Glossary

Chinese terminology

An explanation of some of the more unusual syndromes and terms used in classical texts:

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Abdominal Masses:
Divided into two main groups, Zheng Jia most closely associated with gynaecological disorders and Ji Ju associated with digestive disorders. Zheng and Ji are hard and immovable with fixed pain relating to the Zang and Blood while Jia and Ju are indefinite, accumulate and disperse quickly and give rise to pain of no fixed location related to disorders of the Fu and Qi.

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Back-shu Points:
Points on the back located at the level of transverse processes of the spine and associated with a Zangfu organ that is at approximately the same level. They have been used since antiquity to treat any disorder of their related Zangfu whether excess or deficient, hot or cold and can be seen as an access route to the interior.

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Brain Wind:
Characterised by aversion to cold in the neck and back, a cold sensation in the head and brain and severe pain.

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Childhood Fright Wind:
Convulsive spasm and loss of consciousness in infants and children. It is subdivided into acute and chronic conditions.

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Counterflow Qi:
Qi that flows counter to its normal direction, seen in cases of nausea and vomiting, cough, or coldness of the limbs. Sometimes also translated as inversion or rebellion.

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Crane's Knee Wind:
Swelling of one or both knees with subsequent atrophy of the area above or below, hence resembling the legs of a crane.

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Deficiency Taxation:
General term for disorders associated with depletion of Qi, Blood and Zangfu due to prolonged illness, improper diet, unbalanced lifestyle or constitutional deficiency.

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Dysenteric Disorder:
A variety of diarrhoea based disorders with abdominal pain and tenesmus and may include blood or pus in the stool. It ranging from acute forms of dysentery to chronic conditions such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

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Five Corpse Disorders:
The five corpse disorders are five separate disorders and different from the Thee Corpse Possession Disorder which was a single condition. Lu and Wilcox (2014)'s commentary to Wang Zhizhong's Nourishing Life with Acupuncture and Moxibustion describe them as:

1. Flying corpse disorder: Wandering pain under the skin and between the muscles with stabbing pain that occurs randomly.
2. Fixed corpse disorder: Fullness and distention of the heart and abdomen with stabbing pain that occurs suddenly and accompanied by panting and Qi surging upwards into the chest.
3. Sinking corpse disorder: Colicky pain and distention of the heart and abdomen with panting, and pain and distention attacking the ribsides.
4. Wind corpse disorder: Weakened extremities due to Wind.
5. Hidden corpse disorder: A disease that hides deep inside the body presenting with no symptoms when stable but prickly pain of the heart and abdomen with panting and distention during episodes.

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Five Palm Heat:
Also referred to as Five Centre Heat, this is heat manifesting on the Yin surfaces of the body, especially the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet and the chest, indicating Yin Deficiency.

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Five Taxations:
The Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen Ch. 23 lists the five taxations as:

1. To observe over a long time harms the Blood.
2. To lie down for a long time harms the Qi.
3. To sit for a long time harms the flesh.
4. To stand for a long time harms the bones.
5. To walk for a long time harms the sinews. (Trans: Unschuld and Tessenow, 2011).
In later texts the five taxations also includes the five Zang.

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Front-mu Points:
A group of points located on the front of the body and closely related to the Zangfu organs. Usually located near or over their respective organ they are also known as alarm points because they can be palpated for tenderness when disease is present. They can be needled to treat their respective Zangfu organ but not their channel.

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Gao Wu Command Points:
A group of four, in pre-Ming times, and later six points used to treat any disorder in its associated region. They are:
Zusanli St-36 for disorders of the abdomen
Weizhong Bl-40 for disorders of the lumbar region and back
Lieque Lu-7 for disorders of the head and nape
Hegu LI-4 for disorders of the face and mouth
Neiguan Pc-6 for disorders of the chest and lateral costal region
Renzhong Ren-26 for resuscitation.

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Ghosts (Gui):
Possession by Ghosts were considered a common cause of illness in early Chinese medicine and referred to incidences when a person's behaviour suddenly changes. It was believed that people who died unprepared while still having attachments to this world would linger. Their lust for life would make them attracted to people with similar desires whereupon they would invade the person's Heart clouding their Shen and push them to extremes of behaviour that would ultimately lead them to their own deaths.

There were three main types:

1. Hungry Ghosts: An addiction or singular obsession caused by the ghost of someone who committed suicide. Often found in bars and places where emotional people drown their sorrows.
2. Wandering Ghosts: Dissatisfaction with life and need for new stimulation. Believed to be people who died in accidents and felt life was not meant to end yet. Often picked up while travelling.
3. Sexual Ghosts: A craving for love caused by the ghost of someone who was either licentious or infatuated and could not bear to part with their loved one upon death. They are often found near places where overt demonstrations of love or lust are made and are attracted to sexually frustrated people where they act like succubi and incubi in western folklore: either appearing as beautiful seducers, obsessing their victim and sapping their Jing-Essence through uninhibited sexual encounters, or appearing in dreams and causing loss of essence through nocturnal emissions.

As well as ghosts there were also animal spirits, especially foxes, and malevolent forces of nature that would engage in this vampiric behaviour too. There were also the Three Corpse Worms who were an endogenous force encouraging us to partake in licentious and destructive behaviour. Left untreated the theory goes the victim would be driven to a premature death from suicide, exhaustion of Jing or driven to some other tragic end and become a ghost themselves.

Treatment was usually with Moxa using a Yang force to counter the Ghosts Yin nature, medicines to induce vomiting of phlegm and, most importantly, restoring the natural order with an exaggeration of normal behaviour, e.g. Van Straten (1983) reports the most common remedy for sexual ghost or demon possession was prolonged intercourse without climax with a human partner. The idea was to re-orientate the desire back to the human sphere without damaging the already depleted Jing.

These possession disorders were removed from TCM and covered by the pattern of Phlegm misting the Heart. By depersonalising the attacking force it turned the ghost's insubstantial mist-like Yin nature into a physiological mechanism. Sun Si-Miao's 13 Ghost Points and occasional historical names for diseases are the only explicit references left in most modern acupuncture texts. The notion of depleted Jing being the cause for disease remains more widespread.

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Ghost Talk:
A disorder of delirious speech and ranting attributed to disturbance of the spirit, probably by demonic possession. Floating ghost talk and melancholy crying ghost talk probably refer to delirious speech seen in terminal stages of tuberculosis as it was described by Sun Si-Miao who recognised tuberculosis, known at that time as Feishi or Floating Corpse, as a disease of the Lung rather than demonic possession. Ghost Evil appears to be a related disorder attributed to possession.

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Horary Points:
The point on a channel that is the same as the channel's element, e.g. Yingu Kid-10 the water point on the kidney channel. Selected for treatment during the channel's associated 2-hour segment of the Chinese clock to treat disorders of that channel or Zangfu.

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Hui-meeting Points:
A set of eight points mentioned in the Classic of Difficulties indicated for disorders of Zang, Fu, Qi, blood, bone, marrow, sinews and vessels.

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Luo-connnecting Points:
A group of points originally part of a separate set of collateral meridians defined as the visible superficial blood vessels. They were diagnosed by observing for distended, broken or unusually coloured regions along their associated pathway and treated with bloodletting to release stagnation and Heat from their channels and associated Zangfu. Since the Shen is anchored in the Blood and disturbed by excess Heat they are also strongly indicated for psycho-emotional disorders and may have derived from the instinct for self-harm (in excess, but maybe also fear of harm in deficiency conditions) that accompanies many psychological disorders. They formed an important part of Nei Jing acupuncture but have largely fallen out of use in modern TCM where they are often reduced to the single point along the primary meridian's trajectory where they are said to branch from to move Blood, clear Heat and calm the Shen. They are rarely bled today and often located at specific locations instead of where the blood vessels are visible although some neo-classical schools use Plum Blossom needles or lancets for this purpose.

The main protocol for which they are still used is called the "guest-host method" where the Yuan-source point of the affected Zangfu is paired with the Luo-connecting point of the of its interior-exterior pair through the "transverse Luo" channel that connects them. If the Zangfu is in excess it is drained by reducing the Yuan-source point and then tonifying the Luo, if deficient the opposite. It is as though the excess is drained from the Zangfu, filling the Luo, or emptying the Luo to nourish the Zangfu.

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Ma Dan-Yang Heavenly Star Points:
A group of twelve points, eleven of which were considered by the Jin dynasty physician as the most important points of the body with Taichong Liv-3 added later to make the current grouping.

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Painful Obstruction:
Obstruction of the circulation of Qi by elemental factors giving rise to pain. Originally a literal interpretation that working outside allowed Winds carrying pathogenic Cold, Damp or Heat into the channels giving rise to pain and damage to the joints, the concept is still useful insofar as it described the condition as one that feels hot or cold, swollen (damp) or moving (wind), is exacerbated by exposure to that element and responds to its opposite.

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Plumstone Qi:
Subjective sensation of a lump in the throat, usually connected with emotional upset.

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Points of the Four Seas:
Four points from the Ling Shu indicated for disorders of Qi, Blood, Marrow and digestion.

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Restless Zang Disorder:
Episodic mental disorder most common in women, historically associated with blood deficiency of the uterus making it similar to the old Western concept of hysteria.

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Running Piglet Qi:
A surging sensation that rises from the abdomen to the chest or even throat accompanied by gripping abdominal pain, chest oppression, rapid breathing, dizziness, heart palpitations, and heart vexation. It is considered to be a form of anxiety disorder that presents with these symtpoms.

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Seven Emotions:
Each of the Seven emotions each have an effect on Qi which is harmful if experienced over a prolonged period. The first six are described in the Su Wen, Ch. 39 as:

When one is angry [ 怒 : Nu], then the Qi rises.
When one is joyous [喜 : Xi], then the Qi relaxes.
When one is sad [悲 : Bei], then the Qi dissipates.
When one is in fear [恐 : Kong], then the Qi moves down...
When one is frightened [驚 : Jing], then the Qi is in disorder...
When one is pensive [思 : Si], then the Qi lumps together. (trans. Unschuld & Tessenow, 2011)

To these is added 憂 You which can be translated as anxiety, worry, fear, concern, sorrow, trouble, grief, distress or sadness and is probably the closest to our catch-all term of "stress". It has a similar effect to sorrow in making the Qi disperse and affecting the Heart and Lung.

These lists are by no means absolute or exhaustive and Fruehauf (2006) traces the origins of five, six and seven emotions variously linked with Confucian and Daoist philosophical schools. Even within the Nei Jing accounts vary with Ling Shu Ch. 8 attributing all emotion the excess or deficiency of the Heart and Liver:

When the Liver Qi is deficient, fear will occur; when excess, one will become angry.
When the Heart Qi is deficient, sorrow will occur; when excess, unceasing laughter will occur. (ibid.)

And Su Wen Ch. 5 listing five emotions which relate to each organ:

Excess anger damages the Liver;
Excess joy damages the Heart;
Excessive pensiveness damages the Spleen;
Excess sorrow damages the Lung;
Excess fear damages the Kidneys. (ibid.)

The theory that unites these is that emotions originate from the Heart and Liver and affect the Qi in different ways but if that movement is prolonged or persistent then the organ most affected by that kind of movement will become involved. For example, the Lung governs Qi so its continual dispersal in sorrow will eventually affect the Lungs ability to govern effectively while excessive pensiveness will knot the Qi in the Middle Jiao and eventually affect the Spleen's digestive function.

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Seven Injuries:
Seven disease causing factors:

1. Excessive eating causing injury to the Spleen
2. Excessive anger causing injury to the Liver
3. Excessive labour and lifting, or sitting in damp ground causing injury to the Kidneys
4. Retention of cold fluid causing injury to the Lung
5. Anxiety and worry causing injury to the Heart
6. Wind, damp, cold and summer-heat injuring the Blood
7. Great fear and dread causing injury to the emotions

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Shan Disorder:
Severe pain of the abdomen caused by protrusion of an organ through an abdominal opening, a hernia.

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Shu Point Classification:
Categorisation of peripheral points according to position, function and elemental property.

  • Jing-well points: Wood (yin) or Metal (yang) points indicated for clearing Heat and restoring consciousness, located at the most distal point of the channel, usually on the nail bed.
  • Ying-spring points: Fire (yin) or Water (yang) points indicated for clearing heat and the second-most distal points, usually on the fingers or between the toes.
  • Shu-stream points: Earth (yin) or Wood (yang) points indicated for diseases of the Zang.
  • Jing-river points: Metal (yin) or Fire (yang) points usually located around the wrists or ankles and mainly indicated for diseases of the sinews and clearing Heat in the Fu organs.
  • He-sea points: Water (yin) or Earth (yang) points located at the elbows and knees and indicated for diseases of the Fu and skin. The points on the yin channels are also often significant for their function of draining Damp and tonifying Yin.

It is also from these points that the points are selected in five element acupuncture styles.

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Six Qi / Six Excesses:
The six Qi, also known by a variety of names such as the six Cosmic Qi, the six Exogenous Qi, the Six Pathogenic Factors, the Six Climactic Factors or the Six Excesses are environmental factors associated with each of the Six Divisions:

1. Cold, associated with Taiyang
2. Heat, associated with Shaoyang
3. Dryness, associated with Yangming
4. Dampness, associated with Taiyin
5. Fire, associated with Shaoyin
6. Wind, associated with Jueyin.

The terms Heat and Fire have lost their distinction in modern practice to become grades of the same thing and the remaining factor has become known as Summerheat, a slow, stagnating warmth. Since the others can be seen as opposing pairs based on their Yin-Yang relationships with Fire-Cold and Dampness-Dryness, then Heat is the opposite of Wind whose nature is movement, so it is the kind of heavy, suffocating heat of a humid day with no breeze.

In classical texts these were simply the Qi associated with each division and period of the year and so bore the neutral name the Six Qi. When in balance they presented no problem but when they were observed in a patient they could indicate which division was involved. As medicine became more focused on external pathogens causing disease they became knows as the Six Yin or Six Excesses and were considered to be external pathogenic influences that bore disease.

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Steaming Bone Disorder:
A feverish sensation that feels like it is coming from deep inside the bones caused by yin deficiency and blazing fire. It is commonly associated with other signs of empty heat.

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Sudden Turmoil Disorder:
Sudden onset of simultaneous diarrhoea and vomiting, accompanied by abdominal discomfort and pain. Often associated with unclean food, cold injury and epidemics.

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Sun Si-Miao Ghost Points:
Set of 13 points listed by 7th century physician Sun Si-Miao for treatment of disorders caused by possession. In ancient China possession by ghosts explained many conditions where people seem not themselves, acting as if compelled or unable to control our actions including epilepsy, addictions and many forms of mental illness. Jeffrey Yuen's 3 Spirits, 7 Souls lecture separates them into four trinities as the entity works itself deeper, drawing the souls of the living to their end:

  • First trinity: Renzhong Du-26, Shaoshang Lu-11, Taibai Sp-1: characterised by a a sense something is different or wrong, a disruption in the senses and unconscious or psychosomatic reactions to external stimuli, a rattle in the throat and withdrawal.
  • Second trinity: Fengfu Du-16, Daling Pc-7, Shenmai Bl-62: This is the most Yang phase of possession with many signs of Wind and Heat leading to agitation, uncontrollable movement and outbursts as the ghost tries to get you to search for the remnants of its past, either by dreamwork or literally seeking the people and places it longs for.
  • Third trinity: Chengjiang Ren-24, Jiache St-6, Laogong Pc-8: Concerned with extreme isolation, deprivation of stimulation, refusal to eat or inability to digest and extreme rumination. The ghost is trying to move the person into a state of suicidal ideation so red flags should be considered.
  • Fourth trinity: Huiyin Ren-1, Quchi LI-11, Shangxiang Du-23, Huqian or Yintang: concerned with self-destructive behaviour, self-harm and attempts at suicide. This level will almost certainly be in an institutionalised setting today, or carried out as an adjunctive therapy to professional psychiatric help.

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Superficial Visual Obstruction:
Vision impeded by a thin membranous growth.

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Taxation Fever:
Fever associated with deficiency taxation patterns, frequently associated with steaming bone disorder and empty heat signs.

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Three Corpse Possession Disorder:
Sanshi 三尸 (Three Corpses) or Sanchong 三蟲 (Three Worms) are a Daoist concept of parasitic entities that exist in the three Dantian centres from conception attempting to weaken the body and initiate sickness. The upper worm causes us to love finery and spectacles injuring the intellect, the middle causes us to indulge in fine flavours harming the five Zang while the lower causes sexual licentiousness weakening the Jing. Van Straten (1983) considers them as an expression of the Yin/Yang dichotomy at the most fundamental level of life where the instincts necessary for survival also sap our vitality and draw us closer to death whenever they are indulged. Addictions are a straightforward example of this.

Pomen Bl-42 is the only acupuncture point specifically associated with this disorder in Deadman (2001) with little explanation given. Presumably it is due to their association with the Po which are seen as similar endogenous pathogenic entities often under their command in some Daoist schools (Huang, 2011). Van Straten (1983) also describes rituals of cutting the finger and toe nails and burning them on specific days when they are thought to reside here, or bathing and fumigating the lower body from morning to evening to eliminate them from the intestines. A more common method was the avoidance of grains (Bigu) on which they feed, then poisoning them with medicines (Waidan, External Alchemy) and eliminating desire through meditation practices (Neidan, Internal Alchemy).

Several modern therapies can be seen as adaptations on this idea. Addiction treatments that use a combination of therapies to eliminate triggers and starve opportunities for relapse, condition an aversion with emetic medication and cultivate mindfulness to manage current stresses seem to be following the same principle of starve, purge and meditate. Theories that the gut microbiome drives our cravings are more literally similar seeing our addictions as due to parasitic influence. These schools teach that we should avoid sugars and simple carbohydrates on which microorganisms feed whilst administering medication to eliminate infections and cultivate a new ecosystem.

For more information see:
Huang (2011), Daoist Imagery of Body and Cosmos Part 2: Body Worms and Internal Alchemy, Journal of Daoist Studies Vol. 4.
Van Straten (1983), Concepts of Health, Disease and Vitality in Traditional Chinese Society: A Psychological Interpretation Based on the Material of Georg Koeppen. Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH: Wiesbaden

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Throat Moth:
Redness, swelling and pain of the tonsils.

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Throat Painful Obstruction:
General term for swelling, congestion and pain of the throat, with the implication that it does not develop into a critical condition.

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Tidal Fever:
Subjective or objective feverish sensation that occurs at regular intervals, often in the afternoon or evening.

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Visual Dizziness:
A type of dizziness characterised by initial clouded vision before the dizziness develops.

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Wind Taxation:
Deficiency caused by untreated painful obstruction by wind-cold that manages to penetrate to the level of the Zangfu.

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Window of Heaven Points:
A set of ten points, mostly located around the neck and indicated for disharmony between the Qi of the body and the head, with Qi or Blood rebelling upwards (Deadman et al, 2001).

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Xi-cleft Points:
A group of points indicated for acute painful disorders.

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Yuan-source Points:
A group of points that are the same as the shu-stream points on yin channels where they are indicated for disorders of the Zang while on the yang channels they are indicated for draining excess pathogenic factors from along their channels. In the guest-host method of point selection the yuan-source point of the primarily affected channel is paired with the luo-connecting point of the of its interior-exterior pair.