Autore della prima Enciclopedia Cinese per la Pratica
Sun Simiao is one of the most, if not the most, interesting
figures in the history of Chinese medicine. It is not too difficult to
support this judgment, even though biographical details of this Tang
physician are only fragmentary. In his lifetime, Sun Simiao was a famous
clinician and alchemist; to posterity, he left voluminous formularies that
have been influential until the present.
- Paul Unschuld, 2000
Medicine in China: Historical Artifacts and Images
Sun Simiao was born in the 6th Century, around 581 A.D., at
the beginning of the short-lived Sui Dynasty (581-618 A.D.) and just prior
to the unification of north and south China (589 A.D.). He carried out his
medical work and writing during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) and died in
682 A.D., having completed two 30-volume works on medical practice that
would establish his place as a central figure in the field of herbal
Sun Simiao has been worshipped as the "Medicine God" (actually,
the Medicine Buddha, a deity invoked during healing practices) or, more
commonly, as the "King of Medicine" (yaowang; referring to herb
medicines, yao). During the Ming Dynasty, in 1527 A.D., eight stone
tablets engraved with quotations from his works were erected in his
birthplace (Huayuan, in Yaoxian County, Shanxi Province) and to this day
there are activities each year in his hometown celebrating his memory. In
Beijing, a Temple to the King of Medicine was constructed; another temple to
Sun Simiao was built in Kiangxi.
His life story is relayed in numerous modern texts (2, 5, 6)
and articles (1), with the primary facts derived from the Tang Dynasty
history by Wei Zheng and its retellings and embellishments that have
survived to the present. Portions of his works have been translated to
English (see Appendix 1 for samples), including an entire work on Daoist
alchemical longevity prescriptions (11). Catherine Despeux, professor at the
National Institute of Oriental Language and Civilization in Paris, has
translated portions of his books on acupuncture and Taoism into French. Paul
Unschuld, head of the Institute for the History of Medicine at Munich
University, devoted considerable attention to Sun's position on medical
ethics (3) and the iconography of Sun's legend (16; see Figures 1-4).
It is said that Sun studied very hard and mastered various
Chinese classics by the age of 20. He had been sickly as a child and took up
medicine as an adult, strengthening his own health (though still suffering
various ailments), treating relatives and neighbors, and then practicing in
the countryside of Huguan, not far from the capital city of Chang'an. He
traveled great distances, perhaps as far as Sichuan province, to learn about
useful prescriptions. After gaining a great reputation and completing his
first book, he lived mostly in seclusion on Wubai Mountain (later to be
known as Medicine King Mountain, Yaowang Shan), where he followed
Taoist principles (Taoism was strongly supported during the Tang Dynasty)
and integrated them with Buddhism and Confucianism. Noblemen would come to
him to learn from his vast knowledge and experience. A cave where Sun lived
in Taoist retreat and received such visitors has long been the destination
of pilgrims; a pool where he is said to have washed herbs is located nearby.
Sun refused at least three official court positions offered
to him: by the Emperor Wendi of the Sui Dynasty and by the Emperors Taizong
and Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty. He preferred to provide treatment for
ordinary people in the rural setting, though he accompanied Emperor Gaozong
for a time. His medical orientation was described in an official history of
the Tang Dynasty, as relayed by Paul Unschuld (3): "His biography describes
him as an extraordinarily talented man, who devoted himself to the teachings
of the Yi Jing [I-Ching], of Lao Zi [Lao-tzu;
author of the Dao De Jing], and of the yin-yang philosophers,
and he also took an interest in the magical calculation of numbers." His
work emphasized the five elements and yin-yang systems of influences that
are based on correspondences between features of the external environment
and the internal structures and workings of the body. He is considered the
first to have presented issues related to ethics of medical treatment,
depicting the characteristics of a great physician and cautioning physicians
about behavior that was inappropriate to their profession. He was especially
concerned, as emphasized in Taoist philosophy, about physicians being
influenced by a desire for rewards, including financial rewards, fame, or
favors granted to them: they should not have these as their goal. Patients
should be treated equally, regardless of rank, wealth, age, or beauty.
Sun Simiao recorded his experience with herb formulas and
his knowledge of medicine in his famous 30 volume work, printed in 652 A.D.:
Prescriptions for Emergencies Worth a Thousand Gold (Beiji
Qianjin Yaofang), the title usually shortened to Prescriptions
Worth a Thousand Gold (Qianjin Yaofang). The book
presented life saving remedies, hence the title reflecting their great value
(i.e., a life is worth more than a thousand gold coins). A mystical origin
was attributed to some of the formulas, as with this story from the Song
Dynasty (660-1279 A.D.): Sun Simiao once saved the dragon of the Kunming
Lake (in Yunnan Province) and, as a reward, got 30 magical recipes from the
The Qianjin Yaofang was not merely a
collection of formulas (of which there were an astonishing 4,500), but a
treatise on medical practice that reviewed the work since the Han Dynasty,
starting with the concepts of the Neijing (ca. 100 B.C.). He
included treatises on acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, diet, and exercises.
So comprehensive in scope was this treatise that later authorities declared
it the first encyclopedia of clinical practice.
Sun Simiao is probably best known for his intense interest
in the identification and preparation of herbs and his definitive work with
formulation principles. He emphasized the importance of gathering herbs at
the right time, saying: "If you do not know the proper seasons when they
should be placed in the shade or in the sun to dry, the result will be that
you know their names but do not obtain their intended effects. If you gather
them at an improper time, they will be good for nothing just like rotten
wood, and you will have made a futile effort." Further, he insisted that the
herbs must be from the genuine source, saying: "Without knowing where the
medicines are from, and whether or not they are genuine and fresh, they
cannot cure five or six patients out of ten." He described 519 different
genuine medicinal materials that could be found in 133 counties (prefectures).
The formulas he collected came from both famous physicians of the past and
from numerous contemporary physicians, including those of minority groups
and even foreigners. He paired down formulas to get rid of extraneous
ingredients, with most of his published formulas having only 4-12
His book gave special attention to treatment of women and
children, with the first three volumes devoted to woman's disorders (including
pregnancy and post-partum disorders) and the next two about diseases of
infants and about breast-feeding. His work was relied upon as a basis by the
famous Song Dynasty specialists in gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics
who influenced all subsequent work on these subjects.
A second book by Sun Simiao is a supplement to his early
one: it is called Qianjin Yifang. The content is based on 30
years of subsequent experience with special attention to folk remedies; it
was printed at the end of his life in 682 A.D. This work of 30 volumes also
serves as a Materia Medica with 800 medicinal materials, providing details
about the collection and preparation of 200 of them. He presented some new
herbs, especially ones from foreign countries, notably from India (the
source of the Buddhist tradition that he pursued), from whence came
Terminalia chebula (hezi). Two volumes were devoted to study of
the formulas and treatment strategies of the Shanghan Lun (ca.
220 A.D.). In addition, the supplement presented about 2000 more formulas,
though these have not been studied and retained by future generations to the
extent of the formulas from the earlier text. Sun's second book also
included considerable reference to mystical and magical practices, such as
exorcisms. He mentioned 32 drugs that were said to be effective against
demons, and he carefully described the 13 acupuncture points that were known
as demon-releasing points. The last two volumes included talismans, amulets,
and incantations. Both of Sun's books are still reprinted today, compiled as
one: the Qianjin Fang.
Although the information about medical practice that he
recorded influenced all subsequent generations of Chinese scholar-physicians,
today, the main legacy is a small number of his formulations (see Appendix
2). The formula best known to Western practitioners, and still widely used
in China, is Duhuo Jisheng Tang (Tu-hou and Loranthus Combination), a
prescription used for pain syndromes affecting the lower back and legs (see:
therapies for sciatica and lumbago). A formula frequently referenced
in China and used as a basis of numerous formulations used in modern times
is Xijiao Dihuang Tang (Rhino and Rehmannia Combination), a
prescription for blood-heat syndrome causing bleeding from the nose and
mouth or causing severe mental distress.
Sun Simiao is credited with recognizing that goiter occurred
in mountainous regions and could be cured by prescribing both seaweeds (which
contain iodine) and thyroid glands (which contain thyroid hormone) from deer
and sheep. He successfully treated night blindness with livers from oxen and
sheep, which contain vitamin A, and treated beriberi (leg edema due to
vitamin B1 deficiency) by using unpolished rice (the outer layer
of rice and other grains are rich in B vitamins), based on Buddhist
practices from India. Sun also contributed to the utilization of placenta
for treatment of weakness as well as for regulating menstruation and
relieving difficult labor. He presented 25 formulas for treatment of
malaria, 17 of them containing changshan (dichroa). Some Chinese
authorities have suggested that Sun Simiao authored the ophthalmology
classic Yinhai Jingwei, but the evidence supports a much later date
for the work, at least during the Song Dynasty, perhaps afterward (7).
Nonetheless, Sun devoted an entire volume of his work to ophthalmology and
is credited with being the first to elaborate the causes and treatments for
As to his general philosophy of health, he believed people
should keep moving, saying that "running water is never stale and a door
hinge does not become worm-eaten because they never stop moving." But, he
thought it was damaging to do too much hard labor, saying: "The way to keep
in good health lies in doing light work frequently without fatiguing
yourself doing what you cannot." He was an advocate of good nutrition,
having noted that many diseases were curable by consuming the proper foods
and that diseases could be caused by eating food that was uncooked, unclean,
or poisonous, or by overeating or not chewing one's food well. He advocated
the use of massage therapies, physical exercises, and breathing exercises.
Sun suggested that travelers should take with them some remedies and a
guidebook to formulas so that they could deal with emergencies that might
crop up, such as injuries, bites, skin sores, etc.
Taoist alchemists considered Sun the source of several works
on alchemy, and he is believed to have practiced alchemy on himself,
contributing to his lifespan of 101 years. The primary alchemical text
attributed to Sun is the Taiqing Danjing Yaojue (Essentials
of the Elixir Manuals for Oral Transmission; ca. 640 A.D.), which has
been translated by Nathan Sivin and presented along with an extensive
analysis of the historical records of Sun Simiao's life (11). Many of Sun's
alchemical formulas involved ingestion of metallic substances, such as
realgar and cinnabar.
According to the Taoist writer Shen Fen, in his book
Xu Xian Chuan (Further Biographies of the Immortals, ca. 930
A.D.), when Sun Simiao died, his body remained without decay for many weeks.
"After more than a month had passed, there was no change in his appearance,
and when the corpse was raised to be placed in the coffin, it was light as a
bundle of empty clothes. Truly, this was release from the mortal part."
Needham has speculated that Sun had been taking the mercury and arsenic
elixirs he had described in his last book, resulting in the preservation of
this body at death (14).
Only a few decades after his death, Sun's first book had a
strong influence on the Japanese practice of Chinese medicine, which had
become popular in the 8th Century. In the 10th century, a
Japanese physician compiled a book, the Ishimpo, largely based
on the Qianjin Fang, selecting 481 formulas from it. It became
a required textbook for the study of medicine in Japan.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND REFERENCES
- Zheng Bocheng, The King of Medicine: Sun Simiao, Journal of
Traditional Chinese Medicine 1986; 6(4): 210-211.
- Hsu HY and Peacher WG, Chen's History of Chinese Medical Science,
1977 Modern Drug Publishers, Co. Taipei, Taiwan.
- Unschuld PU, Medical Ethics in Imperial China, A Study in
Historical Anthropology, 1979 University of California Press, Berkeley,
- Furth C., A Flourishing Yin: Gender in China's Medical History,
960-1665, 1999 University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
- Chen Ping (editor in chief), History and Development of Traditional
Chinese Medicine, 1999 Science Press, Beijing.
- State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Advanced
Textbook on Traditional Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology, volume 1,
1995 New World Press, Beijing.
- Kovacs J and Unschuld PU (translators, annotators), Essential
Subtleties on the Silver Sea: The Yinhai Jingwei; A Chinese Classic on
Ophthalmology, 1998 University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
- Unschuld PU, Medicine in China: A History of Pharmaceutics,
1986 University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
- Unschuld PU, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, 1985
University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
- Wong KC and Wu LT, History of Chinese Medicine: Being a Chronicle
of Medical Happenings in China from Ancient Times to the Present Period,
1936 National Quarantine Service, Shanghai.
- Sivin N, Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies, 1968 Harvard
University Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Hsu HY and Hsu CS, Commonly Used Chinese Herbal Formulas Companion
Handbook, 2nd revised edition, 1997 Oriental Healing Arts
Institute, Long Beach, CA.
- Huang Binshan and Wang Yuxia (chief compilers), Thousand Formulas
and Thousand Herbs of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1993 Heilongjiang
Education Press, Harbin.
- Needham J, Science and Civilization in China, volume 5, number
2, 1974 Cambridge University Press, London.
- Kohn L, The Taoist Experience, 1993 State University of New
York Press, Albany, NY.
- Unschuld PU, Medicine in China: Historical Artifacts and Images,
2000 Prestel Verlag, Munich.
APPENDIX 1: Writings of Sun Simiao
The following is from a translation provided by
Paul Unschuld (3). The words are as valuable today as when they were written,
some 13 centuries ago.
The saying goes back to Chang Chan [4th Century]:
The difficult parts and the fine points in the [medical] classics and the
literature on the prescriptions date back to the distant past.
Nowadays, we have diseases that take a similar course with
different patients, yet from the outside they appear to be different; and
there are others that take a different course with different persons, yet
from the outside they appear to be similar. For this reason, it will never
suffice to examine exclusively with ears and eyes the symptoms of excess or
deficiency in the five zang and the six fu as well as the flow
or the blocking of the blood and the pulses, and the constructive and
protective qi [ying and wei]. In the first place, one has to
examine the symptoms of an illness, which can be felt in the pulses to
determine the specific ailment. Only someone who gives his undivided mental
attention can begin to elaborate on these symptoms. This undivided attention
must be given even to the last details which are related to the
irregularities in the depth and the marking of the various kinds of
pulsations, which condition the variations in the position of the
acupuncture points and which are responsible for the deviations in the
thickness and strength of the flesh and bones. Today, however, the
prevailing effort is to grasp the most subtle details with the crudest and
most superficial thought. This is truly dangerous!
If there is an excess and we still increase it; if there
exists a deficiency and even more is taken away; if a congestion prevails
and is further intensified; if there is a flow and still more is drained; if
there is a chill and further cooling is applied; and if in the case of heat
an increase in temperature is brought about, then the specific illness has
to deteriorate exceedingly. When there is still hope for life, I then see
the approach of death!
It has indeed never happened that spirits distributed the
understanding for the difficult aspects and the details which are necessary
for physicians, people versed in prescriptions, soothsayers, and magicians.
But how else can a person gain access to these secrets? At all times, fools
could be found who studied the prescriptions for three years and then they
simply maintained that there was no disease in the world which could not be
cured. Thereafter they treated diseases for three years and reached the
conclusion that there was no useful prescription in the world. Thence ensues
that it is absolutely necessary for the student to master the foundations of
medicine in its most general significance, and to work energetically and
unceasingly. He is not to gossip, but has to devote his words exclusively to
the medical teachings. Only then will he avoid errors.
Whenever a great physician treats diseases, he has to be
mentally calm and his disposition firm. He should not give way to wishes and
desires, but has to develop first a marked attitude of compassion. He should
commit himself firmly to the willingness to take the effort to save every
If someone seeks help because of illness, or on the ground
of another difficulty, a great physician should not pay attention to status,
wealth, or age; neither should he question whether the particular person is
attractive or unattractive, whether he is an enemy or a friend, whether he
is Chinese or a foreigner, or finally, whether he is uneducated or educated.
He should meet everyone on equal ground; he should always act as if he were
thinking of himself. He should not desire anything and should ignore all
consequences; he is not to ponder over his own fortune or misfortune and
thus preserve life and have compassion for it. He should look upon those who
have come to grief as if he himself had been struck, and he should
sympathize with them deep in his heart. Neither dangerous mountain passes
nor the time of day, neither weather conditions nor hunger, thirst nor
fatigue should keep him from helping whole-heartedly. Whoever acts in this
manner is a great physician for the living. Whoever acts contrary to these
demands is a great thief for those who still have their spirits!
From early times famous persons frequently used certain
living creatures for the treatment of diseases, in order to thus help others
in situations of need. To be sure, it is said: "Little esteem for the beast
and high esteem for man," but when love of life is concerned, man and animal
are equal. If one's cattle are mistreated, no use can be expected from it;
object and sentiments suffer equally. How much more applicable is this to
Whoever destroys life in order to save life places life at
an even greater distance. This is my good reason for the fact that I do not
suggest the use of any living creature as medicament in the present
collection of prescriptions. This does not concern the gadflies and the
leeches. They have already perished when they reach the market, and it is
therefore permissible to use them. As to the hen's eggs, we have to say the
following: before their content has been hatched out, they can be used in
very urgent cases. Otherwise, one should not burden oneself with this. To
avoid their use is a sign of great wisdom, but this will never be attained.
Whoever suffers from abominable things, such as ulcers or
diarrhea, will be looked upon with contempt by people. Yet even in such
cases, this is my view, an attitude of compassion, of sympathy, and of care
should develop; by no means should there arise an attitude of rejection.
Therefore, a great physician should possess a clear mind in
order to look at himself; he should make a dignified appearance, neither
luminous nor somber. It is his duty to reduce diseases and to diagnose
sufferings and for this purpose to examine carefully the external
indications and the symptoms appearing in the pulse. He has to include all
the details, and should not overlook anything. In the decision over the
subsequent treatment with acupuncture or with medicaments, nothing should
occur that is contrary to regulations. The saying goes: "In case of a
disease, one has to help quickly," yet it is nevertheless indispensable to
acquaint oneself fully with the particular situation so that there remain no
doubts. It is important that the examination be carried out with
perseverance. Wherever someone's life is at stake, one should neither act
hastily, nor rely on one's own superiority and ability, and least of all
keep one's own reputation in mind. This would not correspond to the demands
In visiting the sick, whatever beautiful silks and fabrics
fill the eye, the physician is not allowed to look out for them either to
the left or to the right. Where the sounds of string instruments and
instruments of bamboo fill the ear, he should not evoke the impression that
he delights in them. Where delicious food is offered in stunning succession,
he is to eat as if he experienced no taste. Finally, where liquors are
placed one next to the other, he will look at them as if they did not exist.
Such manners have their origin in the assumption that if one single guest is
not contented, the whole party cannot be merry. A patient's aches and pains
release one from this obligation less than ever! However, if a physician is
tranquil and engrossed in merry thoughts, in addition to being conceited and
complacent, this is shameful for any human frame of mind. Such conduct is
not suitable to man and conceals the true meaning of medicine.
According to the reputations of medicine, it is not
permissible to be talkative and make provocative speeches, to make fun of
others and raise one's voice, to decide over right and wrong, and to discuss
other people and their business. Finally, it is inappropriate to emphasize
one's reputation, to belittle the rest of the physicians, and to praise
one's own virtue. Indeed, in actual life someone who has accidentally healed
a disease then strides around with his head raised, shows conceit, and
announces that no one in the entire world could measure up to him. In this
respect, all physicians are evidently incurable!
Lao Zi has said: When the conduct of men visibly reveals
virtue, the humans themselves will reward it. If, however, men commit
virtues secretly, the spirits will reward them. When the conduct of men
visibly reveals misdeeds, the humans themselves will take retribution. If,
however, men commit their misdeeds secretly, the spirits will take
retribution. When comparing these alternatives and the respective rewards
that will be given in the time after this life and still during this life,
how could one ever make a wrong decision?
Consequently, physicians should not rely on their own
excellence, neither should they strive with their whole heart for material
goods. On the contrary, they should develop an attitude of good will. If
they move on the right path, concealed from the eyes of their contemporaries,
they will receive great happiness as a reward without asking for it. The
wealth of others should not be the reason to prescribe precious and
expensive drugs, and thus make the access to help more difficult and
underscore one's own merits and abilities. Such conduct has to be regarded
as contrary to the teaching of magnanimity. The object is help. Therefore, I
enter into all the problems in such detail here. Who ever studies medicine
should not consider these problems insignificant!
The next quotation is derived from the section
of Sun's book that was devoted to women's disorders (there were a total of
three chapters on this subject, all presented at the beginning of his book).
According to Charlotte Furth (4), "almost every important writer on the
subject [of women's disorders] quoted some or all of Sun's compelling
account of the female medical body." Here is Furth's translation:
It is said that the reason there are separate
prescriptions for women is because they get pregnant, give birth, and suffer
form uterine damage. This is why women's disorders are ten times more
difficult to cure than those of males. The Classic [Neijing]
says: "women are a gathering place for yin influences, swelling in dampness."
From the age of fourteen on, their yin qi wells up and a hundred thoughts
run through their minds, damaging their organ systems within and ruining
their beauty without. Their monthly courses flow out or are retained within,
now early, now late, stagnating and congesting blood, and interrupting the
function of the central pathways. The injuries from this cannot be
enumerated in words. Internal organs are now cold, now hot, now replete, now
depleted. Bad blood within leaks out, and meridians are used up and drained
empty. Sometimes immoderate diet causes damage, sometimes they have sexual
intercourse before their [vaginal] itching sores have healed. Sometimes as
they relieve themselves at the privy, wind from below enters, causing the
twelve chronic illnesses. All of this is why women have separate
prescriptions. If an illness is due to the qi of the four seasons, or to the
divisions of day and night, or to imbalance of cold and heat, or of
repletion or depletion, it is no different from that of men; only potent
medicines are to be avoided if they fall ill when pregnant. For
miscellaneous disorders that are the same in women and men, one should
consult the main chapters of this work. Nonetheless, females' longings and
desires are more intense than those of their husbands, and they are more
frequently stimulated to become ill. Add to this that in women envy and
dislike, compassion and love, grief and sorrow, attachments and aversions
are all especially stubborn and deep-seated. They cannot themselves control
these emotions and from this the roots of their illnesses are deep, and
their cure is difficult.
Following is a portion of Sun's Taoist text
Cunshen Lianqi Ming (Visualization of Spirit and Refinement of
Qi), translated by Kohn (15):
The body is the habitation of spirit [shen] and qi. As long
as spirit and qi are there, the body is healthy and strong. As soon as
spirit and qi scatter, the body dies. Therefore, if you wish to preserve
yourself whole, first calm spirit and qi. Understand: qi is the mother of
spirit; spirit is the son of qi. Only when qi and spirit are together can
you live long and not die.
If you, therefore, wish to calm spirit, first refine
primordial qi. When this refined qi resides in the body, spirit is calm and
qi is like an ocean. With the sea of qi full to overflowing, the mind [heart]
is calm and the spirit stable. When this stability is not disturbed, body
and mind are gathered in tranquility. Tranquility then attains to
concentration, and the body continues to exist for years eternal.
Just stay all the time with the deep source of the Tao,
and you will naturally become a sage. Then qi pervades spirit and all mental
projections; spirit pervades all insight and destiny. With destiny
established and the body preserved, you can unite both with your true inner
nature. Then you will reach an age as old as the sun and moon. Your Tao is
This introductory section follows the typical Taoist
description of cultivating qi in order to calm spirit, and in tranquility
gaining longevity. It is followed by instructions for meditation (persistent
focus of the mind, especially on the cinnabar field, dantian, just
below the naval). Five phases of the mind are described by Sun, starting
with the agitated mind, and then progressing to greater degrees of
tranquility. Having attained tranquility, there are then seven phases of the
body that one can pass through. These begin with the healing of diseases,
followed by recovery of youth, extension of the life span, refining the
physical form to a radiant body, further refinement to pure spirit,
unification of spirit with the world, and, finally, going beyond all beings
to reside in the numinous realm. As to how these refinements of the body are
to be accomplished, nothing is said, but the practitioner is warned to
diligently study the Tao and follow the orally transmitted teachings, which
are never written down.
The next quotes come from the section of Sun's book on
eye disorders, presented by Kovacs and Unschuld (7):
All people older than 45 years have the feeling of a
gradual decrease in vision. After the age of sixty, vision gradually
brightens up again. Therapeutic patterns are such that prior to age fifty it
is advisable to take the 'decoction to drain the liver' [Xiegan Tang].
After age fifty, one should no longer drain the liver. If an illness is in
the eyes, one can apply such medication as the 'powder with shidan' [Shidan
San]. In case there is no illness, this powder must not be applied
recklessly; rather, one should simply supplement the liver. If someone's
vision is obscured or blinded because of wind-heat in the liver, one should
moxa the liver transportation points and take several tens of doses of
decoctions, pill, or powders eliminating wind. This should bring relief.
Pathogenic causes of eye disorders listed by
Sun Simiao were these:
|consumption of the five spices in raw state
||to copy books for many years
|hot beverages and food
||to carve or engrave fine handicraft
|to eat hot wheat-based food
||to play chess without pause
|to drink wine without end
||to stay with a smoking fire for long
|unrestrained sexual activity
||to weep excessively
|to overexert the eyes by looking into the distance
||excessive bleeding after the head was acupunctured
|to often look into the sun or moon
||fast riding and hunting
|to look into the fire of the stars at night
||braving wind and frost
|to read small script during the night
||pursuing wild animals against the wind
|to read under the moonlight
||failure to rest day or night.
In modern terms, summarizing these causes, there is:
eye strain due to too much use of the eyes, especially in dim light;
overexposure to bright light (we can be reminded of how bright the moon and
stars appeared when the sky was completely dark at night); exposure to smoke
or to wind; consumption of hot and spicy foods; and poor lifestyle (including
smoking, drinking, excessive sexual activity, and not enough rest).
The next section comes from Sun's volume on dietary
therapy, translated by Paul Unschuld (8):
Zhang Zhongjing has said: For the human body to remain
in a healthy and balanced state, nothing else is required but to care about
its nourishment. By no means should drugs be consumed recklessly. The
strength of drugs is one-sided, and there are occasions where they are of
help. But, they can lead to an imbalance of the qi in man's zang
organs, and, consequently, an affliction will easily be acquired form
outside sources. Living beings have always depended on food to maintain
their life. But, at the same time, they are unaware of the fact that even
food has positive and negative aspects. Food is in daily use with all the
people, but one knows little about it. Water and fire are very near but
difficult to comprehend! I regretted this and have, therefore-when I had
spare time from my other writings-compiled a treatise on dietetic therapy
emphasizing harms and benefits that can result form the five tastes, in
order to inform our youth….Now, those who practice medicine must first
recognize the origin of an illness; they must know which violations have
caused the suffering. Then they must treat it with dietary means. If dietary
therapy does not cure the illness, only then can they employ drugs. The
nature of drugs is violent, just like that of the imperial soldiers. Because
the soldiers are so wild, how could anybody deploy them recklessly? If they
are deployed inappropriately, harm and destruction will result everywhere.
Similarly, excessive calamities are the consequence if drugs are thrown
against illnesses carelessly.
The alarmist language about use of herbs may seem
strange given the very large number of herbs and formulas described in his
books. However, if one examines his formulas (especially those that are no
longer relied upon today), it is evident that he tended to rely on herbs of
somewhat extreme nature: very cold, very hot, purging herbs, diaphoretic
herbs, etc. Thus, he aimed at having highly effective drugs that must be
given with great care, and usually used for emergency situations or when
dietary therapies have failed.
APPENDIX 2: Some Formulas of Sun Simiao Referenced in Modern Texts
Following are formulas from Sun Simiao's Qianjin
Yaofang (and two formulas from Qianjin Yifang), from
texts on traditional Chinese medicine published in recent times. Formulas
that have an English common name in parentheses are from Commonly Used
Chinese Herb Formulas will Illustrations Companion Guide (12) and the
others are from Thousand Formulas and Thousand Herbs of Traditional
Chinese Medicine (13). In a few cases, the formulas are presented in
both books. They have been organized here by therapeutic pattern.
- Zi Yuan (Croton and Hematite Formula) with croton, hematite,
apricot seed, and kaolin; used for abdominal edematous distention in
persons who suffer damage from improper eating. This formula alleviates
constipation, purges fluids, and lowers rising qi.
- Wenpi Tang with rhubarb, mirabilitum, aconite, dry ginger,
ginseng licorice, tang-kuei; for spleen yang deficiency with abdominal
pain and constipation.
- Sanhuang Tang, with rhubarb, scute, gardenia, and licorice;
used for heat in the lower warmer with constipation.
- Qianjin Danggui Tang (Tang-kuei Combination): with tang-kuei,
cinnamon, zanthoxylum, dry ginger, licorice, pinellia, magnolia bark,
ginseng, astragalus, and peony; used for cold spleen/stomach with pain in
the chest and/or abdomen.
- Jianzhong Tang (Hoelen and Jujube Combination) with hoelen,
dried ginger, cinnamon, licorice, peony, jujube, and pinellia; used for
cold in the spleen and stomach causing belching, vomiting, and/or stomach
- Duzhong Jiu, with eucommia, photinia, chiang-huo, and aconite,
prepared as a wine; for rheumatic pain in lower back and/or knees in
persons with cold of spleen and kidney.
- Xiao Xuming Tang (Ma-huang and Peony Combination) with ma-huang,
apricot seed, cinnamon, peony, fresh ginger, ginseng, licorice, cnidium,
siler, stephania, aconite, and scute; used for invasion of wind-cold that
causes paralysis, unconsciousness, mental confusion, and/or spasms.
- Duhuo Jisheng Tang (Tu-huo and Loranthus Combination) with
tu-huo, loranthus, chin-chiu, siler, asarum, cinnamon bark, eucommia,
rehmannia, achyranthes, tang-kuei, peony, cnidium, ginseng, hoelen, and
licorice; used for bi syndrome (specifically wind-damp-cold affecting the
lower back and legs) in persons with deficiency of liver and kidney.
Treatments for Diarrhea
- Zhujiu Wan with coptis, dry ginger, tang-kuei, and gelatin,
prepared as a pill; for diarrhea due to damp-heat.
- Zhuchi Baili Fang with kaolin, dragon bone, dry ginger, and
coptis; for diarrhea of all types.
Pregnancy and Post-partum Formulas
- Zhuli Tang with bamboo sap, siler, scute, ophiopogon, and
hoelen; for restlessness and irritability during pregnancy.
- Neibu Danggui Jianzhong Tang with tang-kuei, peony, fresh
ginger, licorice, cinnamon bark, and jujube (this is Cinnamon Combination
from the Shanghan Lun with cinnamon bark substituted for
cinnamon twig and tang-kuei added); used for post-partum deficiency with
- Anxin Tang with polygala, licorice, ginseng hoelen, tang-kuei,
peony, ophiopogon, and jujube; used for postpartum mental distress
accompanied by shortness of breath.
- Dahuang Tang with rhubarb, tang-kuei, licorice, fresh ginger,
moutan, peony, evodia; used for post-partum leukorrhea.
- Weijing Tang with coix, persica, benincasa, and phragmites;
used for cough with pulmonary abscess.
- Feishang Tang with ginseng, dry ginger, cinnamon bark, gelatin
aster, maltose, rehmannia, and morus; used to treat lung insufficiency
with shortness of breath and coughing. [from Qianjin Yifang]
Miscellaneous Other Formulas
- Xijiao Dihuang Tang (Rhino and Rehmannia Formula) with rhino
horn (substituted today by buffalo horn), raw rehmannia, red peony, and
moutan; used for heat in the blood causing bleeding, especially hemoptysis
and nose bleeds; also for febrile diseases causing mental disturbance.
- Changyong Tang (Coix and Persica Combination) with coix,
persica, moutan, and benincasa; used for hot mass in the abdomen (infection
- Huanshao Dan with rehmannia, cistanche, altaica, eucommia,
morus, cornus, lycium, schizandra, achyranthes, morinda, dioscorea, hoelen,
polygala, and fennel, made as honey pills; used for kidney deficiency
syndrome with symptoms such as lumbar pain, dizziness, blurred vision,
hair loss, poor memory, and heart palpitation.
- Danggui Jianzhong Tang with tang-kuei, cinnamon, peony, baked
licorice, fresh ginger, jujube and maltose (this is Cinnamon Combination
from the Shanghan Lun with tang-kuei and maltose added); for
abdominal cramps dues to deficiency syndrome of spleen and stomach with
blood deficiency. [from Qianjin Yifang]
The following figures are from books by Paul Unschuld
(8, 16). Most often, Sun Simiao is depicted with a tiger below, representing
yin, and a dragon above, representing yang. His Taoist skills are
illustrated by this command of the yin and yang forces.
Figure 1: Wooden statue of Sun Simiao as the Medicine God, seated on
a tiger and holding a dragon above him.
Figure 2: 19th Century painting of Sun Simiao (left) in
dialogue. He sits on a tiger and a dragon is held in his left hand.
Figure 3: Painting of Sun Simiao depicting him as a serious scholar.
Figure 4: Qing Dynasty illustration of Sun Simiao (center)
demonstrating his complete control of the tiger and dragon.