Vital Substances in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Qi or Chi in Chinese script

1. Qi and Blood

Qi in Chinese is a rather broad and complicated term. Here we shall discuss Qi as manifested in the human body, i.e. the so called True Qi (Zhen Qi). This sort of Qi is a combination of the Qi of Air (Tian Qi) and the Qi of Nourishment (Di Qi) and its function is to nourish the human body. In Chinese medicine there exist terms like Ying Qi, Wei Qi, Zhong Qi, etc. The source of all these Qi is the True Qi. The different names are due to the difference in origin, distribution and function. Thus Qi in the Yang region is called Yang Qi, in the Yin region Yin Qi; on the surface Wei Qi, inside Ying Qi, in the spleen Zhong Qi; before the birth Xiantian zhi Qi and after the birth Houtian zhi Qi.

Blood (Xue) originates in the Middle Warmer. After being influenced by Qi the absorbed nourishment changes into Jing Qi, which takes the form of Jin Ye (Fluid) and purs into the vessels (mai), nourishing the whole body. It circulates in the body together with Ying Qi.

2. Ying and Wei

Ying is sometimes called Ying Qi. Like Blood it is formed in the Middle Warmer from the Jing Qi of Nourishment. It cirulates together with the Blood in the human body and nourishes it.

Wei is sometimes called Wei Qi. Wei means protection, defence. It is formed in the Middle Warmer. It is called the Fierce Qi (Bao Qi) of Nourishment and can move very quickly. Ying circulates in the vessels, while Wei exists out of vessels. It circulates in the skin, flesh and muscles, protecting the body from outer evil influences.

In order to be able to fulfil their nourishing function, Blood and Ying need Qi and Wei, while in turn Qi, and Wei need Blood and Ying in order to be able to exert their influence.

3. Fluid (Jin Ye)

Jin Ye is a term comprising the total amount of liquid in the human body. It consists of two parts: Jin and Ye. Jin is a thin liquid which together with Wei Qi circulates inf the body, gives warmth to the muscles and nourishes the skin. It belongs to Yang and exists on the surface onf the body. When expelled from the bladder, it is urine, but when appearing on the skin it is called sweat. Other forms of Jin are the salivae, tears, etc.

There exists a certain balance between these forms. If sweat or urine becomes excessive, it is injurious to the salivae.

Ye is a thick liquid which together with Ying Qi circulates inside the body, pours into the tendons, bones and joints, moistens the joints and nourishes the brain and the spinal cord. It belongs to Yin. In the case Jin and Ye is disturbed, Qi and Wei are disturbed too, and the insufficiency of Qi and Wei causes insufficiency of Jin and Ye. Thus the loss of Fluid through vomiting, excessive perspiration of diarrhoea is followed by short breath, weak pulse, palpitation, numbness of limbs and deficiency of Blood; great loss of Blood is followed by dryness in throat and insufficient urine. In ancient China a strict rule governing the balance of fluid was observed; a man after great loss of Blood should not be left to perspire.

4. Jing and Shen

Jing is used in two senses. In the narrower sense it denotes the nourishing substance of the body. In the broader sense it denotes the generative reproductive substance of the body. Excessive Jing is stored in the kidney. The prenatal Jing may be translated as “sperm”. What is formed first in the womb of a pregnant woman, is the prenatal Jing which later develops into the brain, the spinal cord, bones, vessels, tendons and muscles which are the basis of life. Later, in order to be able to live, the body depends on the Jing of nourishment (postnatal Jing).

Shen is an abstract term denoting the entire life activity, though and consciousness.

It is the fusion of the father’s Jing with the mother’s Blood. Shen is formed in the body together with the embryo. After birth it is nourished by the Jing Qi. It contains four conceptions in itself: Po (the animal soul), Hun (the spiritual soul), Yi (Mind) and Zhi (Desire).

In NEIJING we can read the following:

The five viscera hide and store the following: the heart stores and harbors the divine spirit (shen); the lungs harbor the animal spirit (po); the liver harbors the soul and the spiritual faculties (hun); the spleen harbors ideas and opinions (yi) and the kidneys harbor will, power and ambition (zhi). This explains what is stored away and harbored by the five viscera.

The Chinese believed Shen could not be separated from the body. It remains alive as long as the man. It is the symbol of life.

If a man is healthly, his Shen is vivid; when he falls sick, Shen becomes abnormal. According to Shen it was possible to judge how serious the patient’s condition was.

Jing, Qi and Shen are called the Three Treasures (San Bao) and are closely connected. Qi is born from Jing, Jing depends on Qi; when Qi is in action, Shen appears. A man, whose Shen is not very evident, lacks Jing as well as Qi.