Resolution Times in the Nei Jing and Shang Han Za Bing Lun: Microcosm, Macrocosm and Time in Ancient Chinese Medicine

In keeping with the natural philosophies and celestial observations developed from the Shang dynasty onward, Han dynasty medical texts reveal a view of the human body and physiology as synchronous to and in relationship with the greater cosmos, and make central use of a system of correspondences between bodily processes and the passing of time. In particular, the prognostic duration of certain stages of disease and the resolution times (times at which disease tends to get better) in the Nei Jing 黃帝內經 (circa 2nd c. BCE), and Shang Han Za Bing Lun 傷寒雜病論 (2nd c. AD) relies entirely on this relationship, and how it affects the body’s ability – or lack thereof – to restore homeostasis. Herbs, in this view, are agents of movement which are called upon to place the human body back into proper relationship with time and elements.

First we will take a detailed look at pre-Han and Han dynasty astronomical knowledge through the study of artifacts and select texts from the Shang Shu 尚書, Shi Ji 史記, and other sources, and show how this translated to medical theory in the classical period. Turning our attention to the Nei Jing and Shang Han Za Bing Lun, we will explore and demystify the sometimes sibylline mentions of prognostic and resolution times, transmutations and passage along the 6 Conformations, and emerge with an understanding of Shang Han Za Bing Lun formulae as holographic mirrors of these pathophysiological principles, the flower and pinnacle of centuries of natural science and philosophy. How do we understand and use resolution times and transmutation times to accurately diagnose our patients? How do we apply this to writing effective herbal prescriptions?

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