and diseases. They are often prescribed in combinations according to the balance of the Ying and Yang energies and the action of each ingredient on the meridians.


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