Tales from the Practice of Medicine: A General Discussion on the Medical Arts

Dr. Li Defu

PureInsight | January 30, 2003

[PureInsight.org] In the first year of the reign of Zhengguan (627 AD) of the Tang Dynasty, Li Shimin became the emperor. He established schools in order to cure diseases. The word "doctor" was created then, referring to people who studied medicine. [In Chinese, doctor is made up of two characters, the first one is medicine, and the second is student.] In the 27th year of the reign of Xuanzong, Emperor Li Longji ordered the placement of 20 doctors in each county with over 100,000 households, and 12 in each county with less than 100,000. These doctors traveled about in their respective counties and cured people's illnesses. Then, the word "doctor" was imbued with a deeper meaning than the word "student," as it then referred to someone who engaged in medicine. This term is still used and known by everyday people today.

What is medicine? "Medicine is for curing diseases." The book, Records of Bringing Back to Life, says, "Medicine is the skill of keeping people alive." What is "being alive?" "It is the opposite of being dead." The book, Bringing Back to Life from Ten Thousand Diseases, says, "Medical skills, considered heavenly skills in ancient times, were originally for the purpose of saving people." The word "doctor" was for a person who cured diseases and saved patients. It was used as a general term for people engaging in medicine. There was no difference with regards to rank or wealth.

Sun Simiao, a famous Chinese doctor from the past, taught medicine with sincerity and a deep knowledge of his craft. He said, "When studying medicine, one must explore the origins of medicine and study with intensity and diligence." Xu Chunfu, a medical specialist in the Ming Dynasty, said, "Medicine has value based on one's knowledge. Without such knowledge, medical treatments will do the patient great harm." It means those with poor medical skills could injure people accidentally or even kill them. There is a saying in Chinese that states, "a tiny sickness might cause the patient to die. Yet a serious one might be cured. The subtle difference depends upon the doctors." Poor skills may kill people, but the two words, "knowledge" and "sincerity," can actually turn danger into safety and save the lives of seriously ill patients.

The ancients believed that in order to master the fundamental professional medical expertise, one must be content to lead a humble but virtuous life and must not admire fame and self-interest. A doctor who haggles over prices and puts profit before everything else does not care for his patient's safety. Whether rich or poor, patients should be treated in the same way.

Wan Quan, a famous pediatrician in the Ming Dynasty, had a foe named Hu Yuanxi, whose four-year-old son suffered from coughing up and spitting blood. Hu had been searching for famous doctors from all over, but none of them could cure the disease. He had no choice but to finally send for Wan Quan. Wan, aiming to save people, regardless of old grudges, immediately ran over to Hu's home and examined the child. After diagnosing the child, Wan sincerely told his old foe that the disease could be cured within a month. He wrote out a prescription right away. After the child took five doses of Wan Quan's prescription, his cough was reduced by seventy percent and his mouth and nose stopped bleeding. However, Hu Yuanxi felt that his son was recovering too slowly. He was always suspicious of Wan Quan, and believed that due to their old grudges Wan Quan might not be working diligently enough to help his child. He then decided to send for another doctor.

Thereupon, he sent for a man named Wan Shao. Normally speaking, Wan Quan would definitely leave and think nothing more of the issue. However, when others told Wan Quan that it was time for him to leave since Hu had already sent for another doctor, Wan Quan said that Hu had only one son and his illness could be cured by no one but Wan Quan himself. If he left, Hu would not send for him again, and it would negatively affect the child. Although technically not at fault, Wan Quan would still feel sorrowful if the boy were to die. So he asked to just take a look at Wan Shao's prescription. If it worked, he would leave immediately. If not, he would try to stop Wan Shao from using it. If he really could not stop Wao Shao, he would then leave. After looking at Wan Shao's new prescription, Wan Quan believed that it wasn't the correct treatment for the illness and would bring danger to the child. He then advised Wan Shao with sincerity, "The child's lung [energy] rises and doesn't fall. It is loose and not collecting. How can you use fangfeng and baibu [two kinds of Chinese medical herbs]?" But Wan Shao didn't listen to him. He argued instead, "Fangfeng and baibu are two kinds of miracle-working medicines for coughing." Hu Yuanxi also echoed aside, "It's his secret recipe." Wan Quan said very seriously, "What I worry about is the child. I am not jealous of you."

He could not passively watch somebody in danger. Just before leaving, he saw the sick child again. Stroking the boy's head, he said, "Don't take too much of the medicine. Poor child, what can you do when your disease comes out again?" He then left without saying goodbye. As expected, after taking just a small cup of Wan Shao's medicine, the child suffered from coughing again. He couldn't breathe and bled as before. The child cried and said, "I just felt a little better after taking Mr. Wan Quan's medicine. Father, you got this person to come to kill me with poison!" At this moment, his situation turned worse. Suddenly it looked like he would soon be in danger. Hu's wife worried about her son and blamed him. Hu started to regret what he did. In this moment of crisis, he had to send for Wan Quan again with a guilty conscience. Wan Quan did not make a big issue of it, but sincerely advised him, "If you had taken my advice at the beginning, you would not have had this regret. If you want me to cure your son, first of all, you must let go of your suspicion and trust me no matter what. Let's take one month as the time frame for the boy's recovery." He ended up just needing 17 days to cure the child.

This story deeply moved people. Such a noble character is commendable in our world nowadays. Today in Chinese medical circles, doctors even ask for "red envelopes" [bribe money put in a red envelope] when they perform surgery. Aren't they ashamed of themselves when they hear this story?

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