Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part III): The "Energy Meridian" Model Debunked | Chris Kresser
ADAPT Health Coach Training Program Enrollment is now open. Learn more

Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part III): The “Energy Meridian” Model Debunked

by Chris Kresser

Last updated on

Note: This is the third article in an ongoing series. Make sure to read the previous articles before reading this one, and check out the next articles in the series afterwards.


“Why does anyone care whether Chinese anatomy and physiology are explained as energy flowing through meridians, or by the circulation of blood, nutrients, other vital substances, and vital air (qi) through the vascular system? The answer to that lies in the moral obligation of every practitioner to provide each patient with the latest medical understanding available.

The need to continually search for the truth is the most fundamental principle of science and medicine… Research so far shows that the true concepts of Chinese Medicine operate under known physiological principles, involving the complex organization of the neural, vascular, endocrine, and somatic systems, sustained by the circulation of nutrients, vital substances, and oxygen from vital air.”

– Donald E, Kendall, “Dao of Chinese Medicine” (2002)

“It is a fact that more than 95 percent of all literature published in western languages on Chinese medicine reflect western expectations rather than Chinese historical reality.”

– Paul Unschuld, historian of Chinese medicine

Continuing from Part II

De Morant returned to France after his time in China with the intention of teaching Chinese medicine to French physicians. Conveniently, he promoted the idea that Chinese medicine didn’t require an understanding of anatomy and physiology. After all, de Morant was a bank clerk – not a physician – and had no medical training or qualifications to teach medicine at all.

But de Morant did know something about Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine based on the idea of energy called “prana” flowing through invisible lines called “nadis”. De Morant applied these concepts to Chinese medicine, even though they are not found in the Huangdi Neijing (HDNJ) or any other classical Chinese medical text.

The main problem with de Morant’s version of Chinese medicine was his representation of qi as “energy”. Almost all of the misunderstanding about Chinese medicine revolves around this mistranslation – which continues to be used despite historical facts that clearly contradict it.

Paul Unschuld, a respected Chinese studies scholar, notes that “the core Chinese concept of qi bears no resemblance to the Western concept of ‘energy’.” 1 Schnorrenberger, another prominent scholar of Chinese medicine, also notes that qi is “certainly not equivalent to the Western term ‘energy’.” 2

De Morant himself admitted that he translated qi as energy, “for lack of a better word.” 3

Therefore, the commonly accepted idea in the west that Chinese medicine is an energetic, metaphysical medicine was singlehandedly created by a French bank clerk with no training in medicine or ancient Chinese language. It is neither historically accurate nor consistent with modern scientific understanding of the body.

Since the energy meridian model is clearly incorrect, we must look to the classic Chinese medical texts to discover the authentic fundamental concepts of Chinese medicine. In the Huangdi Neijing, the Chinese describe the lungs breathing in what they call “da qi”. If you look up da qi in a Chinese dictionary, you’ll see it defined as “great air”. The Chinese explained that the lungs breathed in air, and the lungs extracted the qi from the da qi.

What do our lungs get from the air that sustains life? Oxygen. If you look up qi in a Chinese dictionary, there are ten definitions but not a single one of them is energy. Qi is defined as vital vapor, air, or the essence of air. It can also refer to the function of something (i.e. the qi of an organ would refer to the function of that organ) and the weather. Qi does not mean energy.

Of course the Chinese hadn’t identified the molecule we know as oxygen 2,000 years ago. They didn’t have the technology for that. But they did understand that we extracted something essential to life from the air we breathed, and they knew that this vital air (qi) was circulated around the body to support physiological processes. Therefore the closest translation of qi in a modern medical context is not energy, but oxygen.

The Chinese also described how this oxygen (qi) gets around the body: through the blood. They knew this from the dissections they had performed. The blood of the ancient Chinese is exactly the same as the blood of the 21st century! They knew blood circulated through blood vessels and the vascular system, which they had painstakingly identified and measured.

The word the Chinese used for vessel in the HDNJ is “mai”. Mai is correctly translated as vessel. “Xue Mai” is correctly translated as blood vessel (xue = blood). Morant took the word mai and incorrectly translated it as the French word “meridian”. He did this in spite of the fact that there was no word for meridian in the ancient Chinese language.

Unschuld points out:

The term ‘meridian’, introduced by Soulie de Morant in his rendering of the concept of jing, is one example among others of what might be called a creative reception of Chinese medicine in Europe and North America in recent years that disassociates itself from historical facts. 4

The idea that blood, along with mysterious and undefined energy, circulate through invisible “meridians” in the body was yet another creation of Soulie de Morant with absolutely no relationship to what is written about Chinese medicine in the classic texts.

De Morant also photographed ancient diagrams of acupuncture points depicted on the body. He then drew a line between all of the points, creating the concept of a meridian system for the first time. Meridian systems aren’t in the original texts. The original texts have drawings of major arteries going from the trunk into the legs. The points are arranged along these arterial routes.

The word De Morant translated as point is “jie”. Jie is more correctly translated as node, neurovascular node, or critical juncture. The Chinese knew that these nodes represent areas of fine vascular structures (arterioles, capillaries and venules – although they didn’t call them this at the time) and related nerves. Even 2,500 years ago, the superficial nodes were recognized to have afferent and efferent neural properties.

Modern research has demonstrated that neurovascular nodes (acupuncture points) contain a high concentration of sensory fibers, fine blood vessels, fine lymphatic vessels, and mast cells. These nodes are distributed along longitudinal pathways of the body where the collateral blood vessels supply the capillaries and fine vessels. The corneum stratum of the skin in these areas is slightly thinner with a lower electrical resistance. They also contain more sensory nerves, and have more fine vessels with sequestered mast cells than non nodes. 5

Ancient Chinese physicians recognized that neurovascular nodes (acupuncture points) on the surface of the body could reflect disease conditions in the internal organs, and that these same nodes could be stimulated to relieve pain and treat internal organ problems. This was a revolutionary discovery that formed the theoretical basis for acupuncture treatment. It was not until the early 1890s that this phenomenon of organ-referred pain was discovered in the West, by British physician William Head.

When the terms qi (oxygen), mai (vessel) and jie (neurovascular node) are properly translated, it becomes clear that there is no disagreement between ancient Chinese medical theory and contemporary principles of anatomy and physiology. Chinese medicine is not a metaphysical, energy medicine but instead a “flesh and bones” medicine concerned with the proper flow of oxygen and blood through the vascular system.

On his deathbed in 1955, de Morant admitted that what he referred to as meridians were in fact blood vessels. However, he still thought that energy (qi) flowed through the blood vessels.

As it turns out, de Morant wasn’t too far off.

Energy is an abstract concept that means “in work”. It can’t be circulated in the blood. However, the potential for energy, in the form of oxygen and glucose, is transported through the cardiovascular system.

Energy production within each cell is initiated by breaking down each molecule of glucose (from absorbed nutrients) to form two molecules of pyruvate. Pyruvate produced in the cell cytoplasm is taken up by the mitochondria and enters the Krebs cycle.

The Krebs cycle involves a cyclic series of reactions that convert ADP to ATP, the fundamental unit of energy in the body. This requires inhaled oxygen supplied by the red blood cells via capillaries.

This energy production cycle was discovered by Albert Szent-Györgyi and Hans Adolph Krebs well before de Morant died, in 1937. Had de Morant been aware of their work, he would have recognized that energy does not flow through the blood vessels. It is transmitted in its potential form, oxygen and glucose.

In the next post we will discuss a more authentic understanding of how Chinese medicine works, supported both by classical Chinese writings and modern scientific inquiry.

Continue to the next article.

  1. Unschuld, PU. Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in Ancient Chinese Medical Text. Berkeley. University of California Press. 2003
  2. Schnorrenberger, CC. Morphological foundations of acupuncture: an anatomical nomenclature of acupuncture structures. BMAS Acupuncture in Medicine, 1996. Nov;14(3):89-103
  3. Soulie De Morant, Georges. L’Acuponcture chinoise. Tome I L’ energie(Points, Meridians, Circulation). Mercur de France, 1939 (French)
  4. Unschuld, PU. Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in Ancient Chinese Medical Text. Berkeley. University of California Press. 2003
  5. Kendall, Donald. The Dao of Chinese Medicine. Oxford University Press, 2002.


Join the conversation

  1. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for an eye opening article. I’ve practiced acupressure for many years and studied and practice chi gung and internal martial arts. One of my best teachers said forget about chi and focus on the sensation. My sense is that chi gung is a mental exercise as well as physical. You mind is focusing on parts of the body which creates movement of blood and nerve energy.
    Have you made any corrections to the locations of the meridians based on what you were writing? or no of anyone who has written about this?
    Thanks, John

  2. Very interesting read. Respectfully I have a question. Why are the methods of contemporary medicine and ancient chinese style medicine so different in this case? It seems that both methods of thinking about qi(as oxygen, and as vital life force i.e. energy) have validity and can be cross referenced in other chinese traditions that use the same word. But if their methods of research were so similar and their understanding so similar to modern physiology, why is it that the methods are so different? Even more so, we have better technology today, so why is there debate about what physiologically happens during an acupuncture treatment if their methods of figuring this stuff out was so similar to ours? Should we be able to not only see what they were seeing, but be working to demonstrate it on a cellular level with success? What is going on here?

    • even further, this would further mystify things like the five elemental theory used in acupuncture, other chinese medicine, and smaller treatment modalities based on TCM, that have become part of medical or other health care practices(like Applied Kinesiology in the chiropractic profession)

      Obviously these are questions not criticisms, you aren’t saying chinese medicine doesn’t work, just that how we look at it is incomplete or inaccurate.

  3. My Say:-
    I know understanding Qi is not the cup of tea for general public. It is easier for the persons with background of physics and mathematics. But those who understand can develop the skill of generating their own protocol also understand the modern scientific view – my book The BIJI meridians

    Qi might have been described in the classical texts in many ways which I do not know (don’t know Chinese) yet in order to explain all that I have read in English I stand to say two things:
    1. That it has very close relationship with physical and metaphysical both and has to do with creating metaphysical as well as physical (or should I say Metaphysical to physical and vice versa)
    2. That Qi is representative mix of more than one wave length of existence – in fact innumerable – and incorporates energy (as explained in modern science) as its leading constituent.

  4. Your article is right on with my own thinking about the “myths” of tcm. I’ve been practicing acupuncture and herbal medicine for over 40 years. I know of its efficacy. It is the greatest system of natural holistic medicine on the planet. However just because it works does not necessarily explains ‘why it works.’ I can’t understand how there can be so many acupuncture schools and now even doctoral programs and to my knowledge the same only bullshit, ‘party line’ platitudes and myths keep getting passed along. No one needs to be a genius physiologist to realize that the named meridians and Chinese organs called spleen, kidneys and so forth have little or no relationship to what we now know these organs are and their functions. The schools and world of tcm is like a closed system of heavily indoctrinated ‘true believers’ who thrive in a world of anti-science. I’d love to read more on this topic from you and I’d really dig the opportunity of someday having a one on one conversation. Failing that thanks for coming out and saying the indeed, “the emperor, including the yellow emperor as we have come to know him, has no clothes.”

    • I have the exactly same thought. I’m an allopathic medicine student with a neuroscience background, but I often get irked by the reductionist way of diagnosing and treating diseases by western medicine (what an irony). TCM is a very mature branch of medicine that’s rich in clinical observations and phenomenon. Last time I was in China, someone gave me a book named “how to use the meridians in your body” written by a 3rd generation TCM practitioner. At first I thought that it was stupid and absurd, however as I read on, I found out that there were many scattered pieces of seemingly absurd statements (or observations) that could be explained perfectly by western anatomy and physiology, such as the relationship between kidney/blood/bone, eye muscles/vision with neck and so much more. At first I was really amazed, however, the problem is that TCM practitioners don’t have the easy-to-understand theoretical basis of western medicine. Like you said, they rely on “what has happened and what is happening”, rather than “why is it happening” because TCM is very intimately related to the unique Chinese worldview, which is not yet possible to test. They have to rely on extensive clinical experience and a stroke of genius to diagnose the root causes of their patients’ diseases. It’s a shame that many TCM practitioners don’t have the sophistication to do just that.

  5. How do you reconcile the work that indicates the human body is an energetic system as well as anatomy? That physiology is governed by electrical impulses? That fascia is contiguous and is a semi-conductor as well as conducting these charges? Kendall is great to a point and certainly the translation of the Lingshu and Suwen is not complete or definitive. To take a stance that says there is no “Qi” and the explanation of Channels/Meridians is completely false is….don’t have the word.

    Do you want to have a real conversation about the question marks that exist in this art?

    Peter C. Doyle, LAc, MSOM

  6. Hi,
    I am a Chinese. I am still in the process of reading your blog articles. It contains interesting information on Chinese medicine, from the modern science prospective. But there are a lot of in-accuracies on Chinese culture which causes distortions.

    Let me point out a few.

    1. The so-called Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classics was written in a dialect used by ancient noble people. It is still taught in the chinese high schools Today. People refer to it as ‘ancient text’. It is not used in the daily life any more. As the chinese culture is westernized, most people do not use or need to read texts written in such ‘ancient texts’. But people studying chinese literature, or TCM medical doctors still read this type of ‘ancient texts’ fluently, so it is not a lost art. Check out Huang-Di-Nay-Jing on youtube, you will find a lot of Chinese scholars introducing this book to the general public (in chinese).

    2. Huang-Di-Nay-Jing was written from a Tao-theory foundation. Taoist believe the whole universe was created from a chaotic ‘object’ called Qi. Qi then got splitted into ying and yang and then into the various material in the world…….. It happens that Qi, in chinese language, also mean ‘air. But in Nay-Jing, it was very clear from the text that it doesn’t mean Qi in the usual sense. I have never seen any Chinese TCM masters intrepreting Qi to be ‘air’ or ‘oxygen’.

    On the other hand, when the text describes air in the body, it does use the same term ‘qi’. But ‘qi’ in this sense is hardly metaphysical and people know from the context which meaning of ‘qi’ or ‘Qi’ the text is referring to.

    If one wants to understand the background of ‘Qi’, please study taoist texts before making comments. The ancient chinese, especially the author(s) of Nay-Jing believed in the absolute unity of Heaven-Man. Even though Taoists do not believe in a personal God, but the texts do have a faint religious favor. It is dangerous to interpret it from a purely materialistic (the main stream of western medicine) point of view. Translating ‘Qi’ into energy is widely used by today’s Chinese TCM scholars. When scholars describe ‘Qi’ to ordinary folks, sometimes they use energy (in chinese) to refer it.
    Although it is not a perfect translation, it is much more accurate than translating into ‘air’. If one considers the western ‘Big Bang’ materialistic cosmology that the universe came from the ‘bang’ of a unknown energy, then this analogue is not totally wrong. For people with western religious background, ‘Qi’ is similar to western concept of ‘The One’, without will, personality attached to it.

    1. The

    • Hi Aiko,

      thanks for your very good post! I also don’t think that qi = oxygen, and as you mentioned Qi can’t be a material concept like Oxygen. In western terms a more broader explanation is needed to get in touch with that, but energy is also wrong, as it is a physical issue. From a western perspective Qi is a nonlinear concept, that describes an influence, that is not causal, not material but induces an event in time an space.

    • Qi might have been described in the classical texts in many ways which I do not know (don’t know Chinese) yet in order to explain all that I have read in English I stand to say two things:
      1. That it has very close relationship with physical and metaphysical both and has to do with creating metaphysical as well as physical (or should I say Metaphysical to physical and vice versa)
      2. That Qi is representative mix of more than one wave length of existence – in fact innumerable – and incorporates energy (as explained in modern science) as its leading constituent.

  7. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion
    ISBN 7-119-01758-6
    14-E2-121 S

    Sorry, I forgot to mention…..
    This book was compiled by the International of Acupuncture Training Centers, Acupuncture Institute of China, Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and many other related organizations. it is published by the Foreign Languages Press and distributed by the China International Book Trading Corporation.

    This book have never defined Qi as “energy” officially. The esoteric term Qi was only used and implicated as energy by many Qi Gong and martial artists practicing groups. For example, a Qi Gong master always say: “Stand on the ground with the feet and raise the hands and breathe to capture the Qi from Heaven and Earth.”

    IMO It is better to use the actual character Qi in the text instead of translating it as “energy.” Thus it gives room for interpretation. In ancient time, I am sure that “Qi” was interpreted as “energy” from Heaven and Earth, but in the modern time, I would interpret Qi as the source of energy.

    I knew that by standing on the ground and raising the hands do not and cannot absorb the energy from Heaven and Earth. I am not sure what “the energy from Earth” was. However, I know by raising the hands do not absorb the energy from Heaven. It was only a body gesture for deceiving someone. Actually, the keyword “breathe” was a dead give away. During breathing, we will absorb the oxygen from the air which may be implicated as the energy from Heaven. Of course, it is the source of energy to be exact because of this conceptual biochemical formula:
    Glucose + O2 => H2O + CO2 + heat + energy(ATP).

    This formula indicates that oxygen it the function of energy. Oxygen is a variable factor and was obtained from breathing. Thus the more oxygen we breathe the more ATP will produce. Our ancestors had already figured out how to retain the oxygen in the body by breathing deep, slow and long. In doing so, it allows more time for the red blood cells to collect more oxygen molecules to deliver to the body cells.

    The method for breathing deep, slow and long is known as the Qi Gong breathing method or abdominal breathing. As a long time Qi Gong practitioner, I called it the Ultimate Method of Breathing(UMB). This method was known by the ancient Chinese Taoists and that was how they breathe during the Taoist meditation. The UMB was called Tu Na(吐吶) thousand years ago.

    This is the Tu Na method:
    1. Have the abdomen fully expanded during slow inhalation.
    2. Have the abdomen fully contracted during slow exhalation.

    This will allow ample of time for the oxygen to be delivered to the body cells. Thus it was said to be that the Qi is flow inside the body. Hence, we feel very energetic, one might think that was the energy we’d absorbed from Heaven and Earth but it was not. At this point in time, we know that Qi was meant to be oxygen rather than energy. We felt so energetic was because the ATP energy was taken effect by the decomposition of the glucose interacting with the excess of oxygen that was provided from the special breathing method.

    Qi is an esoteric term which has many contextual meanings. In our illustration, Qi can be mean “energy” or “oxygen. Therefore, it is not wise to confine it to one definition and abide to it and force us into a dead end.

    • “According to Chinese thought, Qi was the basic substance constituting the universe, and all phenomena were produced by the changes and the activity of Qi.”

      The book used the “movement of Qi.” I thought it is appropriate to use “activity” to replace “movement.” Later, the book did use the “vital activity of Qi” to describe the movement of Qi.

      If the Chinese definition of Qi is the basic substance for all matters, does the “basic substance” implicates it is the same as the basic unit of the body which is the body cell? Furthermore, the human body functions by the changes and activities of the cells. Does this sound familiar.

      The the part where the book describes the Function of Qi says: “Qi acts extensively in the human body by permeating all parts. …….. If the movement of Qi ceases, the vital activities of the human body will also cease……”

      Even though the Chinese did not have the term “body cell,” at the time, but they had the same idea about Qi. In modern science, the description of the body cell fits the definition of Qi as described here.

    • Hi.

      Qi Gong have many applications other than simply breathing and generating oxygenation in the body.

      I can be used for martial arts, healing and others.

      The belief that one “cannot absorve energy from heaven” is just that – a belief.

      Not to mention metabolic formulas doens´t explain this concept at all – since the “energy of the heavens” are related to the ten heavenly stems and change accordingly to those. The oxygen concentration in the air doesn´t change so drasticaly as to cause such differences.

      Also, here´s some Qi Gong in effect :

      I will be very surprised if oxygen and simple ritimic breathing without tecnique is capable of giving someone the power to drill it´s own gut, throat and temple without being harmed at all.

  8. “So also in this case the explanation of oxygen as the main Energy source of muscle movement is wrong.

    1 Glucose + 6 O2 + 32 ADP + 32 P → 6 CO2 + 6 H2O + 32 ATP”

    I didn’t want to say oxygen is the main source of energy other than it’s part of the source. However, for simplicity, that was a best way to explain it for an ordinary person to understand something about Chi Kung,

    Even though my formula was incomplete, but it has not defied the fact that glucose + oxygen did yield 32ATP. However, that was under normal breathing and absorbing the oxygen from the air. If one’s breathing stops, then
    glucose + oxygen only yields 4ATP. Two molecules of ATP will be used up by the cell respiration process and only two were left for the energetic function for muscle contraction. Until all of the small amount of oxygen in the body was used up, the glucose cannot be decompose any further to produce ATP. Without ATP, the body cells die. Do you see the significance in the present of oxygen in the body?

    The reason I’d said oxygen is the main source of energy in Chi Kung was because that Chi Kung is emphasized in breathing; and oxygen is the main ingredient what we are after. Btw The glucose is already in the body. Therefore, there was no need to mention it for people without any scientific knowledge.

    “second, ATP is not energy, it stores energy and is used in many biochemical reactions. In cases of muscle contraction ATP binds on myosin and then you get → ADP + P (+ Energy) and the muscle movement happens.”

    I do agree on this part. Do you know how difficult is to explain this part to others. Again, for simplicity, it would be alot easier for people to understand by telling them that ATP as a form of energy.

    • Yes its difficult, and body functions are very difficult. But a pseudoscientific wrong explanation makes it even more difficult, so why you dont just say breathing is important and in qi gong you optimize that, and without breathing you would die. I agree with that and everybody would understand that, so your formula is not needed. I mean be honest and just say you dont know how it works, nobody knows that, we all speculate about that (including me, and I cant proof anything), but the worst we can do is to take a simplification and pseudoscientific explanation for what we all do in chinese medicine, that is not usefull but misleading. And if you use a formula, than it has to be correct, and if you talk about biochemistry, theres a lot more to know and to say about it and there are hundreds of other mechanisms involved, that are as important as ATP.

      • hmmm….pseudoscientific wrong explanation….!!!

        FYI You’d called this pseudoscience but I didn’t come up with this myself. Somebody already won a Nobel prize on this oxygen idea. Somebody has to understand it, in order, to come up with that. Let’s not try to be evasive about it.

    • For those who study TCM and Chinese acupuncture should own this book for good reference.

      Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion
      ISBN 7-119-01758-6
      14-E2-121 S

      Here is how the book defines “Qi”
      “According to Chinese thought, Qi was the basic substance constituting the universe, and all phenomena were produced by the changes and the activity of Qi.” Then, it goes into more details about different types of Qi as described by Mr. Philip Tan-Gatue above.

      I had been fighting the definition of Qi as energy. Even thought the Chinese classics had never defined it as “energy,” but finally I have realized that it can be defined as “energy” and many other things by its contextual meaning. Unfortunately, that was how the Chinese classics were written, all the meanings of the ancient terms were given within the text metaphorically. It was up to the readers to interpret their meanings. In many case, the terms could be misinterpreted and reach the wrong conclusion. Thus it has to try again by another trial and error.

      Nowadays, the native scholars are able to define what they meant by past experience and with the latest scientific knowledge. However, some TCM practitioners have no scientific knowledge and still stagnated with the old traditional concepts. IMMHO I would like to suggest that we should put the pieces together by gathering the known facts little by little from here and there.

    • James, to “breathe in the qi” implies several things, including inhaling air, but there are two main functional actions worth noting. Part of the problem is that “breathe in the qi” is an English translation, so the meaning and context get skewed.

      If your body is lightly stretched in all directions (arms, legs, head, etc.) and you inhale while holding the abdomen in (but don’t let the chest expand), pressure will build up in the abdomen. If you feel for it, you will also feel something akin to the superficial fascia at the fingertips/hands being pulled sort of taut and the pull is toward the torso. That slight pull of membranes and the implied connection has a lot to do with “qi” (although there are several other factors, in a practical sense). If I “breathe in the qi” through the qi-inlet points at the ends of the fingers, I am functionally pulling (and therefore training) the fascia membranes with my breathing.

      And so it goes with the rest of the body. If I “breath in the qi at the kidneys”, I am pulling the fascia tensile connection at the kidney area inward as a training/health device. If I am doing standing postures (zhan zhuang) I am deliberately holding position and slightly stretching the tensile connection (in either an Open, Close, or Balanced Open/Close) in order to “train the qi”.

      “Qi” can indicate a number of things that have to do with the tensile connections of the body. Think of an elastic balloon. It has a tensile cover and it has air-pressure inside of it. Qi always accompanies something with the meaning of some sort of strength or health. One Chinese viewpoint is that humans are like balloons and we need a certain amount of pressure in the balloon for strength, but the strength of the elastic walls is of equal importance.

      A qigong can be thought of as something that strengthens the elastic walls and allows us to keep our qi pressure at a good level. An old person, if you think about it, is like an aging balloon with a leaky, weak elastic skin and not much air pressure inside. Qigongs help rejuvenate the old or weak balloon.

      The “Qi of Earth” is related to the idea of strength. Our physical strength can ultimately be resolved to the idea that unless we have the support of the ground from which to push off of and unless we have the pull-down of gravity, we actually have no strength, despite our muscles. In other words, the “Qi of Earth” relates to the powers derived from gravity.

      Our postures and our “intent” (manipulation of angles due to micro-manipulation of force directions within the body), plus the strength of our muscle-tendons and “pressure” determine how effectively we utilize the “qi” through the body. Badly twisted posture? No qi. Exhausted from lack of sleep for the last two nights so that your intra-body faculties are diminished? No qi.

      The Qi of Heaven is a different topic, but there is a trick way to utilize the body and “pressure” so that ‘air pressure’ can be converted to a lot of force/power. The strange thing is that the conversion of air pressure into force happens in the dantian area. So just like the ancient texts read, the dantian is actually an area of “change”. I think what we’re doing is finding out that the ancient Chinese (and Indians, because the origins of these “air” related power/health systems seems to have come from India far, far back) were aware of a body-technology that was pretty interesting.

      • Hello. Your comment about the heavenly Qi got my attention! What is this technique of converting air pressure to power that you speak of? Sounds very interesting!

        • If you think about the ‘air pressure’ part of it, it’s not really a new idea, but it’s an easy one to miss. First of all you have references to “qi” and “prana”, both meaning air. Secondly, you have had a number of Chinese martial-artists who have learned a degree of idiomatic English (while living in the US) who have gone on to mention “air pressure” in the dantian area. Thirdly, you have both Chinese martial-arts and qigongs and Indian yogic and pre-yogic focus on pressure locks, “bandhas”, that are essentially the same in both yogic and qi-gong/neigong practices. If air pressure wasn’t an important part of the conditioning, it wouldn’t be in both of those general disciplines.

          The problem with the use of pressure is that it takes a certain amount of conditioning before it begins to evince or manifest itself. It seems to be a way to optimize the body strength by sort of pre-loading the tissues and also taking out any slack in the system through which there might be efficiency losses. It’s a cute body trick and it is an epiphany about why so many of the qigongs involve pressure, control of connective tissues, and so on.

          So essentially, to recapitulate, you use the “qi of earth” in relation to the jin forces of the ground’s solidity and the pull-down of gravity. You use the “qi of Heaven” in terms of oxygen and the air-pressure tricks (with the conversion to power by air pressure being done in the dantian-area, the “area of change”). Lastly, you have the powers developed within and by the human body itself that are in line with harnessing the “qi of earth” and the “qi of heaven”. So “Heaven, Earth, Man”, all connected together, is a description of how power and energy are utilized in an ideal situation. And that follows, of course, because “qi” is always associated with strength.

          • Incidentally, just to give a credentialed support to the idea of the “qi of earth” being utilized/conducted by a properly used body, I’ll attach the below-styled excerpted video of Chen Xiaowang (of the Chen-style Taijiquan) explaining posture and the conduction of “qi” with his son, Chen Jun.

            In the excerpt (from one of his training videos), CXW is showing that qi is severely restricted/blocked by incorrect posture. He’s not talking about an intrinsic energy “qi” that originates within the body; he’s talking about how the body uses the part of the “qi of earth” that is the solidity of the ground (you can find references to the ‘solidity of the ground’ in a number of Chinese martial texts).

            So Chen Jun can use his muscles for power as long as he has “qi” to the muscles; when the body no longer can propagate the strength of the ground’s solidity, the muscle does no good.

            As an aside, when the body is tired, loses energy, etc., it can’t propagate “qi” very well, either, so the condition of “no qi” exists. You get qi from food, as one condition. The kid in grammar school who was extraordinarily strong and could kick everyone’s butt … he had “strong hereditary qi”. And so on.

            Here’s the video excerpt. It’s on my ftp site, so it might take a minute to load; please be patient.


            • The video was very misleading. It was not the qi that was blocked. His son was off balance which puts him in a vulnerable position and not able to exert any counter force.

              • Seriously? “Off balance” is certainly a factor, but it is to miss the whole point of what we’re talking about in this sub-thread.

                • Jim, think about it for a second … either Chen Xiaowang doesn’t understand what qi is, based on his comments and his reputation as head of the Chen-style Taijiquan, or you’re missing something.

                  IF, as is the premise of the article that Chris posted, most of the current understanding of what qi is is wrong, then what is “qi”? CXW is giving everyone a pretty good hint in that video. That’s why I posted the video.

                • Mike…..
                  The Chinese had been brain washed in using the term “chi” for most of everything. They have no idea what exactly it means. Even the respectable masters is because they were taught from generation to generation. Each field uses the term with different meaning. Unfortunately, most people only say “chi” with the meaning in their minds but never verbally say what exactly it was meant. However, most people took it for granted by assuming what they thought it was. In your case, CXW did the same thing by calling something chi from learning in the past. One may think that he knows what he is talking about because he is a master of Tai Ji Quan, Most of the martial arts practitioners do not have any scientific knowledge about the physiological aspects of the human body. What they know are only the superficial knowledge by assuming what might be taken place in the body by their own feelings. There are lots of biological changes taken place inside the body during practice by the breathing and movements. The ancients do not have the scientific knowledge as we do. Hence, the martial arts people had neglected or don’t know what to say about the biological effects inside the body such as cell respiration or metabolism.

                  From the practice of any kind of martial arts does produce body energy but they do not know how and where does the energy came from. Their own explanation was by assuming that the energy was absorbed from heaven and earth. Unfortunately, they had neglected that the body energy was released from the ATP. The production of ATP was using the oxygen from the air which we breathe and interacted with the glucose.

                • Jim, I’d disagree that Chen Xiaowang doesn’t really understand what qi is. Granted, as I said in an earlier post, it covers a range of phenomena in much the way that an elastic balloon has different properties, but the classical understanding of “qi” in martial-arts is fairly well known and fixed and widely in agreement. I could delineate the different sub-topics of qi in that regard, but let me put it aside for the moment to make a more compelling point to Chris’ original article.

                  My interest from an engineering viewpoint was always to learn the physical basis and training of some interesting modes of strength I was encountering in a few martial-arts. I’ve spent many decades pursuing the how’s and why’s of these physical skills and more or less avoided investing time in traditional Chinese medicine. I assumed that the “qi” they were talking about in TCM was different from the “qi” in functional martial-arts. The problem, though, is that there are too many cross-relationships in the martial “qi” and the TCM “qi”, so finally I was forced to start buying texts to see if I could understand the relationships.

                  After going through several TCM texts that were sort of ‘dry’ (like Deadman et al), I wound up reading a more interesting text called “Hara Diagnosis: Reflections on the Sea” (by Matsumoto & Birch) which had some interesting discussions on the theory and development of TCM theory. As I read the book, I noticed a very odd thing: the book was discussing “qi” as some form of energetic, yet the physical relationships were such that I realized that they were discussing physical things that I knew and could demonstrate … but they were calling them “energy”. Very often, the book would have made much more sense if the author(s) had understood the type of movement that is done using the dantian/hara via the elastic connections and muscle-tendon channels. If you remove the idea of an “energy” and replace most of the terms “qi” with “tensile connection”, much of the book’s discussion become very practical … and realistic. Even the discussions of internal relationships of “qi”, which I claim no real knowledge of, would probably resolve to there being a “tensile connection” (maybe through the folded attachments of the mesentery to various organs. There is a noticeable directional component of many of the tensile connections, BTW … that’s the way the “qi” flows.

                  The point is I began to understand, through my reading, that there was perhaps a horrible misunderstanding going on within some facets of the TCM community: they appeared to be conflating fairly obvious (once its shown, in terms of how and why) physical relationships with a discussion about a mysterious energy called “qi”.

                  So when I read Chris Kresser’s web article, I felt like it just clicked into place. It explained in a reasonable manner why I was running into what appears to be a nightmarish misunderstanding of some very practical relationships.

                  Does Chen Xiaowang not really understand “qi” … or is it that many people practicing TCM not really understand something CXW understands very well.

                  Incidentally, among the sub-topics of “qi” are indeed an area of “energetics” that has to do with the electro-magnetic field of the human body. It’s because of this odd relationship of fascia-strength to field-strength (it’s trainable) that a lot of the woo-woo discussions creep into what is otherwise a pretty physical discussion. There is a book by J.L. Oschman called “Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis” which deals with the physical generalities of the electro-magnetic field aspects of “qi”, although I don’t think the treatment is as rigorous as it could be. Still, worth a read.

                • Mike…
                  In CXW’s video clip, I had done a translation on one of his videos in another site. What he was talking about, here, are two things chi(氣) and jin(勁). His main point is about how to execute the jin, fa jin(發勁). Jin is the body strength which acquired from the long practice of the slow form of Tai Ji Quan. Jin is the immense energy; and chi is one of the ingredients to produce jin.

                  The point was being made by him is that the chi (air, 氣) has to be breathed in and store in the dan tien(丹田, abdomen) in order to generated the jin.

                  In the video, his said “chi has to go to the muscles in order to fa jin.” What he was doing is to keep his son off balance, so the son cannot breathe in the chi (oxygen) into the dan tien, thus blood cannot collect enough oxygen to feed the cells in the muscles to generate the Jin (ATP, energy) to fight back.

                  He pretty sure that he meant “chi” as breath rather than “energy.”

                • Jim, “jin” is defined as the “physical manifestation of the qi”, martially. If I use my “intent” (yi) to manipulate force directions in my body, but without moving, I can feel a slight tingle as micro-adjustments are made within the body. That’s where the saying is that the heart (meaning the desire to do something) triggers the mind, the mind triggers the qi, and the qi leads/precursors the strength. That’s the famous nei san he or three internal harmonies. So if I “will” via my intent a jin path from the ground to my, say, forearm in front of me, you will feel this jin vector that is only there because my mind brought the “qi” there first. That’s the relationship of jin and qi and it’s why often you see a simple jin demonstration being called a “qi” demonstration.

                  In the demonstration, all the CXW is talking about is the jin/qi from the ground, basically. Even if he is talking about the jin/qi that is developed by pressure in the dantian/kidney, as well, it doesn’t matter … the qi/jin always goes from the kidneys/dantian to the ground first and from there to where it is needed. In other words, it combines with the qi/jin from the solidity of the ground, so it’s only a tangent to the discussion at hand: we’re still looking at the “qi of the earth” and how it’s impossible to get it to the hands if the posture is badly mangled. I.e., the “qi of Heaven” (your focus on oxygen and ATP) has very little to do with the focus of what I’m saying or the point that CXW is making.

                  Proper whole-body strength in the classical sense utilizes the “qi of the earth” to do the work with the least expenditure of brute-strength (li). If you put someone in a bad-enough posture, the qi/jin from the solidity of the ground can’t be conveyed through the frame and your big muscles will do no good. That’s what he means.

                  In terms of the overall discussion of what “qi” is, particularly in relation to TCM and the acupuncture channels, the general theory is that things within the body are also subject to not being strong or healthy is there is something blocking the free flow of qi (analogous to a bad posture that will not let the qi through to Chen Jun’s hand).

                  So this video of CXW and his son, Jun, is probably a good an interesting insight into how, as Chris Kresser’s article, the term “qi” might well be a misunderstanding, in terms of “energetics”.

                • Incidentally, just so that I’m not arguing by assertion, let me add this quotation from Chen Xiaowang about how the reeling-silk/corkscrew strength/jin (chan ssu jin) goes from the waist/kidney-area to the ground first. Actually, it’s a well-known comment from the ancient literature, but usually in the form of something like “first, send the qi to the ground”:

                  “The corkscrew strength does not initiate from the foot. It initiates from the trunk of the body; it initiates from the waist, from the kidney area. It transfers down toward the foot, and then it rebounds from the foot back up and on through the body. Don’t forget, everything initiates from the waist; it then goes down to the foot and bounces back up from the foot. Otherwise, if you are just using the strength of the foot, it will not be as powerful.” — Chen Xiaowang

              • “The corkscrew strength does not initiate from the foot. It initiates from the trunk of the body; it initiates from the waist, from the kidney area. It transfers down toward the foot, and then it rebounds from the foot back up and on through the body. Don’t forget, everything initiates from the waist; it then goes down to the foot and bounces back up from the foot. Otherwise, if you are just using the strength of the foot, it will not be as powerful.” — Chen Xiaowang

                Well, if one has a good lesson from physics, one would not made nor believe in such statement.

                I know that earth ground is a good shock absorber. Thus I would doubt that a force send to the ground from the body through the foot will bounce back up to the body.

                I would not believe what I have read, blindly, without considering the validity of any statement made by anyone or even by an expert.

                • Jim, all my engineering courses had lots of adjunct math and physics studies, trust me. I also know how to do these things with the “qi of earth”, the “qi of Heaven”, and the “qi of Man”. What CXW is saying is absolutely correct and, as I indicated, not only is he a source for this fairly easy to demonstrate phenomenon, but we also have this as a known observation in the Chinese classics of old. Since this forum doesn’t need a digression into the basic mechanics of Taijiquan (the same mechanics are in a number of other Chinese martial-arts; they all use “qi”), I’ll drop that part of the discussion.

                  However, I’d like to re-emphasize my main thesis: I tend to agree with the original premise that a misunderstanding about energetics got into the TCM literature at some point in time, so I’m glad that I happened onto this forum. My two cents, arriving through a totally different doorway, is that I agree there was a misunderstanding.

                  And thanks to other writers for the pointer to the Kendall book; I’ve ordered a copy of it.

            • Mike….
              Jim, all my engineering courses had lots of adjunct math and physics studies, trust me. I also know how to do these things with the “qi of earth”, the “qi of Heaven”, and the “qi of Man”.

              This seems like not the kind of statement that an engineer would make. I’m a retired electrical engineer. What are you….???

              • Jim, so we’ve both been exposed to the physical sciences. Fine. Then I could explain why “sending the qi to the ground and from there to where it’s needed” is a viable and practical description of a physical process and you could follow the train of logic. It’s a simple statics/vector analysis on a mechanical level, but when you factor in the how’s and why’s of the muscle-tendon channel approach to body-mechanics it gets pretty interesting. And once you understand why the muscle-tendon approach to an examination of the body’s strengths was used, you begin to get an idea of why the qi-paradigm was handy. And that gets us back to the original topic: my only comment is that “qi” actually makes some physical sense as a descriptive tool. And voila, the validity of Chris’ article gets reinforced.

    • I am sorry but this is all really complete nonsense. First qi is not only breathing or muscle movement, or how would you explain a depressed person, that he has not enough energy because his supply of ATP is not enough? really, chinese medicine and concepts also include mental states, that are described as qi and this does not fit with your concept.

      In your text You mentioned that there is no anaerob respiration, as you describe it. that’s wrong, there is in glycolysis and you get lactate. You get ATP with glycolysis and there is an aerobe and anaerobe way.

      I mentioned I know your formula, but beside that it is not a correct formula. Thats the correct one 1 Glucose + 6 O2 + 32 ADP + 32 P → 6 CO2 + 6 H2O + 32 ATP
      P Phosphate
      ADP Adenosindiphosphate
      ATP Adenosintriphosphate
      And as mentioned above, you will not get more ATP with more Glucose and Breathing, thats really wrong.

      second, ATP is not energy, it stores energy and is used in many biochemical reactions. In cases of muscle contraction ATP binds on myosin and then you get → ADP + P (+ Energy) and the muscle movement happens.

      In the muscle the main regeneration oft ATP is from Creatinphsphate and not from oxygen, because in the muscle there is a lot more of creatinphosphate stored than ATP. The muscle regains ATP out of creatinphosphate: ADP + Creatinphosphate ↔ ATP + Creatine

      So also in this case the explanation of oxygen as the main Energy source of muscle movement is wrong.

  9. “1. If Qi = Oxygen, then it would also be also possible to measure the qi by measurimg the blood oxygenation. You can try this in taking arterial blood or by using a Pulsoxy, and then you will see, that the results would be nonsens and don’t fit with chinese diagnosis or treatments.”

    Oxygen is, only, a source of energy rather than the energy itself. Energy was produced by the breakdown of the glucose interacting with the oxygen.

    Here is the biochemical formula:
    Glucose + O2 = H2O + CO2 + heat + energy(ATP)


    • I know that formula, and it has nothing to do with qi. By the way, as this formula says, you will not gain more ATP with more oxygen or glucose. This depends on lots of other reactions. Otherwise fast breathing people with Diabetes would be of a high energy level. But fast breathing people with high glucose are in ketoacidosis coma, that really makes somebody very tired, not really healthy. So I think it is not that easy, biochemical reactions take place in a certain surrounding in the living body (instead of a lab), and qi is neither energy (ATP, by the way there is not even one translation for qi in chinese as energy, so qi is really not physical or biochemical energy) nor oxygen, nor something else that is material measurable. It is function, the condition of the surrounding, that indirectly influences biochemical reactions, but not equals them. So before biochemical reactions take place, something else has to preceed them and this depends on the surrounding of the tissues.

      The channels are leading pathways were the relationship and interactions between the different tissues, including muscles, arteries, nerves etc. are taking place. If you can summerize all vessels anatomically (as the word anatomy says, cut and divide in structures, but not in functions) together, than because they share similar features and you can categorize that in a language term. Then you would say, all are hollow and transport blood. But you can also describe another shared feature of different tissue types, but that are all functionally interconected in a living system. Often this interconnection is nonlinear and small changes are important. Your arm is not lifting a glass If you put some oxygen or ATP in it, so the whole “arm” or leg function depends on all the tissue types that are included and describe it as an arm or leg. And this kind of description fits best to what I understand of the channels. They are a general functional categorization of different tissue types that share a common function. Then a channel pathway describe the interrelated influence on different tissue types at the same time, that is not causative.

      • ” know that formula, and it has nothing to do with qi. By the way, as this formula says, you will not gain more ATP with more oxygen or glucose. This depends on lots of other reactions. Otherwise fast breathing people with Diabetes would be of a high energy level. But fast breathing people with high glucose are in ketoacidosis coma, that really makes somebody very tired, not really healthy. ”

        The breathing you are talking about was normal fast breathing by an ordinary person. I am referring the Chi Kung breathing method which is slow, deep and long. It make lots of difference if one does not know how to breathing. Perhaps, you might want to read this:–_The_Respiratory_System.html

      • “Your arm is not lifting a glass If you put some oxygen or ATP in it, so the whole “arm” or leg function depends on all the tissue types that are included and describe it as an arm or leg. ”

        1. How do you put the ATP in your arm…???
        2. Without ATP, all the tissue types included in the arm or leg are useless and not functional. Agree….???

        • ATP is needed, your nerves are needed, muscels are needed, your brain is needed, all that stuff together is needed thats what I said. So your approach is useless and misleading if you tell people its the ATP, no its not. You dont need such a pseudoscientific Explanation to tell People why breathing is so important, every child knows that life ends without breathing and you dont need a formula for that. These pseudoscientific explanations dont help, they confuse more and are not useful. And its not the ATP on its self that does this, so thats what I am talking about, you cant say ATP = qi, because function does not only depend on ATP.

  10. Dear Chris,

    I respect your anatomical approach on channel theory like Kendall did, but there are some very easy facts that rule out this Theory.

    1. If Qi = Oxygen, then it would also be also possible to measure the qi by measurimg the blood oxygenation. You can try this in taking arterial blood or by using a Pulsoxy, and then you will see, that the results would be nonsens and don’t fit with chinese diagnosis or treatments.
    2. As Kendall points out, the chong mai = Aorta. The chong mai is an extraordinary vessel. But everybody knows, that the extraordinary vessel are not in contact with the internal organs (i personally prefer the word orbis to describe that, not an anatomical organ more an area of function). Obviously, the aorta has a direct contact to the heart, so this really doesn’t fit at all.
    3. If you describe these chinese terms in an anatomical mannor, what ist your anatomical translation for Yin/Yang and the 5 Phases?
    4. If the chinese followed an anatomical approach, why are the drawings of the channel pathways not anatomically? There are no open Bodies with channels inside drawn.

    So there are many reasons, why the channels don’t equal the anatomical vessels. But I also think, that these esotheric energy concepts also are misleading and not right. As mentioned abouth, qi is better translated as function, that can manifest in a sufficient oxygenation but doesn’t has to be. Qi manifests also in a proper mental function, that does not only depend on oxygenation of the brain cells. Function and structure are more correct basic descriptions of Yin and Yang in terms of the Body physiology, and this is not esotheric.

    There are many good models in system biology, that describe an inderdepend effect of heterogenous Systems, that result in a certain behavior like homeostasis, cycling process etc. that are not esotheric, but also not depending only on causal interactions.

    M. Porkert, as a very scholard translator, has written a lot about that, also Manaka or S. Birch (chasing the dragons tail intro)

    So I would describe Kendalls approach as one possible manifestation of body functions, but not the only one, so this anatomical view is misleading.

    Thanks to all of you for your time and I think its really important to discuss such topics in chinese medicine, as it is truely a medicine of relationships 🙂

    • Dear Chris,
      such comments are self speaking of their lack of thoughtfulness and you don’t have to reply. whatever little I have gone through your blog it gives to understand that the treatment points are junctions of such things that treatment on such junctions induces (through induction a/o resonance or some other known/unknown mechanism) desired changes on various processes (Qis) say by inducing neural impulse and affecting secretions/flow of body fluids.
      Dear Matt – Wood, Fire …etc in short are phases /stages of a process not substances! Don’t take ill of it but you ought to go through basic training/teaching from a good teacher who knows the theoretical aspects – Remember: a good therapist who can cure some serious diseases is not necessarily a good teacher or has due knowledge!

      • Dear Mishra,

        Before you tell me to learn more about that, I think you should open your eyes first an learn to read a text correctly, I never said that fire, earth, etc. are elements, I said they are Phases. So I have to disappoint you in your deep insights on that topic and me, but your comment is also self speaking. You don’t argue about that, you just have the ability to attack me personally. And I think Chris is a man, not longer a small boy that needs your help in that discussion. And beside that I agree with you that acupuncture induces changes of body fluids, but that is not what Kendalls model is about.

        • Thank you Dear Matt!
          Yang goes vertical and Yin Goes horizontal. Qi is the resultant going in all possible directions originating from every junction point when stimulated, forcing it to move in desired direction requires the skill and knowledge (combined) of a therapist. It is always changing in quality and quantity within permissible limits (min-max). Simplifying the directions in 360 degrees One can use 8 directions in a plane…!

          • Yes and the sky is blue and the sun is shining…what do you want to tell me with these paraphrases? I don’t agree in that, yin is not in any case directed horizontally, nor is the term yin reducted on directions only, it also describes structure.

    • @ Matt
      hmmm….pseudoscientific wrong explanation….!!!

      FYI You’d called this pseudoscience but I didn’t come up with this myself. Somebody already won a Nobel prize on this oxygen idea. Somebody has to understand it, in order, to come up with that. Let’s not try to be evasive about it.

      “qi is better translated as function”
      Qi can be one of the translations as “function” but better. You see the term “qi” was widely used in the Chinese literature. Its has multiple contextual meanings. Each term was not customary defined in Chinese classics. Thus the readers have to make assumptions to figure its logical meaning with common sense.

      In your case, qi can be interpreted as the function of an internal organ. When the TCM practitioner says to someone: “Your kidney qi was stagnated.” It simply means that the kidney was not functioning properly or not functioning at all.

      Nowadays, the westerners only have one translation for “qi” as energy. Then, the interpretation would become: “The stagnation of kidney energy.” Hence, the original meaning of qi was lost in the translation.

      • Who has won a noble price on the idea that oxygen equals qi? Nobody. I think you are talking about szent-György, who discovered the citric acid cycle (and I am not against that, you misunderstood me in that case), but I don’t think that he was taking about qi, and thats the point. I criticise the incorrect mixture, i am not against physiology, on the contrarary, but physiology is much more complex than just that biochemical beta-Oxydation or the citric acid cycle, so thats what I called pseudoscientific.

        Beside that I agree with you, I also think energy is a misleading translation for qi, and as you said its function, that manifests in different tissues, in different areas of the body and in very different ways as we are talking about human physiology. And as I already mentioned, there’s no translation for qi in chinese that is called energy. Generally the term qi is even more profound in terms of other macroscopic phenomena.

  11. Just wanted to say thank you for this series. You have put into real terms what I have been telling patients for years and now I can do it more eloquently and with the right terminology. You have also described something I have felt but couldn’t explain, in that when meeting acupuncturists trained at different schools to my self their approach always felt less medical and more energetic. I used to feel that maybe we had missed something in our teaching but you have made me feel better about this and in fact my school may have been superior. Thank you x

  12. This is a message to “CHRIS”, the “author” of this article:

    Great article !

    I trust that you have Dr. Kendall’s permission to use his concepts and (exact) rationale, paraphrased as they may be, in the unquoted part constituting the bulk of “your” work. Having been a student of Dr. Kendall for many years (you possibly have, too), I am familiar with and easily recognize his work, arguments, and references in your “work”. I apologize that the term “plagiarism” comes to mind. I encourage you to forward this message to Dr. D. E. Kendall.

  13. I think healthy skeptisim is important – how about an “educated skeptic……!!!!!”

    Let’s keep up with our research folks. It’s an important time for further discovery in acupuncture.

    Sorry to bust up your series, BUT tha idea of the “myth” of the meridians is factually inaccurate.

    Enjoy catching up on the latest in the exciting discovery of the acupuncture channels……………..!!!!!

    Maybe you can use your skills and abilities in prommoting truth……………..

  14. I am not I am in agreement here that the Chinese were talking as a blood and bones system and not metaphorical and do not agree with the premise of this article. Ancient Chinese language is quiet poetic and vague and it seems the medicine would reflect that. For example, it seems that the 12 meridians coincide with the 12 astrological signs, 12 notes of a major scale, 12 hours of the day, 12 months of the year, 12 this and that, etc. Geographical locations of a point on a cycle inherent in the blueprint of existence. I think it was quite esoteric. Also, Jing Luo is the word for “meridian” not mai. Mai is vessel. For example, It is called the “Hand Shao Yin Heart JING” Not “Mai”. The 8 Extra are referred to as mai. But the ancient Chinese did compare the meridians to waterways. Where did you get this idea that in Chinese they see the Jing Luo as simply blood vessels? “Energy” has 2 meanings in English. One is E= MC2 as a physical entity that we can use to generate power, and the other definition is a summary of something we can’t explain such as, “That guy has really bad energy.” Energy here refers to a generalization of a summary of things that gives you a feeling rather than something concrete. “I really like the energy of this room.” “Energy” as in Qi is similar. The problem is modern day Westerners can’t understand intangible non linear concepts such as Qi. Breaking it down to hard science waters down the medicine. I think Modern day Westerners that try and break down the medicine as nuts and bolts hard science, simply aren’t willing to wrap their heads around the way ancient people used to think but you can do it if you try.

    • Amen Brother.
      Seeing things from other perspectives, or open mindedness.
      Although I can understand that if you spend 8 – 10 years rote learning information from books given by institutions it may be hard to accept other realities. Especially the reality of a system hundreds of years old compared to a system tested over thousands of years. Science tends to throw away what it doesn’t understand though and only operates through very rigid paramaters/perspectives because everything has to be measured. Not all perceptions and realities can be measured.
      How old is Penicillin? What 65 years old? This as an example of science thinking it had the answer to everything. Yes it played is part and was responsible for the ability to treat previously incurable conditions, but has created antibiotic resistance. Chinese medicine would not throw this away. It has worked and would remain in the arsenal.
      If western thinking has found new ways to interpret meridians, lets not throw out thousand of years of clinically observed experience and personally experienced realities ….that is not helpful. And lets also not blame De Morant for the perception that people have mispercieved the channel networks when there are classical texts explaining the channel systems. I further question the insinuation of De Morants apparent lack of understanding of Chinese when the article is attempting to bring us translations. It seems like a manipulative tactic to validate a belief that something doesn’t exist by using a book as an example for why people apparently got it wrong. “Its ok people, it’s not your fault you misunderstood that the meridians aren’t real, it’s his fault”.

    • “I am not I am in agreement here that the Chinese were talking as a blood and bones system and not metaphorical and do not agree with the premise of this article. Ancient Chinese language is quiet poetic and vague and it seems the medicine would reflect that. ”

      I am not in agreement neither. I don’t believe anything for granted because the ancient Chinese had said so. I always ask the same question, did my ancestors have the scientific knowledge as we have, in the modern time, to derive to such conclusion. Without any scientific knowledge, many assumption were made in the past and never updated or make correction. We are in the space age, now, are we still going to believe some ancient nonsense…..???

      In modern science, we knew darn well that blood was pumped by the heart. It is definitely not moved by some imaginary thing called “Chi.”

  15. One more suggestion Mike, Have you read Deke Kendall’s Dao of Chinese Medicine? Much of Chris’ Series was borrowed from this groundbreaking text. It can help provide a lot of insight.

    Much Love

  16. I think the aspect that many people struggle with can be thought of this way: What flows through the body’s nerves? Is it energy in a spiritual sense? Or is it electrical energy in a physical sense? I would say it is both. What Chris Kresser is trying to draw out in these articles is that for the purposes of Acupuncture theory and practice there is a very real physical basis which form the tenets of Traditional Oriental Medicine theory and practice. This whole debate is very much one of syntax more than philosophy or theory or even practice. I have come to the conclusion that many of the early authors of fundamental chinese medicine theories were very much trying to describe scientific anatomical and physiological processes however the difference in language over two vastly different cultures 5,000 years apart allows for much misinterpretation. Chris Kresser when writing this(He now holds his Ma. in O.M. by the way) was, as usual, ahead of the curve. Much modern understanding of acupuncture theory is heading in the direction he points in this series.

  17. I think you need to stay in school a bit longer, buddy. There’s plenty of holes in your writing there. You seriously think that there would be such a vastly different understanding between the concepts of “prana” and “qi”? Have you ever gotten out and studied Comparative Religions, Anthropology, or Philosophy, or has all your education been in the sciences?

    You didn’t notice in your education that the “woo-woo” in Chinese medicine is not accidental, but is an intrinsic part of the system? That wasn’t added by any sloppy Frenchman scholar. To truly grasp Chinese medicine is to understand that healing comes from a connection and balance in all of life (and that goes beyond homeostasis and blood pH.) Without the Taoism in Chinese Medicine, what have you got? A mere ‘technique’ to release endorphins by stimulating nerve centers, and a cornucopia of foreign botanicals to plunder for future pharmaceuticals?

    What good is that MAOM you’re soon to finish, my man?

  18. So if I am to accept your theory that a French bank teller mistranslated qi and all others followed his lead… then I am at a loss to explain how Chinese and Japanese martial artists also made this mistake. I have trained in Japan and my current instructor only came to the US in her 30’s. So please explain to me how a French translation of an ancient Chinese text became the standard even in the land of the ancient text’s origin? I am dying to hear your explanation!

  19. Great article….although I dont understand what you mean by “No understanding of ancient Chinese Language” ??? According to De-Morant’s book he was taught chinese language from the age of eight, how is that no understanding of chinese language?

    • Chad W, I made a fairly close study of De Morant in 2007 while still a student in med school.

      His Chinese was not perfect and he is famous for having slanted the translations of some concepts but overall he was fairly good as near as I can tell.

      His reference book which is mentioned several times in his “L’ Acupuncture Chinoise” was “The Sea of Words”, a popular Encyclopedia of that era (“Ci Hai” Shanghai 1915).

      In addition, the translator, a Mr. Zmiewski (I may have the spelling wrong) did an excellent job and I learned from somewhere that he had access to some index cards with Chinese Terms and De Morant’s interpretation of them. I was able to speak with de Morant’s daughter, then in her 90s in 2007 living in France (she spoke quite good English) and she indicated that unfortunately his library which had many classics had been broken up and dispersed long ago. The index cards also are, unfortunately, no longer available. Nobody seems to know what became of them.

  20. Blood vessels can take radiant energy to pump blood. In chinese medicine they say chi moves the blood. I rather skip theories and debate and go directly to observations and experiments. If one takes a tube gel material, similiar to collagen material that makes up blood vessels and places it in water, then the water is spontaniously pumped through this synthetic blood vessel powered by light. You can see for yourself at 29 minutes in the following video I’d say this is confirmation that chi moves the blood literally.

    • I am glad to find such common sense articles. I was telling my wife the other day that after playing Tai Chi for 30+ yrs. I didn’t believe in “Chi” as some mystical “Energy” flowing through imaginary energy “Meridians” of the body. For years I believed the health benefits of Tai Chi practice and reason I felt so energized after practice was due to the relaxed mindset and highly-oxygenated blood flowing throughout the entire body.

      • John…..
        I am glad that we are on the right track. I have been practiced Tai Chi for almost forty years by now. It was incredible how my body has transformed to a physical fitness condition.

  21. I totally agree with you Jason. You hit the nail on the head. I would go a step further to say that trying to compartmentalize qi and couch it in what can only be referred to as “the Western thought process” is essentially “dumbing it down”, for lack of a better phrase. It diminishes the overall effectiveness of the medicine and reduces it to an overly simplistic causal reality.

  22. Kendall’s synopsis and elucidation of known mechanisms of acupuncture is invaluable, but he throws the baby out with the bathwater. Japanese acupuncture is meridian based, and derived from classical texts, with no French or English intermediary. Medical Qi Gong/Qi emission is an historical part of Chinese Medicine, and something anyone can experience. Electromagnetic phenomena do occur in the body, and therefore do relate to acupuncture. There seems to be a streak of confirmation bias in Kendall’s thesis, and I suspect it is partly motivated by embarrassment, and a desire for medical acceptance. There is great subtety in the practice of acupuncture. It would be a shame to miss it by jumping to conclusions in the name of science.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. This is an apologist piece, and it’s made by someone who doesn’t yet have the breadth of understanding, or research into other fields such as history, anthropology, and philosophy, to properly comment.

  23. The Chinese energy model has been partly explained and partly filmed by Dr Mae Ho. The link below shows a film of light energy flowing through an organism’s liquid crystalline (collagen) body as it moves. We have a liquid crystal nature.

    These pictures remind me of tai chi.

    This is not all that is going on energetically in these pictures. Collagen, a spiral protein, a liquid crystal, what our structure is made out of, conducts light, electricity, mechanical stress, and creates fields.

  24. Funny, it seems to me that there is the same misconception about Ayurveda too. Nadis are blood vessels. You measure the heart beating by placing your finger on the nadi on the wrist. Prana is also vayu or air. I guess people who talk about fantastical things get more media time than who are really talking sense.

  25. Wonderful post and comments…

    No mention of the endothelium??
    I will try and dig up the source for a starteling study I read…that the “endothelium can recognise and affect the endothelium of another person when in “proxomity” to on another”.

    The endothelium (which western science is just starting to really sink its teeth into) is to me the closest good explanation of the meridians/channels/pathways.



  26. Very fascinating series!  I think I go a step further and posit that we don’t understand much about *Western* medicine, either.  Western medicine goes far beyond 1300, and lies mostly in the techniques practiced by midwives and village doctors for centuries before the idea of partitioning the body into various specialties, instead of looking at the whole body for the underlying issues, often caused by diet, insufficient light or good air, etc., began.

    I see modern medicine, which is practiced the whole world over, as completely discontinuous from the medical practices before it, which was very similar the world over as well, because … we all have the same bodies.

  27. Hi Chris,
    If indeed the meridian concept is merely representing the vascular system then how would one rectify the topics of the extradordinary vessels?  Specifically the ren du yin qiao yang qiao dai yin wei and yang wei.  To my knowledge the concept of these vessels has been around for a very large portion of the history of acupuncture and they do not correlate closely with any vasculature.
    It is obvious that you have a deep understanding of the history of chinese medicine and a sharp grasp on the theory of the practice.  I would welcome your visit and commentary on my recently launched blog at

  28. ” Any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke
    The Chinese description of chi is very analagous to electromagnetism.
    The importance of electromagnetic energy and the human body was brilliantly shown by Dr. Robert Becker who using energy (electricity) was among other things able to regrow animal limbs. Documented in his book- The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life
    His research in the electro-conductivity of collagen in bone give evidence of how advanced chi-kungs such as bone marrow washing work as well as I-Chuan, Yogic stretching, and importance of correct posture to keep bones and tendon in both electrical and structural connection.
    Dr. Mae Won Ho further connects the electromagnetic nature of the human body to acupuncture in her paper, “Coherent Energy, Liquid Crystallinity and Acupuncture”, in which she states, “Aligned collagen fibres in connective tissues provide oriented channels for electrical intercommunication, and are strongly reminiscent of acupuncture meridians in traditional Chinese medicine.”
    Collagen, Collagen, Collagen, a triple helix, a beautiful spiral, a liquid crystal, sensitive to light, pressure, vibration, and electromagnetism. Is it a coincidence that its spiraling extension is like the movement of chinese internal martial arts.
    Lastly I am electrical engineer and have also practiced internal martial arts / qi-gong for many years. With the research of the above and others, good teachers, and discipline (almost daily practice) have all helped me to actually experience chi. Among other experiences, it feels as though the electromagnetic field of my body has increased and unified my body.



  29. Hey Chris,
    Just read this article. Where are you getting your information from?  I would love to read the articles/books on the subject.
    I recently got into a hot debate with a fellow L.Ac. who insists on telling her patients that Chinese medicine is part magic. I think this is a huge discredit to the patient, to Chinese Medicine, and to our profession as a whole. To me the word “magic” implies that the patient is being “tricked” or “fooled” into believing that what we do is helping them. I also think the word magic takes the true healing power away from the patient (because lets face it, we are not healing them, we are guiding their own body’s healing potential).  To me there is no magic involved in Chinese Medicine, in fact it is all pretty straightforward and basic, it all can be explained. Although we may not understand it all in terms of western medicine now, we will one day be able to. It is up to our generation of acupuncturist to fuse the two medical models.
    When patients ask me how it works I often give reference to the nervous system to explain it. I usually try to simplify it and say that Chinese medicine is a balancing system.

    • Hi Dawna,

      The references are listed at the end of the text. The Dao of Chinese Medicine by Kendall is the best place to start.

  30. I expended some effort, in 2006 and 2007, in contacting some relatives of DeMorant, regarding his library of classical Chinese medicine books.  I was able to mail a query to his daughter, now in her 90’s who said that the library had unfortunately become dispersed after De Morant died.  And I was able to email a newphew of DeMorant who was able to give me the names of a couple of books that DeMorant had used to learn Anatomy and Physiology.
    There was said to be a bunch of index cards with various Chinese words and their translations, that De Morant had.   Zmiewski, who did the brilliant translation of L’ Acupuncture Chinoise by De Morant, into English, I think mentioned something of them but they remain unavailable.
    While I continue to use DeMorant’s book, I eventually discovered van Nghi, Dzung and other more classical books as better sources of “real” Chinese medicine.
    If you could mention online sources of classical Chinese medicine books, that would be interesting.  On my own, I’ve discovered that the entire “Si Ku Quan Shu”, which includes the “Golden Mirror of Medicine” and the “Ben Cao Gang Mu”, all in Chinese, of course,  is available for download from      However, there is a trick – if you type in “Golden Mirror of Medicine” in English into  the search engine, it will not find it – you have to use the Chinese characters.   For this, I just go to Wikipedia, type in “Golden Mirror of Medicine” in English and then find the Chinese characters in the article and copy and paste those into

  31. Chris
    The one reason I’m so convinced that the classical channels are indeed true is that I’ve had at least three patients tell me that the needling sensation along the foot yangming channel does follow the slight zigzag between st 38, 39, 40 then 41 for them, especially when I needle both st 36 and st 42.
    But yes, we are in total agreement about the metaphors.  My world is one where I have to teach western medical students basic TCM concepts.  Some of them have had previous encounters with TCM practitioners (many who are MDs/Acupuncturists) and they’re told that they have to “forget” western medicine to understand Chinese medicine.
    I tell them that the secret to understanding Chinese medicine is to do precisely what you’re saying – understand the terms and ideas as metaphors for phenomena that we may give different names to today.  Back then they used natural phenomena analogous to environmental conditions.  One seething critique of TCM in a column a few years ago even used that as “evidence” that TCM is baloney.  I countered by saying “so where does that leave ‘modern’ medicine when we use the term inflammation”?  No answer from him heh heh.
    I am not surprised that ancients could figure out a lot of things just by taking a lot of time to observe phenomena and then try to analyze them.  I assume that in a world without television, newspapers or the internet, people had a lot more time to just walk around a park and THINK.  Kinda like Newton seeing an apple fall and getting his brain gears turning.

  32. Phillip,

    I’d say we’re not far off, but that we may disagree on some issues.  Which is fine, of course.  There’s plenty of room for different opinions!

    Propagated (needle) sensation is transmitted along known nerve pathways, so it seems impossible to me that “meridians” exist outside of these pathways.

    I do agree that the Chinese concept of blood is broader than the western concept. And I have found the Chinese concept to be useful in making a diagnosis for herbal prescription.  But I understand the Chinese concepts of blood, yin, yang etc. primarily as metaphors for mapping various pathologies that were not understood scientifically 2,000 years ago.  They’re still useful today, because the ancient Chinese discovered through experimentation which botanicals were useful for which “pathology map” (i.e. “yin deficiency”).  That they figured this out without the benefit of modern science is astounding.

    • not totally true.
      There is a technique known from needling Ren 4/6 that elicits a needle sensation to the lower groin area and has no relationship to any known nerve pathways.

      • Dear Chad,
        Treatment points are junctions of physical things like vessels, neuron endings, lymphatic channels etc which definitely are reservoirs of energy (a universal fact of physics) the metaphysical.
        I understand that phenomenon like induction / resonance may be responsible (in fact I am quite convinced) for the sensations or for that matter curative and otherwise effects on Qi (the subject matter of health and ailment)

  33. I think part of where we are finding difficulty to reconcile our conceptions is the the placement of a seeming dichotomy between the “material” and “non-material”.  We both agree that “Qi” and “Blood”, “Channels and Collaterals” definitely refer to something physiologic (I say physiologic and not anatomic because I want the laymen readers to imagine dynamic processes and not static structures) as opposed to “energy” medicine.
    Comment/Question: we both know that moxibustion and bloodletting both preceded acupuncture (as we know it – inserting fine needle and getting “deqi” sensation) my question is – which do you think came first?
    Another comment: while I do agree that a cursory reading of the classics does seem to indicate the recognition of jingluo (channels and collaterals) as literal blood vessels, does that mean that they are recognized ONLY as such? My belief, supported by clinical practice, seems to hint to me that at the very least, the “lines” as mapped out in Chinese charts even before De Morant drew his connect-the-dots can also be interpreted to mean the direction of flow of needling sensation.  Just because one interpretation is true doesn’t mean the other is automatically false. (remember how Qi flow in the meridians seems to go in different directions as specified either by horary flow of Qi as opposed to five transporting points flow?)  Note that I am not disagreeing with you per se, but pointing out that our viewpoints are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  That sort of decartesian “true” and “false” absolutism is precisely the kind of thinking that oriental philosophy does so well without.
    Which brings us to Blood – I am not sure I am comfortable with the notion that material and non-material “forms” of Blood again need have to be mutually exclusive.  Can we agree in saying that the Chinese concept of Blood at the root level is at par with the western concept, but with a broader application?  That’s how I explain it: just like the zangfu, the Chinese word “blood” refers to both the substance and the function.  I say this because I am reminded that Blood, being yin, doesn’t necessarily have a non-material sense.  The non material sense of blood is Qi, isn’t it? (Qi here taken to mean the dynamism of blood, the flow…)
    God I love intelligent discussion about chinese medicine!  It is a refreshing departure from the usual claptrap.

  34. @ Chris just wanted you to know that I know that you already understand the basis of my treatment (using shu stream points) but I was just elaborating it for the benefit of your lay readers.

  35. I respectfully disagree about meridians being an invention of Soulie de Morant, at least in terms of the pathway direction.  The Huangdi Neijing was very clear on this, as were later texts which westerners never even touched until recently.  I refer you to the Zhenjiu Jiayijing as a way to see the HDNJ as edited by Huangfu Mi, who lived in the 3rd century AD.  The classical pathways were clearly defined then, and they do not necessarily correspond to blood vessels, spindles and nerves.  However, I would like to propose an alternative: have you thought about their referring to dermatomal lines?  I read somewhere (forgive me, I cannot recall where) that acupuncture meridians may represent functional dermatomes and are classifiable by embryonic layers (ectoderm, endoderm, mesoderm…)
    However, the important thing for me is not what they are – I’ve long given up on trying to understand it perfectly.  What’s important to me (and I’m sure to everyone) is that they form a theoretical basis for a medicine that works.  Just today, in my clinic, I once again demonstrated channel theory.  In a patient with acute shoulder pain, I first isolated through physical examination which channel was affected.  In this case two were affected – triple warmer and small intestine meridians.   I used four distal points all located nowhere near the shoulder, then needled strongly and withdrew almost immediately.  Instantaneous restoration of active range of motion and dramatic reduction of pain.
    My point selection was based on theories put out not in HDNJ but in Nan Jing (Classic of Difficulties), which clearly shows channel theory as pathways of Qi and Blood (jingluo) as distinct from muscles and  blood vessels (mai).
    I guess my point is that while I agree that to label acupuncture as an “energy medicine” is an affront to the practice, I have to disagree with the notion that the pathway of the channels is just a “connect the dots” thingee by de Morant.
    @Karen Yes that is one possible explanation for the meridians.  Chris’ is another.  Mine is another.  There doesn’t have to be one single explanation but I think what is definitely undeniable is a) the channels represent something dynamic and flowing – not static, b) that this something is hardly immaterial but is part of normal hemostasis and that  c) the needling sensation propagated by acupuncture seems to be the basis for mapping these channels. The fact that this needling sensation and later analgesic effect is blockable by naloxone definitely suggests a physical, physiological mechanism as opposed to some “new age” energy concept.

  36. Just turned on to your column and must say highly illuminating.  You showed me a side of TCM that I did not know about and I thought I understood this stuff.  Thanks for that.  I just put up a blog piece last week called “Chiropractic, Acupunture, and Integrative Medicine: The Power and Politics of Healing” on my website  (Check it out if you like)  Now I have to re-think some of my perspectives.
    Thanks a lot!!
    Ricky Fishman

  37. My understanding is that the meridians are spaces over the muscle bellies and between organs where extracellular liquid can flow.  And my understanding of the movement of qi is the passage of hydronium ions through the fluid.   When the Koreans injected radioactive isotopes into points they followed meridians instead of known structures.  And when I was in Bejing, research was being done with soundwaves confirming the meridian locations.
    Now in dissection I cannot say that I ever saw blood vessels following the jing luo, except perhaps the chong meridian.  So what structures do you posit follow the meridians?

    • I’m arguing that the meridians that we were taught in school were an invention of Soulie de Morant, and that what the classical Chinese were referring to are longitudinal distributions of blood vessels, muscle spindles and nerves. This is what I believe the historical evidence and modern scientific understanding of the body supports, and what makes the most sense to me. Thanks for your comments!

      • Dear Chris,
        what seems to be missing in your explanations is the mechanism involved between cause (treatment) and effect (getting well).
        1. What happens when you needle certain point
        2. How it is that the energy affects the Qi
        You may like to go through the introduction to my latest work ‘The Biji Meridians’ which was a hot topic of discussion in your group on Linkedin under the heading Yang goes vertical and Yin goes horizontal. Further I shall only be pleased to forward a copy of my book for review if you can spare some time.

      • I love the ideas in your essay. I first heard them in a Bob Doanes lecture. What I can’t figure out is how my 80 year old Chinese teacher who is ran a hospital in China and taught our classic texts class mistranslated qi and meridian. That part doesn’t make sense to me.

  38. Some comments on what I agree and disagree with: I’ll start with where I disagree.
    The Mawangdui medical texts unearthed in the 70s from Mawangdui show that there is a possibility that the channels actually predate the points.  I refer you to the chapter on the subject on Giovanni Maciocia’s work “The Channels in Chinese Medicine” where he traces the history of channel theory.  Correct me if I am wrong (I am reading your blog at 1 Am my time… not very healthy!) but it would seem to me that the modern concept of meridians is being presented as being a consequence of de Morant’s work.
    Also I would like to point out that the definition of Qi is definitely not that simple.  Qi is more than just air or oxygen, and while I am sure you know this I want to reiterate it to other readers.  I personally translate Qi as “function” or “dynamism” or quite simply “what makes something tick”.  I refer you to a book (I forgot the author) “A Brief History of Qi” where it analyzes the concept of Qi from a historical, cultural and linguistic perspective.  My point is while I agree that it is possible to translate Qi as oxygen, it is not the only applicable translation.  Chinese words are notorious for multiple meanings depending on context and what these words are combined with.  Chinese Medicine also has different kinds of Qi with different names – I believe that oxygen is just one of them.  Pectoral (zong) Qi can refer to our sinoatrial node,  Nutritive (Ying) Qi could refer to glucose, while Defensive (Wei) Qi can refer to our immune system in general…  In this sense I believe my translation of “function” or “dynamism” is applicable.  By the way, according to both HDNJ and Nan Jing (classic of difficulties) the Qi that flows through the channels is defined as nutritive Qi.
    Where I DO agree is that Chinese medicine is definitely not an energy medicine in the modern sense of the word.  I was recently asked this question when I guested on a radio show and my answer was thus: it depends on how one defines energy.  If by energy we mean some quasi-mystical “force” then no.  If by energy we mean the ability of the body to function and do it’s job then yes.
    You are definitely on target with regards to the nodes and organ referred pain.
    Also, the meridians are hardly invisible.  I have had several experiences of meridians (most often the yangming meridians of hand or foot) actually becoming visible (most often reflective of stomach heat) and colored red.  If I may ask for you email address I can certainly send you some photographs.
    One more thing: I heartily agree that the term “meridian” is inaccurate and misleading.  A meridian, in the most common use of the word in the english language, implies a static line.  I prefer the word “channel” in the British sense since it implies a flowing, dynamic body of water, through which goods are transported (i.e. English Channel).  Before I forget, many people assume that it is only Qi that flows through the channels.  Actually it is both Qi and Blood, according to Chinese theory.  Note that the Chinese concept of Blood is different from the western.  In addition to the “red stuff” it also indicates the functions of Blood.  So in a way, following your theory, Qi can be oxygen and Blood (chinese sense) can be glucose (since Blood deficiency can cause light headedness – hypoglycemia?)
    I do appreciate your efforts in demystifying Chinese medicine.  This is essential in our attempts to provide people with the best possible health care they can get.

    • Phillip,

      I’m enjoying your comments and I appreciate your contribution. I agree that there is more than one way to understand the medicine. I’m presenting a view that I believe is supported by historical evidence, and that makes the most sense to me.

      I’d like to address a few of your points. According to Harper in his paper on the Mawangdui manuscripts, the word “mai” refers to blood vessels with some running vertically from foot to head. Both the Neijing and the Mawangdui used an anatomical notation approach in terms of yin and yang regions that divided the body into 12 longitudinal areas on each side. The Neijing (LS 10, LS11) provides a full description of longitudinal blood vessels (jingmai) either supplying (arterial) or draining (venous) each side of the body. Their pathway descriptions are in sufficient detail to identify the actual vessels as they are presently understood (See Kendall’s Dao of Chinese Medicine, Ch. 8 & 9 for more on this).

      Paul Unschuld’s survey of the Neijing also indicates that the mai and conduit vessels are described as definite anatomical, tubular structures that carry blood. And as I’ve pointed out, the blood of the ancient Chinese is exactly the same as our blood today! They knew very well from dissections that it is a material substance that flows through the blood vessels.

      Another historical fact supporting the blood vessel theory is that sharpened stones and bones discovered in China that have been dated to 6000 BC are now thought to have been used for bloodletting. There is considerable evidence that bloodletting preceded acupuncture. If the Chinese were bloodletting, they certainly understood that what they were bleeding were anatomical blood vessels – not energetic meridians.

      My understanding is that the notion of a non-material form of blood came much later in Chinese medicine, and was a post-hot attempt to fit Chinese medical theory into contemporary understanding of physiology. Prominent scholars of Chinese medicine have pointed this out:

      “Over several centuries, clinical realities that did not fit into an existing theory of Chinese medicine were often suppressed to ensure continuity of the theories, in a style that the Chinese call ‘cutting the foot to fit the shoe’.”

      – Professor Huang Long-xiang, VP of Acupuncture Institute of China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing and Editor-in-Chief of Acupuncture Research and World Journal of Acupuncture

      • Dear Chris,
        Most illuminating blog that I have ever read. Thank you for sharing your information and wisdom.
        Without even knowing much of history or studying the classics I came to the conclusion of thus describing Qi Through the following tri origin (in my last work ‘The Biji Meridians’)
        WU JI 1st level
        Yang – Yin 2nd level
        Qi final (our world) level Both Physical and metaphysical!: No purpose / function of this world can be served without Qi of 3rd level and therefore I am tempted to call it the functional qi (a range of qi differing in quality / capacity to work )
        Each level has qi(s)
        the second important thing that I agree with you is that the word ‘Meridian’ is truly much misleading. I too look at them as vessels as you suggest, where waves of qi are continuously playing so freely that they easily trespass the boundaries (like ova from ovaries to Uterine tubes) (mind you: ova is qi, the energy to ripen it is qi and the energy which moves it from one position to another is qi as well). Qi is not a continuous function it is generated in quantums like waves.
        Not only this Qi in certain phase is capable of inducing generation of another wave elsewhere at a distance: for example the wave – ends at Liver1 induces another wave at HT9 and so on and so forth to P9 to Sp1 … I hope you get my point of view
        It comes to my mind that I should not write so much because I really don’t know how Chinese thought .., I haven’t read any classic seriously, though I have put all my understanding in the form of my works

      • Though it is not easy to put exact meaning of Qi in English, yet as I should like to put it “Qi is ‘PADARTH’ of Ayurveda under process” PADARTH is said to be constituted with six things:
        1. Dravya
        2. Guna
        3. Karma
        4. Saamaanya
        5. Vishesh
        6. Samvaay
        It is definitely Yin in comparison with Qong !

    • Agreed, that is why there are different types of Qi, like gu qi, yuan qi, zhong qi….all different type of actions and effects in the body. There also the “qi follows yi” (qi follows awareness) concept, so you could use a yogic example of awareness of an area of body that your stretching creating the effects that cause physiological responses at that area, including the arrival of energy, fluids, blood and emotional relaxation or flowing of energy through that area.

    • Just rereading this blog post for the first time in three years. This is a fantastic addition to a fantastic blog series. Thank You both for furthering both the public and professional understanding of our great medicine

Leave a Reply