How Chinese Is ‘Chinese Medicine’?

  • Paul U. Unschuld
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine book series (LIME, volume 44)

Was Chinese medicine already familiar with the circulatory system before it was confronted with Western knowledge of physiology in the nineteenth century? We can safely assume so.

In handwritten Chinese medical texts from past centuries we find the notion that a ‘bloodworm’ is located in the body. The bloodworm has a head — a ‘blood head’. Like a train, the bloodworm passes through the entire body. In the course of 12 two-hour periods it passes through a system of pathways — one could also say blood vessels — which are marked by 365 points, comparable to train stations. However, the bloodworm does not stop at these points voluntarily. Authorities on this theory know just where to find the blood head at any given point during the day or night. They also know that by gently touching the ‘station’ at which the blood head has just arrived, they can bring the bloodworm to a stop. They do not have to apply great pressure to this point — quite the opposite. A chopstick, a calligraphy brush or a feather will suffice. Once the bloodworm has come to a stop, then the body in which it was moving is also condemned to a standstill. At this point it is possible to kill the victim or to set it back in motion. This particular knowledge is thus used only in combat; martial arts specialists pass it on from generation to generation.


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  1. 1.
    Ralf Moritz (1998) Konfuzianismus und die ‘Hundert Zeitalter’, in Ralf Moritz and Lee Ming-huei (eds.), Der Konfuzianismus. Ursprünge — Entwicklungen — Perspektive. Mitteldeutsche Studien zu Ostasien. 1. Leipzig, pp. 76–86.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Adapted from Wolfgang Bauer, China und die Hoffnung auf Glück, München, 1971, 65.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For the full account, please see Kim Taylor (2000) Medicine of Revolution: Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China (1945–1963). Dissertation, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For a more comprehensive treatment of this chapter's underlying thesis, see P.U. Unschuld (2003) Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen. Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London; and P.U. Unschuld (2003) Was ist Medizin? Westliche und ×stliche Wege der Heilkunst. München.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul U. Unschuld
    • 1
  1. 1.Professor, Horst-Goertz-Insititute for the TheoryHistory and Ethics of Chinese Life Sciences, Charité University Medical Centre BerlinGermany

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