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Introduction of Zang-Fu Organs

Zang-fu is the general term for the organs of the human body, and includes the six zang organs, the six fu organs and the extraordinary fu organs. The heart, lung, spleen, liver, kidney and pericardium are known as the six zang organs. The gallbladder, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, bladder and sanjiao are known as the six fu organs. The brain, marrow, bones, vessels, gallbladder and uterus are known as the "extraordinary fu" organs.

Since the pericardium is a protective membrane of the heart and the "extraordinary fu" organs pertain respectively to the other fu organs, they are generally referred to as five zang and six fu organs. The main physiological functions of the zang organs are to manufacture and store essential substances, including vital essence, qi, blood and body fluid. The main physiological functions of the fu organs are to receive and digest food, and transmit and excrete the wastes.

The eleventh chapter of Plain Questions says: "The so-called five zang organs store pure essential qi without draining it off, and for this reason they can be filled up but cannot be over filled. The six fu organs transmit water and food without storing them, and for this reason they may be over supplied but cannot be filled up."

This description not only describes the functions of the zang-fu organs, but also points out the basic physiological differences between the zang and the fu organs in their physiological functions.

Although the zang organs are different from the fu organs in terms of physiological activities, there is a structural and functional connection by the way of meridians and collaterals between individual zang and fu organ, between the zang and fu organs collectively, and between the zang-fu organs on the one hand, and the five sense organs and tissues on the other.

The theory of the zang-fu organs considers the physiological functions and pathological changes of the zang and fu organs, as well as their interrelationships. This theory was called "Zang Xiang" by ancient doctors. "Zang" refers to the interior location of the zang-fu organs, and "xiang" denotes their manifestations or "image." In other words, the zang-fu organs are located on the inside of the body, but their physiological activities and pathological changes are reflected on the exterior. The book Classified Classics by Zhang Jiebin (1562-1639) states: "The zang-fu organs are situated interiorly and manifested exteriorly, therefore the theory of the zang-fu organs is called Zang Xiang."

There are two main aspects to the theory of the zang-fu organs. Firstly the study of the physiological functions and pathological changes of the zang-fu organs, tissues and their interrelationships. Secondly the physiology and pathology of vital essence, qi, blood and body fluid, as well as the relationship between these on the one hand and the zang-fu organs on the other. Historically, the development of the theory of the zang-fu organs in the course of extensive medical practice involved three aspects:

  1. Ancient anatomical knowledge.

    The twelfth chapter of Miraculous Pivot says: "A man is about eight Chi tall in average. The external size of the body is measurable because its skin and flesh are visible, and also his pulse may be taken in different regions. In addition, when a man dies, his body may be dissected for observation. For this reason, there are established standards by which we determine the hardness and crispness of the zang organs, the size of the fu organs, the quantity of food consumed, the length of the vessels, the clarity and turbidity of the blood, the quantity of qi in the body ... All these aspects of the human body as outlined above are governed by a set of established standards."

  2. In addition, there are some descriptions in the fourteenth, thirty-first and thirty-second chapters of Miraculous Pivot, as well as some descriptions in Classics on Medical Problems. It can be seen, therefore, that the practice of anatomy in China predates the Christian era. All these are the indispensable foundation of the formation of zang-fu theory.

  3. Observation of physiological and pathological phenomena.

    An example is the development of the theory that the skin and hair are connected with the nose and lung, through observation of cases of common cold due to invasion of the exterior of the body by pathogenic cold. Typical symptoms of nasal obstruction, runny nose, chills, fever and cough demonstrate this connection.

  4. The summary of rich experience obtained through lengthy clinical practice.

    An example is the development of the theory of the kidney dominating bone. In the treatment of fracture, application of the method of tonifying the kidney may hasten the healing of bone.

To summarize, the comparatively integrated theory of the zang-fu organs, which takes the five zang as its core, was formed through a long period of clinical practice and observation.

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