So, we’ve established that the practice of Chinese medicine has a long and dynamic history—that’s why it’s still around and used actively today. Why and how Chinese medicine has such longevity has a lot to do with when and who brought about innovation and change. We’ve recognized that the when was during the Jin-Yuan period in 13th and 14th century China and the who—the Four Masters of Chinese medicine that lived and worked during this time. But who were they, what did they do and why were they so important?
Amongst the great political unrest of the Mongol Dynasty in the 13th century, where over nine rulers came to power in a short period of time, Chinese medicine improved. The Mongol rulers imposed restrictions on medical practices and began banning certain therapeutics. These changes instigated practitioners to innovate and find new methods. Seeking this progress in medicine was a personal mission for one of the Four Masters, Liu Wan-Su, who lived from 1120-1200. Liu Wan-Su, it is said, decided to immerse himself in medicine when his mother fell ill and later died after multiple failed attempts to secure treatment for her due to his family’s impoverished status.
Liu Wan-Su was a Neo-Confucianist– meaning he was influenced by the both the teachings of Daoism and Buddhism. His Daoist name was Xuan Tong, which translates to “Penetrate Mystery,” was very fitting given his zeal to deeply understand and demystify Chinese medicine. His commentaries and interest were primarily in discovering deeper meaning of the Nei Jing’s Su Wen. The Nei Jing is also commonly known as the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon. It is a Chinese medical text that has been treated as one of the fundamental doctrinal sources for Chinese medicine for more than two thousand years. The work is composed of two texts each containing eighty-one chapters in a question-and-answer format between the mythical Huangdi (Yellow Emperor) and a physician Qi-Bo.
The first of the two texts, the Su Wen (also known as Basic Questions) covers the theory and philosophical constructs of Chinese medicine in relation to causation, diagnosis and treatment of disease. Liu Wan-Su was trying to find and decipher the hidden messages in its teachings. Eventually, Liu Wan-Su developed his own style based on his rigorous studies. This has become known as “The Cooling School.”
His treatment strategies are based on the Five Elements and the Six Influences. Meaning, his system is based on how the predominate climatic factors of each season tend to generate certain types of pathogens that flourish during that particular time of the year. His focus was based on the belief that all pathogens whether they originally were caused by wind, dampness, summer heat, fire, dryness or cold would turn into heat when trapped inside the body. So his herbal focus was geared toward the eradication of hot and feverish, febrile diseases.
The Cooling School utilized cool and cold natured herbs in addition to spicy and sweet herbs to comprise most of his heat reducing formulas. Many of his formulas also included the use of talc, known in pin yin as hua shi. Hua shi is useful in promoting urination. This works as a strategy in removing excessive heat from the body by increasing urinary output. His most popular Chinese herbal formulas include Liu Yi San (Six to One Powder), Yi Yuan San (Powder to Benefit Vitality), Bi Yu San, and Gui Ling Gan Lu Yin (Cinnamon, Hoelen, and Licorice Combination)
While keeping the idea of the pathogenic fire in mind, Liu Wan-Su tailored his treatments – so if a weaker patient couldn’t handle a strong heat clearing medicinals, the herbs were modified carefully to ensure good results.
He believed that acupuncture should be gentle with very shallow needling. He emphasized using jing-well points which are acupuncture points located near the nail bed on both the fingers and toes. Liu Wan-Su’s use of jing-well points facilitated multiple strategies to include opening the sensory portals on the head, resuscitation of the yang, expulsion of pathogenic wind, and the removal of irritability and unsteadiness.
Liu Wan-Su was also a great proponent of self-cultivation. Through his teachings, he encouraged patents to seek personal enlightenment, enrichment and education to help lift one’s self but also to benefit society as a whole. He believed that in order to help a person to see the world differently and to be able to act differently was the manifestation and discipline of a steadfast practice.
Witness and observe to become a sage.
Be in a place of looking out while also looking inward.
Liu Wan-Su’s teachings still influence the way modern practitioners diagnose and treat disease. Although many modern diseases present as chronic and very complex, Li Wan-Su’s basic tenants around lifestyle counseling seem tailored to a modern hectic existence. His philosophy included an approach that centered on slowing down to appreciate the things around you, to open yourself to seeing things differently and to empower people to change themselves in order to change and eliminate disease. Sounds like sensible medical advice to me!