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Huangdi Neijing
2008-04-20 【font size: Large Medium Small】  【Close

  Huangdi Neijing (simplified Chinese: 黄帝内经; traditional Chinese: 黃帝內經; pinyin: Huángdì Nèijīng), also known as The Inner Canon of Huangdi or Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor, is the seminal medical text of ancient China. The theoretical foundations for Chinese Medicine are systematically covered. The work is composed of two texts each of eighty-one chapters or treatises in a question and answer format between the mythical Huangdi (Yellow Emperor or more correctly Yellow Thearch) and his ministers.

  The first text, the Suwen (素問), also known as simple Questions, covers the theoretical foundation of Chinese Medicine, diagnosis methods and treatment methods. The second and generally less referred-to text, the Lingshu (靈樞), Spiritual Pivot, deals with acupuncture in great detail. Collectively, and strictly speaking, these two texts together, the Suwen and Lingshu are known as the Neijing or the Huangdi Neijing. Though, because the Suwen is much more widely quoted and referred to, the title Neijing often in practice refers to just the Suwen.

  The most important ancient book of Chinese medicine as well as a major book of Daoist theory and lifestyle is the Yellow Emperor s Inner Classic (Huangdi Neijing, 黃帝內經), said to have been compiled by the mythical Yellow Emperor 黃帝. It consists of two parts, the Suwen 素問 'questions of fundamental nature' and the Lingshu 靈樞 'spiritual pivot' ( a book also called Zhenjing 針經 'Classic of Acupuncture' because the latter is its main content). The book is structured as a dialog between the Yellow Emperor and His advisors. Huangdi and His advisors should be considered fictional—they are needed for the question and answer format predominant in the Neijing. This format links together otherwise disjointed texts and is possibly useful for the (anonymous) authors to avoid attribution and blame. (See pages 8-14 in Unschuld for more on these topics.)

  The Neijing departs from the old shamanistic beliefs that disease was caused by other worldly influences. Instead the natural effects of diet, lifestyle, emotions, environment, age and heredity are the reason diseases develop. The universe is composed of various forces and principles, such as Yin and Yang, Qi and the Five Elements (or phases). These forces can be understood via rational means and man can stay in balance or return to balance and health by understanding the laws of these natural forces. Man as is a microcosm that mirrors the larger macrocosm. The principles of yin and yang, the five elements, the environmental factors of wind, damp, hot and cold and so on that are part of the macrocosm equally apply to the microcosm that is man.

  The scholar Nathan Sivin (University of Pennsylvania professor of Chinese culture and history of science) is of the opinion (1998) that the Suwen and Lingshu probably date to the 1st century BCE. He does not go into detail other than mentioning the Mawangdui excavations. Sivin (1998) is also of the opinion that 'no available translation is reliable.'

  In pages 89-90 of the book Celestial Lancets (first published in 1980), authored by the highly respected scholars Joseph Needham (1900-1995) and Lu Gwei-Djen (1904-1991), it states that the consensus of scholarly opinion is that the Suwen belongs to the second century BCE. They further state that evidence shows that the Suwen is earlier than the first of the pharmaceutical natural histories, the 神農本草經 Shennong Bencao Jing (Divine Husbandman s Classic of the Materia Medica). So suggestive are parallels with third and fourth century BCE literature that doubt arises as to whether the Suwen be better ascribed to the third century BCE, implying that certain portions of the Suwen may be of that date. The dominant role the theories of yin and yang and the five elements play in the physiology and pathology means that these medical theories are not older than about 320 BCE.

  The German scholar Unschuld states several twentieth century scholars are of the opinion that the language and ideas of the Neijing Suwen were composed between 400 BCE and 260 CE. Further, versions existing today are a simply the last in a series of compilations and that none of the versions that exist today are identical to the texts of the same name from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) era. (See Unschuld pages 1-3 and Sivin page 68 in cited references below.)

  Lü Fu (呂複), a fourteenth century literary critic, was of the opinion that the Suwen was compiled by several authors over a long period. It contents were then brought together by Confucian scholars in the Han Dynasty era. (See page 1 in Unschuld.)

  In 762 CE, Wang Bing finished his revision of the Suwen after laboring for twelve years. Wang Bing collected the various versions and fragments of the Suwen and reorganized it into the present eighty-one chapters (treatises) format. (Note, treatises seventy-two and seventy-three are lost and only the titles are known.) Originally his changes were all done in red ink, but later copyists incorporated some of his additions into the main text. However, the 1053 version discussed below restored almost all of his annotations and they are now written in small characters next to the larger characters that comprise the main or unannotated Suwen text. (See Unschuld, pages 40 and 44.)

  According to Unschuld (pages 39 and 62) Wang Bing s version of the Suwen was based on Quan Yuanqi s (early six century) commented version of the Suwen consisting of nine juan (books) and sixty-nine discourses. Wang Bing made corrections, added two 'lost' discourses, added seven comprehensive discourses on the five phases and six qi, inserted over 5000 commentaries and reorganized the text into twenty-four juan (books) and eighty-one treatises. (See Unschuld pages 24, 39 and 46.)

  In his preface to his version of the Suwen, Wang Bing goes into great detail listing the changes he made. (See Veith, Appendix II and Unschuld pages 41-43.)

  Not much is known about Wang Bing s life. He authored several books but is best known for his work on the Suwen. A note in the preface left by the later editors of the Chong Guang Bu Zhu Huangdi Neijing Suwen (version compiled by 1053 editorial committee) which was based on an entry in Tang Ren Wu Zhi (Record on Tang [Dynasty] Personalities) states that he was an official with the rank of tai pu ling and died after a long life of more than eighty years. (See Unschuld, page 40. Also see Veith, Appendix I for a translation of an abstract from the 四庫全書總目提要 Siku Quanshu Zongmu Tiyao about both the Huangdi Suwen and Wang Bing.)

  The 'authoritative version' used today, Chong Guang Bu Zhu Huangdi Neijing Suwen 重廣補註黃帝內經素問 (Huangdi Neijing Suwen: Again Broadly Corrected [and] Annotated), is the product of the eleventh century Imperial Editorial Office (beginning in 1053 CE) and was based considerably on Wang Bing s 762 CE version. (See pages 33-66 in Unschuld) Some of the leading scholars who worked on this version of the Suwen were 林億 Lin Yi, 孫奇 Sun Qi, 高保衡 Gao Baoheng and 孫兆重 Sun Zhaotong.

  For images of the Chong Guang Bu Zhu Huangdi Neijing Suwen printed in the Ming Dynasty, (1368-1644 CE) see the external links section below.



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