Legendary Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctors

Four famous figures stand out in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. They are Bian Que, Huatuo, Sun Simiao, and Li Shizhen. Bian Que is the earliest known physician, from China’s Warring States period, 770 to 221 B.C. According to historical texts, Bian Que had supernormal abilities and could see through a human body. He was the founder of the pulse-taking diagnosis.


Chinese woodcut print of Bian Que. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Legend has it that Bian Que revived the crown prince of the state of Guo — believed to be dead. Using pulse diagnosis, Bian Que found the prince was in a coma, and treated him with acupuncture. Thus, Bian Que was known as “the doctor who brings the dead back to life.”

Hua Tuo is known as China’s first surgeon, living during the late Han Dynasty and early Three Kingdoms era. According to historical texts, Hua Tuo was called the “Divine physician” or “Shenyi” in Chinese.



Chinese woodcut print of Hua Tuo. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Hua Tuo invented Ma Fei San — an anesthetic drug used to reduce pain during surgery. One story has it that Hua Tuo treated Guan Yu — the famous general of Emperor Liu Bei in the Shu state during the Three Kingdoms period.

A poisoned arrow had injured Guan’s right arm during a battle. Hua Tuo applied his anesthetic, made a cut in Guan’s right arm, and then cut away the poisoned part of the flesh. The surgery was done while Guan was playing a board game.

According to historical accounts, Hua Tuo saw a tumor in Cao Cao’s brain and suggested brain surgery. But Cao Cao — ruler of the Wei state during the Three Kingdoms era — thought Hua Tuo wanted to kill him. He imprisoned Hua Tuo, who died in prison. Later Cao Cao died of this illness.

Hua Tuo is also known for developing Wuqinxi — the Five Animals Daoist qigong exercises.

Sun Simiao from the Tang Dynasty was known as China’s King of Medicine. His key role was the compilation of pre-Tang Dynasty clinical practices and medical theories into two books.


Chinese woodcut print of Sun Simiao. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Li Shizhen from the Ming Dynasty is one of the greatest Chinese herbalists. He’s regarded as the father of traditional Chinese medicine and the patron saint of Chinese herbal medicine. Li’s key contribution was the Compendium of Herbs or Bencao Gangmu (本草纲目) in Chinese. The book covers nearly 1900 (1892) different herbs in 60 different categories.


Porcelain statue of Li Shizhen. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In ancient China, these great physicians were said to have had supernatural abilities. They could see through the human body with the Third Eye.

According to traditional Chinese thought, this third eye is located in the forehead, slightly above and in between the eyebrows, and can be activated through spiritual cultivation practice. While this is a mystical concept, the Third Eye is part of the pineal gland. Today, modern medical science recognizes that the front part of the pineal gland contains the exact structure of a human eye.

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