The Three Celestial Emperors Fu Hsi Shen Nung And Huang Ti

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History yields to mythology in accounts of the Three Celestial Emperors, who are revered as the founders of Chinese civilization. Fu Hsi, who is said to have reigned about 2000 b.c.e., is the legendary founder of China's first dynasty. His most important inventions included writing, painting, music, the original eight mystic trigrams, and the yin-yang concept. The I Ching or Canon of Changes, honored as the most ancient of Chinese books, is ascribed to Fu Hsi.

The invention of the fundamental techniques of agriculture and animal husbandry are attributed to Shen Nung, the second Celestial Emperor. When the Emperor, who was also known as the Divine Peasant, saw his people suffering from illness and poisoning, he taught them to sow the five kinds of grain and he personally investigated a thousand herbs so that the people would know which were therapeutic and which were toxic. In his experiments with poisons and antidotes, Shen Nung is said to have taken as many as seventy different poisons in one day. Having collected many remedies in the first great treatise on herbal medicine while setting a magnificent example of unselfish devotion to medical research, Shen Nung died after an unsuccessful experiment.

During his hundred-year reign, Huang Ti, the last of the legendary Celestial Emperors, gave his people the wheel, the magnet, an astronomical observatory, the calendar, the art of pulse measurement, and the Huang-ti Nei Ching (The Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor), a text that has inspired and guided Chinese medical thought for over 2,500 years. Like many ancient texts, the Nei Ching has been corrupted over the centuries by additions, excisions, and misprints. Scholars agree that the existing text is very ancient, perhaps dating back to the first century b.c.e., but the time of its composition is controversial. Most historians believe that the text in existence today was compiled at the beginning of the T'ang Dynasty (618-907). Other medical texts have sometimes overshadowed it, but most of the classics of Chinese medicine may be considered interpretations, commentaries, and supplements to the Yellow Emperor's Canon.

Although The Inner Canon is revered as one of the oldest and most influential of the classical Chinese medical texts, studies of medical manuscripts that were buried with their owner, probably during the second century b.c.e., and recovered in Mawangdui, Hunan, in the 1970s, have provided new insights into early Chinese medical thought. As newly recovered texts are analyzed, scholars are beginning to illuminate the philosophical foundations of Chinese medicine and the ways in which the learned physicians of the fourth to first centuries b.c.e. were able to separate themselves from shamans and other popular healers. Physicians apparently were still exploring approaches to physiology, pathology, and therapy that differed from those found in the Inner Canon. Therapeutics in the older texts included medicinal drugs, exorcism, magical and religious techniques, and surgical operations, but acupuncture, the major therapeutic technique in the Inner Canon, was not discussed in the Mawangdui manuscripts.

As it exists today, the Nei Ching is a collection of sometimes contradictory ideas and interpretations forced into a supposedly integrated conceptual system. The Inner Canon is cast in the form of a dialogue between Huang Ti and Ch'i Po, his Minister of Health and Healing. Together, Emperor and Minister explore a medical philosophy based on the balance of yang and yin, the five phases (also called the five elements), and the correlations found among them and almost every conceivable entity impinging on human life, from family and food to climate and geography. The terms yin and yang are generally taken to represent all the pairs of opposites that express the dualism of the cosmos. Thus, whereas yin is characterized as female, dark, cold, soft, earth, night, and empty, yang represents male, light, warm, firm, heaven, day, full, and so forth. Yang and yin, however, should be understood as ''relational concepts,'' that is, not firm or soft per se, but only in comparison to other states or entities.

The original meanings of the characters for yin and yang are obscure, but light and shade appear to be fundamental aspects. The original characters might have represented the banks of a river, one in the shade and the other in the sun, or the shady side and the sunny side of a hill. Applying these concepts to the human body, the outside is relatively yang, the inside is relatively yin, and specific internal organs are associated with yang or yin.

Huang Ti taught that the principle of yin-yang is the basis of everything in creation, the cause of all transformations, and the origin

The five phases. As individual names or labels for the finer ramifications of yin and yang, the five phases represent aspects in the cycle of changes. The five phases are linked by relationships of generation and destruction. Patterns of destruction may be summarized as follows: water puts out fire; fire melts metal; a metal ax cuts wood; a wooden plow turns up the earth; an earthen dam stops the flow of water. The cycle of generation proceeds as water produces the wood of trees; wood produces fire; fire creates ash, or earth; earth is the source of metals; when metals are heated, they flow like water.

The five phases. As individual names or labels for the finer ramifications of yin and yang, the five phases represent aspects in the cycle of changes. The five phases are linked by relationships of generation and destruction. Patterns of destruction may be summarized as follows: water puts out fire; fire melts metal; a metal ax cuts wood; a wooden plow turns up the earth; an earthen dam stops the flow of water. The cycle of generation proceeds as water produces the wood of trees; wood produces fire; fire creates ash, or earth; earth is the source of metals; when metals are heated, they flow like water.

of life and death. Yin and yang generate the five phases: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Because the terms yang and yin are essentially untranslatable, they have been directly adopted into many languages. But the same lack of meaningful correspondence applies to the wu-hsing, a term that was usually translated as ''five elements,'' because of a false analogy with the four elements of the ancient Greeks. The Chinese term actually implies passage, transition, or phase, rather than stable, homogeneous chemical constituents. In recent years, scholars have invented new terms such as ''five conventional values'' and ''five evolutive phases'' to convey a more precise meaning. For the sake of simplicity, we shall use the term ''five phases.''

Chinese philosophers and scientists created an elaborate system to rationalize the relationships of the five phases to almost everything else. Thus, the sequences of creation and destruction among the five phases provided a foundation for classical concepts of human physiology.

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