I am very excited to have just received my copy of the new, comprehensive and annotated translation of the seminal text of Chinese Medicine, The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic.

I have studied this text before in various incomplete or limited translations, but this is the first complete and fully annotated translation by someone with both native level English and classical Chinese proficiency, along with excerpts from all the major commentaries, monographs and articles by Chinese and Japanese scholars over the past 1600 years.

Familiarly known as the Su Wen, or Inner Classic, this text, like the Torah in Judaism, or Vedas in Hinduism, was actually compiled by different authors over a long period, from the 2nd century BCE to the 8th century of the common era. It originates at a time when writing had become efficient enough to compile the oral traditions of art, science, philosophy, agriculture, war, government, and medicine into complete written texts.

Along with the Shang Han Lun or Treatise on Febrile Disease, the Inner Classic is the beginning of medical texts that describe the development of disease due to natural causes, such as environmental and climactic factors, diet, lifestyle, and emotional states, as opposed to supernatural ones, such as ancestral curses or evil spirits. It is also the first Chinese medical text to discuss physiology in terms of the vessels or channels of the body, their relationship with the internal organs, how they rise to the surface of the body in predictable locales, and how we can influence them with acupuncture.

Using metaphors rooted in Chinese naturalistic philosophy, such as the doctrine of Yin and Yang, as well as the Five Elements, it defines disease in no small measure in terms of personal responsibility for both the quality and length of life. As such, this is the grandfather text of natural medicine that explains how we make become ill, and how we can regain health though both acupuncture as a medical tool, and more importantly, through living in harmony with the natural laws that govern human physiology.

One of the differences between Chinese and modern Western medicine, is that in Western medicine it does not matter at all if a physician understands the thinking and philosophy of Hippocrates, Dioscoredes, or any of the other early masters. In fact, the medical wisdom of Hippocrates is pretty much ignored. Other greats in western medical tradition, like Maimondes , Avicenna, Vesalius, and even more recently, Sir William Osler, are at most the names of medical centers or footnotes in history texts.

But in Chinese Medicine, 65% of our herbal formulas come from the earliest texts, and to use them efficiently and accurately, indeed, to practice any aspect of Chinese medicine well, you need to understand how the creators of the medicine thought about the human body, mind, and its interaction with nature.

This has always been my personal approach, to learn a new way of thinking, to enter into Chinese Medical Culture. Now it is even easier. Needless to say I am very excited.

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