Chinese medicine and Western medicine are quite different over the basic philosophy and understanding of the human body. Western medicine takes a micro approach to diseases and uses anatomy as a source to provide evidence for its theories. Chinese medicine uses a more macro approach to describe the human body and its diseases. The phrase “The human body is a small universe” is commonly used in Chinese medicine scriptures as Chinese medicine tends to treat the body as a complete, inter-related system.
In Chinese medicine, the human body has 10 main internal organs. These 10 organs are the source of all chronic illness. The organs include heart, liver, spleen, lungs, kidney, small intestine, large intestine, stomach, gallbladder, and bladder. The pancreas is considered to be a part of the liver system because it does not have a corresponding meridian line. In Chinese medicine theory, each main internal organ has a corresponding set of meridian. The meridian lines are placed on either side of body and symmetrical to each other. Along the meridian lines, there are several points that are called acupuncture points. Through stimulating the acupuncture points, one can then stimulate the meridian lines and modulate internal organs’ conditions. Acupuncture therapy is a well known method where practitioners place needles on these acupuncture points in order to cure certain illnesses.
In recent years, Chinese doctors have performed open heart surgery under acupuncture anesthesia. The patient was conscious during the entire procedure and the surgery was a success. This successful operation further strengthens the argument that the meridian system and meridian points do exist.
In “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine,” it states that each internal organ’s meridian line is linked together with another internal organ’s meridian line. For instance, the heart meridian and the small intestine meridian are symmetrical along each arm. The lung meridian and large intestine meridian are also symmetrical, as well as the liver and gallbladder meridian, spleen and stomach meridian, and kidney and bladder meridian. What is interesting about the pairings is that each pair consists of an organ that is hollow and an organ that is solid. Large intestine, small intestine, stomach, gallbladder, and bladder are organs that are considered hollow and are often used as containers for the body. Heart, lungs, liver, spleen, and kidney are solid organs that contain mechanism apparatus. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine defines hollow organs as Fu and solid organs as Zang.
5 Zang: Heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidney.
5 Fu: Small intestine, large intestine, gallbladder, stomach, bladder.
Furthermore, the Emperor’s Classic states that each Zang organ corresponds to a Fu organ. This relationship is valuable during diagnosis as illness located in Zang organs may have originated from Fu organs and vise versa.
Corresponding Zang and Fu organs:
- Heart and small intestine
- Lungs and large intestine
- Liver and gallbladder
- Spleen and stomach
- Kidney and bladder
These corresponding relationships can be seen in many symptoms during illness. For instance, when a person catches a cold, Chinese medicine defines the symptoms as originated from lungs. Because lungs and large intestine are interrelated, during cold illness, the person will often experience symptoms of constipation. Another example is the enterovirus that is common in Taiwan during summer times. Using the system above, we can see that the heart and small intestine are interrelated. During summer times, the high temperature will cause the heart to increase activity, thus affecting the bacteria within the small intestine area. Using Chinese medicine, one can relieve the symptoms of enterovirus by stabilizing the heart activity through meridian.
The Emperor’s Classic interprets the human body system as a system that is made out of 10 organ sub systems. Each sub system includes the organ and its meridian. Moreover, each sub system is connected to another sub system through their meridian lines. Since the 2 interconnected sub systems react similarly to body changes, The Emperor’s Classic merges the 2 sub systems into 1, which means the entire body system can be divided into 5 sub systems. This classification made it easier for Chinese medicine practitioners to observe the relationships between body organs and utilize the body system model.
It is rather common to divide complex systems into 5 sub elements. For instance, I have been a business management consultant for many years; we can see this type of classification in business management. Any business can be divided in to 5 parts – production, sales, personnel, research and development, and financial affairs. Any change in any of the 5 elements will have an impact on the other 4 elements. The most important job of a business management consultant is to balance the 5 elements when they are imbalanced. Such job task is very similar to the one of a Chinese doctor.
The Emperor’s Classic explains that a healthy body is one that is balanced in the 5 sets of internal organs. Most illnesses are caused by imbalance within the organ systems and the most important part of healing is to restore such balance. The Zang and Fu terms in Chinese medicine not only the meridian system is similar to our everyday house lighting system. Each internal body organ can be considered as a light bulb within the lighting system. Meridian lines are similar to the wiring from the power supply to the light bulbs. Meridian points are similar to the light switches. A complete lighting system consists of the light bulb, the wiring, and the switches. When a light bulb is not responding, it could be that the power supply is malfunctioning. It could also be that the light switches are broken, or there could be something wrong with the wiring or even the light bulb itself. Similarly, when a body organ is malfunctioning, it could be because that the body’s power supply, or in this case, the body energy level is low. Or it could be that there are abnormal clogging near the meridian points (Light switches), or there could be clogging within the meridian lines (wiring), or it could be that there is something wrong with the organ itself (light bulb).
The knowledge of the meridian system allows Chinese doctors diagnosis illness and determines its original cause. For instance, when person experiences spasms in the foot area, the diagnosis from a modern doctor would most likely be focused on nerve damage or muscle sprain. A Chinese doctor however, in addition to modern doctor’s diagnosis, will determine which meridian line is related to the spasms according to the location of the spasms. Once the meridian line is determined, Chinese doctors can judge whether the spasm is caused by 1 of the 10 internal organs.
Besides the 5 Zang and 5 Fu meridian lines, there are several additional meridian lines according to The Emperor’s Classic. These meridians are the pericardium meridian which affects the viscosity of the fluid between the heart and the pericardium, the heart meridian that affects blood flow, and finally the “Three Jiao” meridian. Chinese medicine defines the chest area into 3 sections, upper Jiao, middle Jiao, and lower Jiao. The Three Jiao meridian affects the air flow within the chest cavity. Since the chest cavity shares the hollowness characteristic of a Fu organ, it is considered as the 6th Fu of the body. Thus, the term “Five Zang Six Fu” and the 12 related meridians became the common terms that Chinese people use to describe the human body.