Arts & Culture 
 Human Rights 
 U.S. Asian Policy 

Home > East Asia > 

Origins of Chinese wisdom of wellness
Daniel Monti, M.D., and Jingduan Yang, M.D.

Working in a university-based integrative medicine program, we have observed a tremendous surge in attention to and use of Classic Chinese medicine (CCM), which in part may be due to greater availability of CCM modalities and increased research reports validating the efficacy of CCM, especially when used in conjunction with conventional Western Medicine.

There are now numerous studies that have shown that CCM techniques can be very helpful for a wide variety of pain problems such as headaches, and that certain illness populations such as cancer patients can achieve symptom relief of things like chemotherapy-induced nausea. There are many other examples as well.

However, one of the difficulties for people in the Western world is an understanding of what CCM is, where it came from, and how its different components are related. Those questions are sometimes a challenge even for people in the East, especially because we do not really know when in time CCM began; the roots are definitely before recorded history. The earliest recordings are very interesting and give us a sense of the foundation of CCM.

As we take a look at them, it is important to keep in mind that CCM comes from a broad philosophy of life, and that well-known techniques such as acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Tai Chi, I-chin and Feng Shui are derived from this larger framework. Sometimes there is a tendency with these modalities to cut them away from the holistic framework that founded them.

So, letís take a look at this broader framework by briefly exploring some of the early recordings and reviewing the basic philosophical concepts that define this all-encompassing framework of health, illness, contentment, spirituality; in essence life itself.

Letís start with the stories of He Tu and Lo Shu.

The Story of He Tu (The River Map)

Fu Hsi was believed to be the first of China's mythical emperors. His miraculous birth as a divine being with a serpent body is said to have occurred in the 29th Century BC.

One day, as Fu Hsi was sitting on the bank of the Yellow River, a mythical divine animal called Chi Lin rose out of the waters and approached him. On its back it carried certain markings that represented the secrets of life. The markings are organized in a pattern called He Tu, as shown below:

In this pattern, there are two kinds of dots, black dots, and white dots. The black one represents Yin, and the white one represents Yang. On each side, there are both White dots and black dots, which means Yin and Yang are always together.

This is the source of Yin/Yang theory that everything possesses a positive bright side (Yang) but at the same time has a negative dark side (Yin), that is often represented in the popular tai chi symbol. Yin and Yang are complementary and integrate with each other, and it is believed that harmony can only be achieved with a balance between the two. In this sense, the terms positive and negative are not meant to suggest good or bad, but rather the qualitative aspects of the two poles of energy within every living thing.

In this pattern, you can see that the dots are arranged in five distinct groups, each of which represents one of the five elements: water, fire, earth, wood, and metal and five directions. These five elements represent the material aspects of the universe. That is, every tangible thing in the universe is composed of one or more of these elements. More importantly, living things, such as human beings, are composed of all of the five elements. This is the source of five elements theory.

The clockwise direction of the overall pattern: starting from the center (Earth) to the West (Metal), then to the North (Water), then to the East (Wood), then to the South (Fire), then back to the Center (Earth), represents the cycle of birth.

In other words: Earth [5,10] produces Metal [4,9], Metal produces Water [1,6], Water nourishes Wood [3,8], Wood nourishes Fire [2,7], Fire produces Earth and so on).

© Copyright 2002-2007 AFAR