Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part 3): Energy Meridian Model Debunked

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

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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.

108 Comments

Join the conversation

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/lab.php

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    Thoughts?

    Marc

  5. 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.

  6. 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 http://www.acupunctureology.com
     



  7. ” 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.


     

     

  8. 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.
    Thanks!
     

    • 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.

  9. 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 http://www.archive.org      However, there is a trick – if you type in “Golden Mirror of Medicine” in English into  the http://www.archive.org 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 http://www.archive.org

  10. 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.
    Hogwash.
    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 medscape.com 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.

  11. 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)

  12. 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.

  13. @ 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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 http://www.rickyfishman.com  (Check it out if you like)  Now I have to re-think some of my perspectives.
    Thanks a lot!!
    Ricky Fishman

  16. 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.
        regards

      • 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.

  17. 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)
        QI IS THUS THE BODY, THE BODY FLUIDS, THE MIND, AND THE INVISIBLE CAPACITY OF EACH AND EVERY FUNCTION
        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