Sun Simiao (AD 581-682) – the King of Medicine

the King of Medicine sunsimiao

There is a wooden carving in China Medicine History Museum, it was carved in Ming Dynasty of China, about 750 years ago. There are sculptures of the Yellow Emperor, Fuxi, Shennong(three Sovereigns of China), and Sun Simiao on it. At that time, many people enshrined and worshiped such sculptures at home. Sun Simiao was a famous doctor in the Tang Dynasty in China and he is hailed as “King of Medicine” by the later generations. Both of “Essential Formulas for Emergencies Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold” 千金要方 and “Supplement to the Formulas of a Thousand Gold Worth” 千金翼方 written by him and very important works of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine).

However, as a famous doctor, Sun Simiao didn’t dare to become a doctor in the begging. What was the reason exactly?

Sun Simiao was bone in a farmer family. His father once studied in the school but didn’t start the official career. He hoped his son who was a genius could start the official career. Because of poverty and sickly Sun Simiao, the Sun family got increasingly hard up for money. Sun Simao who was a good boy thought he was unworthy of the love of his parents. At the same time, he saw that some of his relatives and neighbors were too poor to see a doctor when they got ill. Therefore, he decided to study medicine when growing up. However, he didn’t dare to go against the will of his father, so he secretly swore to himself that even if he couldn’t become a doctor, he must become an expert on medicine and treat patients in his spare time. After finishing the homework in the old-style private school, he often secretly looked for some medical books and read them. Every time he copied the whole volume of the medical books he borrowed and learned them by heart. Except for his father, his other family members didn’t oppose his studying medicine. Sometimes when his sister got ill, he was asked to make a diagnosis and give treatment, which greatly encouraged him. He got more interested in medicine and his medical skills also improved greatly.

Become a doctor

At that time, because of an emergency, his father changed his thought. One day, his father came back from the field, flopping down on the ground suddenly and sweating all over with stiff neck and green and purple face. He even couldn’t speak. The villagers didn’t see such a disease before. Nobody dared to treat him. Sun Simiao’s mother cried in anxiety and didn’t know what to do. In this case, Sun Simiao ran to his mother and told her the disease of his father in a low voice and the prescription recorded in the medical book. Seeing his determined look, his mother immediately went to the herbal medicine shop and bought the medicine. After taking the medicine, his father felt his throat was moist. He could pronounce smoothly and look gradually normal. Since then, he changed the idea of letting Sun Simiao start the official career and allowed Sun Simiao to learn medicine. He told Sun Simiao that when he treated patients in the future. He should treat them as his own families. Sun Simiao nodded repeatedly with excitement. Sun Simiao boasted noble medical ethics.

Anytime and anyplace, he treated patients earnestly, no matter whether they were male or female, old or young, wealthy or poor. He served them wholeheartedly, so he had a profound impact on later generations. Some medical colleges treat it as a norm for doctors to practice medicine and even as the motto. He set a very good example of medical ethics for later generations.

Story about “feel the pulse with a string”

Sun Simiao’s road to learning medicine was long and arduous, but he always stuck to the original mind of curing people with his medical skills. He kept on learning and researching and finally became famous. More and more people met him for treating diseases. After Emperor Taizong of Tang, Li Shimin heard of Sun Simiao’s fame, he also specially summoned Sun Simiao to go to the palace to treat the Empress’s disease. What happened? According to the records of ancient books, one day during Zhenguan period, after Emperor Taizong of Tang, Li Shimin finished handling state affairs, he asked the minister Xu Maogong to stay behind and asked him: “Empress Zhangsun has been pregnant for more than ten months, but she still can’t give birth to the baby. Now she also gets a serious disease and is lying in bed. Imperial physicians can do nothing, either. What should I do?” Xu Maogong looked at the sad emperor and said: “I heard early that there is a famous doctor named Sun Simiao among the people. He can cure intractable diseases. In my opinion, you should summon him to the palace to treat Her Majesty.” Hearing this, Emperor Taizong of Tang agreed and immediately ordered Sun Simiao to go to the palace. After Sun Simiao went to the palace, Emperor Taizong of Tang couldn’t wait to meet him and asked him to treat Empress Zhangsun immediately.


At this time, Imperial physicians who treated Empress Zhangsun with Sun Simiao felt anxious. They thought if Sun Simiao cured the empress, the emperor would put him in an important position, which would be a direct threat to their status. In order to stop Sun Simiao treating the empress, they presented a joint memorial to say that Sun Simiao was of inferior status and shouldn’t be allowed to get close to the Empress. When Emperor Taizong of Tang hesitated, Sun Simiao volunteered to say: “I can feel the pulse with a string.悬丝诊脉” Emperor Taizong of Tang thought it was feasible. Then Sun Simiao asked a court maid to give him a red string. He held one end of the string and asked the court maid to tie the other end to the Empress’s wrist. Sun Simiao sat beside the table outside the window and began to feel the Empress’s pulse. He held the string and said that he had known the Empress’s condition after a while. Although Sun Simiao had great medical skills, could he really feel the pulse with a string?

At the time, Emperor Taizong of Tang who was waiting fretfully asked Sun Simiao how to cure the Empress. Sun Simiao replied: “I only need to stick a needle one Her Majesty’s left hand, and she can give birth to the baby. After taking several pieces of decoction, she will be cured gradually.” Emperor Taizong of Tang was very happy. He asked Sun Simiao to give the Empress an acupuncture treatment immediately. As expected, the Empress quickly gave birth to a baby successfully. Experts say one can’t feel the pulse with a string. Then how did Sun Simiao know the Empress’s condition? In fact, before he felt the pulse with a sting, he had asked several court maids who served the empress for the Empress’s condition in detail and got the prescriptions made by Imperial physicians, so he knew the Empress’s condition well. In fact, when he felt the pulse with a sting, he thought how to make a prescription. Emperor Taizong of Tang looked at the newborn prince happily, personally feasted Sun Simiao in the palace and wanted to ask him to stay in the palace to take charge of the Imperial Hospital, but he politely refused Emperor Taizong of Tang’s proposal. Sun Simiao was a high-minded man. He treated the relief of the sufferings of all people in the world as his own responsibility. He didn’t serve the ruling class. He neither pursued the wealth nor served only one person, so he refused Emperor Taizong of Tang’s proposal and practiced medicine to save the people. So to speak, his moral thought was very noble. Emperor Taizong of Tang could understand him, so he didn’t force him.

Sun Simiao had great medical skills and noble medical ethics. He treated all patients the same, no matter whether they were poor or wealthy, old or young. He always treated patients in windy and rainy days as well as summer and winter. He was respected greatly by the people.


Written the medical books

The wooden statue of Yellow Emperor, Fuxi, Shennong and Sun Simiao which is housed in China Medicine History Museum was carved in the Ming Dynasty of China, and sculptures of Sun Simiao, Yellow Emperor, Fuxi, and Shennong were carved together. At that time, many people enshrined and worshiped such sculptures at home. It’s enough to show that Sun Simiao’s place in the people’s heart. After the clinical practice of many years, Sun Simiao deeply felt that ancient prescriptions were scattered, voluminous and difficult to retrieve. He compiled “Essential Formulas for Emergencies worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold” with his own clinical experience. This book systematically summarizes the medical achievements before the early Tang Dynasty. The first volume is an overview, including medical ethics, herbalism, and pharmacy. “Great Physician’s Absolute Sincerity” 大医精诚 and “Great Physician’s Professional Practice” 大医习业 in it become the basis of TCM ethics. Following the overview are various kinds of clinical treatments, including three volumes of Gynecology, one volume of pediatrics, and otorhinolaryngology, 15 volumes of medicine and three volumes of surgery. Besides, there is also detoxification and first aid, food therapy and health preservation, physiology, the science of acupuncture and moxibustion and other contents. Sun Simiao thought that the value of human’s life was higher than a thousand pieces of gold and a prescription always could save one life, so he named the book “Essential Formulas for Emergencies worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold” 千金要方.

Sun Simiao’s medical skills and medical ethics were famous. Many people went to ask him to treat them or to teach them medicine for his fame. According to the records of historical books, the litterateur of the early Tang Dynasty, Lu Zhaolin went to ask Sun Simiao to treat his disease and took Sun Simiao as his master later. He also helped Sun Simiao write another famous medical book, “Supplement to the Formulas of a Thousand Gold Worth” 千金翼方.

What exactly happened? In AD 673, more than 30-year-old Lu Zhaolin suffered lepriasis. He had thin hair, and his face was covered with carbuncles. He went everywhere for treatment, but nobody was willing to treat him. Lu Zhaolin visited Sun Simiao as a try. Looking at Lu Zhaolin in front of him, Sun Simiao knew the cause. He asked Lu Zhaolin to stay for receiving treatment. Lu Zhaolin was convinced by Sun Simiao’s noble medical ethics, so he insisted on talking Sun Simiao as his master. Sun Simiao thought Lu Zhaolin’s disease was already very serious. He couldn’t refuse him, so he agreed to accept him as his apprentice. One day, Lu Zhaolin sat in the yard and looked at the pear tree in front of him silently. Sun Simiao went to ask him for his worries. Lu Zhaolin said: “I get a terrible disease, just like the diseased pea tree. Some days ago, I wrote an article named ‘Disease Pear Fu’病梨树赋, Please read it.” After reading it, Sun Simiao said: “You’re too pessimistic about your disease. You should be relaxed, and then you will be recovered early.” Under the patient guidance of his respected master, Lu Zhaolin became open-minded gradually. Before long, he helped his master Sun Simiao write another famous medical book, “Supplement to the Formulas of a Thousand Gold Worth” 千金翼方. Through Sun Simiao’s clinical practice of 20 to 30 years and collection of lots of information. “Supplement to the Formulas of a Thousand Gold Worth” 千金翼方 was written as a supplement of “Essential Formulas for Emergencies Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold” after Sun Simiao finished “Essential Formulas for Emergencies Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold”. There are 30 volumes in total. We can know that the contents are very rich. Its contents, especially the idea of preventing and treating diseases by combining health preservation and clinic treatment has a great impact on later generations.

King of Medicine

The King of Medicine

In AD 682, the centenarian Sun Simiao died. He is treated respectfully as “King of Medicine” by later generations. People rename Mount Wutai located in his hometown Shanxi Province “Mount King of Medicine” (AD 581-682, 102 years old), and built temples, carved statues and built up public image for him. “Essential Formulas for Emergencies Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold” and “Supplement to the Formulas of a Thousand Gold Worth” by Sun Simiao are widely printed by later generations and spread overseas, becoming important TCM works.

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