Zhang Zhongjing (张仲景), the Traditional Chinese Medicine Sage

Zhang Zhongjing (A.D.150-219) was a well-known physician of traditional Chinese medicine during the Eastern Han Dynasty. His masterpiece, 'Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Disease' is the oldest clinical textbook in the history of medicine. (Mpopeye/Wikipedia)
Zhang Zhongjing (A.D.150-219) was a well-known physician of traditional Chinese medicine during the Eastern Han Dynasty. His masterpiece, 'Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Disease' is the oldest clinical textbook in the history of medicine. (Mpopeye/Wikipedia)

Zhang Zhongjing (A.D. 150-219) was a well-known physician of traditional Chinese medicine during the Eastern Han Dynasty. His masterpiece, Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Disease, is the oldest clinical textbook in the history of medicine, with complete explanations of “theories of traditional Chinese medicine, methods of diagnosis and treatment, prescriptions, and medical herbs.” (lĭ, fă, fāng, yào (, , , ) in Chinese)

In the Song Dynasty, the Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Disease was completely reorganized into two books named Treatise on Exogenous Febrile Diseases (Shāng Hán Lùn, 伤寒论 in Chinese) and Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Chamber (Jīn Kuì Yào Lüè金匮要略,in Chinese). Zhang Zhongjing was a doctor with both a benevolent mind and heart.

The ancestor of all prescriptions

Zhang Zhongjing was studious and meditative from his childhood. Before the age of 10, he read lots of medical books. His master, Zhang Bozu, was an extremely well-known doctor of traditional Chinese medicine at the time.

After decades of hard work, Zhang Zhongling wrote all 16 volumes of Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Disease (Shāng Hán Zá Bìng Lùn, 伤寒杂病论 in Chinese), which is a medical masterpiece based on his personal experience in clinical practice and the large amounts of information collected by him. It systematically expounds causes, pathological mechanisms, as well as treatment principles, laying a solid theoretical foundation for future development of each clinical subject.

The prescriptions in Treatise on Exogenous Febrile Diseases, such as Ma Huang Decoction (also called Ephedra Decoction), Gui Zhi Decoction (Cassia Twig Decoction), Chai Hu Decoction (Chinese Thorowax Decoction), Bai Hu Decoction (White Tiger Decoction), Qing Long Decoction (Green Dragon Decoction) and Ma Xing Shi Gan Decoction (Gypsum and Licorice), have been confirmed to be highly effective through countless clinical tests over thousands of years.

They provide a basis for the development of prescriptions in Chinese medicine. Later, another eminent doctor in the Han Dynasty named Hua Tuo read Treatise on Exogenous Febrile Diseases and praised the book as one that can really save lives. Treatise on Exogenous Febrile Diseases is known as “the ancestor of all prescriptions.”

Diagnosis like God

Once, when Zhang Zhongjing travelled to Luoyang for work, he met Wang Can, one of the “Seven Scholars of Jian’an” in the history of Chinese literature, and found an epidemic disease hiding in his body. He then said to Wang Can: “You have been sick and should be treated as early as possible; otherwise, your eyebrows will fall off at the age of 40 and you will die.

Now, if you start taking Wu Shi Decoction, you will survive.” Nevertheless, Wang Can did not believe Zhang Zhongjing’s words. Twenty years later, his eyebrows began to fall off slowly and after half a year, he died.

With both a benevolent mind and heart

It is said that when Zhang Zhongjing took office at the age of 50 in Changsha as a government official, he always kept his clinical practice in mind, and tried to help people wherever he could. He allocated two days every month (the first day and the fifteenth day) to see patients.

The origin of dumplings

Dumplings are a traditional favorite of Chinese people. The following story is about how they were developed.

After he retired, Zhang left Changsha and went back home. On the shore of the White River in his hometown, he saw many impoverished people suffering from starvation and frostbite. Their ears were even frostbitten. He built a shed on a vacant lot in Nanyang, Dongguan.

Then he set up a cauldron and began to hand out remedies to the poor people at the winter solstice. The name of Zhang Zhongjing’s remedy is called “cold-dispelling dumpling soup” (qū hán jiāo ĕr tāng, 祛寒娇耳汤 in Chinese). The recipe involves simmering lamb, pepper and some cold-dispelling herbs together, and then cutting up the cooked stew.

Minced stew was placed onto some pastry and folded into the shape of an ear. Once the dumpling was fully cooked, the soup was distributed to the patients. Each patient was given two ear-shaped dumplings and a bowl of soup.

Upon drinking the soup, the patients were healed and their festered ears were cured. Zhang Zhongjing kept handing out the soup until New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, people celebrated not only the New Year, but also their recovered ears.

They made New Year food in the shape of ears and called it “dumplings” (jiāo ĕr or jiăo zi, 娇耳 or 饺子 in Chinese), so as to commemorate the time when Zhang Zhongjing built the shed and treated patients.

Zhang Zhongjing was not only an outstanding doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, he was also morally upright. He saved countless lives by carefully treating each patient, regardless of their status.

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