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  • Sun Simiao

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    Sun Simiao was born with a weak constitution. Unlike other kids who got to go out and play, Sun was stuck inside and used this time to study herbalism in depth and even mastered various Chinese classics by the age of 20. He used herbs to strengthen his own health (though still suffering various ailments), treating relatives and neighbors, and then practicing in the countryside of Huguan.

    Noblemen would come to him to learn from his vast knowledge and experience. He rejected offers and invitations to travel to the rich in towns and cities and preferred to help the masses and the poor. Sun lived in a cave near a Taoist retreat and received such visitors that has long been the destination of pilgrims; a pool where he is said to have washed herbs is located nearby.

    Sun Simiao recorded his experience with herb formulas and his knowledge of medicine in his famous 30 volume work, printed in 652 A.D. Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold (Qianjin Yaofang). The book presented life saving remedies, hence the title reflecting their great value (i.e., a life is worth more than a thousand gold coins).

    Some of his formulas were so revolutionary and so curative, that a mystical origin was attributed to some of the formulas, as with this story from the Song Dynasty (660-1279 A.D.): Sun Simiao once saved the dragon of the Kunming Lake (in Yunnan Province) and, as a reward, got 30 magical recipes from the Dragon Palace.

    Pic below: Qing Dynasty illustration of Sun Simiao (center) demonstrating his complete control of the tiger and dragon.

    The Qianjin Yaofang was not merely a collection of formulas (of which there were an astonishing 5,300), but a treatise on medical practice that reviewed the work since the Han Dynasty, starting with the concepts of the Neijing (ca. 100 B.C.). He included treatises on acupuncture, massage, diet, moxibustion and exercises. So comprehensive in scope was this treatise that later authorities declared it the first encyclopedia of clinical practice

    Sun Simiao attributed schizandra berry to helping him live strong even though having a life long natural weak fortitude. Thus he ranked the fruit #1 in all of chinese medicine.

    Only a few decades after his death, Sun’s first book had a strong influence on the Japanese practice of Chinese medicine, which had become popular in the 8th Century. In the 10th century, a Japanese physician compiled a book, the Ishimpo, largely based on the Qianjin Fang, selecting 481 formulas from it. It became a required textbook for the study of medicine in Japan.

    Sun Simiao had such an impact on Earth that during the Ming Dynasty, in 1527 A.D., eight stone tablets engraved with quotations from his works were erected in his birthplace (Huayuan, in Yaoxian County, Shanxi Province) and to this day there are activities each year in his hometown celebrating his memory. In Beijing, a Temple to the King of Medicine was constructed; another temple to Sun Simiao was built in Kiangxi.

    Sun Simiao is one of the most, if not the most, interesting figures in the history of Chinese medicine. It is not too difficult to support this judgment, even though biographical details of this Tang physician are only fragmentary. In his lifetime, Sun Simiao was a famous clinician and alchemist; to posterity, he left voluminous formularies that have been influential until the present.

    – Paul Unschuld, 2000
    Medicine in China: Historical Artifacts and Images

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