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This is a TCM Compendium - the Materia Medica - Jotted down during the 16th Century, so it's quite up to date. - Source (Wikipedia)

Yesterday we had a look at the three functional entities of Traditional Chinese Medicine, today it’s time to go a bit deeper and explore the sytemisation of actual organs in the body. It’s important to know in advance that because when TCM was invented, no-one really had much of a clue what organ was responsible for what – the organ and the function don’t always match. So while they are named after an organ, they are differentiated by being written in CAPITALS (as if this actually makes a difference).


The Zang-fu are the entities of the body which had been identified at the time of the theory of TCM being developed. There are five organs associated with the yin known as the zang, these are the LIVER, SPLEEN, LUNG, KIDNEY, and HEART. (Apologies, that feels like shouting). And there are six associated with the yang, SMALL INTESTINE, LARGE INTESTINE, GALLBLADDER, URINARY BLADDER, STOMACH and ummm… SANJIAO.

The theory goes that the zang, are involved in the production and storage of qi and xue, regulating digestion, breathing, the rate of water use, muscles and skeleton, the skin, the five senses, ageing, emotions and mental activity. And because TCM is somewhat sexist the fu, are there for transmission and digestion of food, water and waste.

They are called the zang-fu, because they are all paired together to deliver a balance of Yin and Yang. These pairings match the 5 Chinese elements, of Fire (HEART (xin) and SMALL INTESTINE (xiaochang)) and Earth (SPLEEN (pi) and STOMACH (wei)) and Metal (LUNG (fei) and LARGE INTESTINE (dachang)) and Water (KIDNEY (shen) and BLADDER (pangguang)) and Wood (LIVER (gan) and GALLBLADDER (dan)).

Now the eagle eyed will have noticed that there’s an imaginary organ left over, but that’s OK because it gets paired up with the Pericardium (xinbao), which is part of the heart, (but let’s not worry too much about that) and then gets filed under Fire too.


And here's a great Traditional Chinese Medicine chart identifying all this stuff. Source (Wikipedia)

The zang-fu are connected by the jing-luo (which is not as song worthy as knee-bone and thigh-bone apparently), or meridians in English. There are 12 “regular” (or normal) meridians known as shi er jingmai, and 8 “extraordinary” meridians. These wonderful imaginary channels link up the functions (that’s why the organs are shouting at you) and the limbs and joints otherwise known as the “surface” (biao).

Hopefully, you’re all still with me on this and tomorrow we’ll look at how all this comes together in terms of diagnosing and treating actual diseases, at least in theory.