During the Spring and Autumn Period (about 770 B.C.) in China, the famous physician Bianque (扁鵲) was invited to Qi State to meet with Duke Qi (齊桓侯). Bianque said to Duke Qi: “You have illness under your skin. If untreated, it will get serious.” Duke Qi refused and said: “I am not ill.”
Five days later, Bianque went to see Duke Qi and said: “You have an illness in your blood circulation. If untreated, it is likely to get serious.” Duke Qi was unhappy and said: “I am not ill.”
Five days later, Bianque went to see Duke Qi and said: “You have an illness in your stomach and intestines. If untreated, it will become serious.” Duke Qi was silent.
Five days later, Bianque went to see Duke Qi again. Seeing that Duke Qi was seriously ill, he left right away.
Five days later, Duke Qi felt sick and tried to find Bianque. Bianque had already escaped and Duke Qi died.
Bianque’s two brothers were also physicians. He considered his eldest brother the best, his second brother brilliant, and himself the last.
People questioned him about this and asked: “But why are you famous while your two brothers are rarely heard?” Bianque said: “My second brother can cure a patient when the illness is minor. My eldest brother is the best because he sees the illness before the symptoms show. With a little medication, the health remains. I can only treat patients when the illness has become serious. People don’t take an illness seriously until it’s life-threatening. That is why I am famous.”
The above story illustrates the essence of Chinese traditional medicine: The supreme healer cures the illness that is still obscure, the least able one treats fully manifested illness.
The theory of Chinese traditional medicine follows Taoism with an emphasis on balancing yin and yang and the 5 elements (五行). Balance is the key. Health is an attitude and a form of self-recognition. Medicine and tonics are only secondary.