Who was Qin Bo-Wei?
(Excerpt from the book, Qin Bo-Wei's 56 Treatment Methods: Writing Precise Prescriptions with clinical commentary by Wu Bo-Ping. Translated, edited, and compiled by Jason Blalack. Published by Eastland Press in 2011.)
Qin Bo-Wei (1901-1970) is regarded as one of the most important physicians, educators, writers, and synthesizers of Chinese medicine of the 20th century. He began studying medicine with his father at a very early age. His grandfather, father, uncle, and wife were accomplished Chinese physicians.
Qin was born in Shanghai and attended Ding Gan-Ren's Shanghai Technical College of Chinese Medicine from 1919-1923. Graduating at the top of his class, Qin quickly became regarded as one of the "Ding Three," his most accomplished students. In addition, he was also a student of the renowned expert in classical formulas (jïng fäng), Cao Ying-Fu (曹颖甫). Qin became known as an expert in gynecology and the Inner Classic (Neijing). Because of his devotion to this classic work and his ability to recite the text, he was nicknamed "Qin Neijing."
After graduation he founded the New Chinese Medicine Society and was chief editor of its journal, The World of Chinese Medicine. Throughout his life he founded, administered, and taught at numerous Chinese medical institutions including the Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the China Medicine College. It is estimated that he taught over 5,000 students and that his original material was so popular that his students later compiled it into numerous textbooks. He held many positions in hospitals, colleges and universities, publishing houses, and even government. In the 1950s, he was invited to serve as the TCM advisor to the Ministry of Health in Beijing. Dr. Qin was particularly renowned for his clinical skills and his ability to treat very complicated cases such as leukemia, hemophilia, and myasthenia gravis. He treated many high-level officials, even in foreign countries such as the Soviet Union and Mongolia.
Qin wrote over 50 books and innumerable articles. His first book, Essential Case Records by Famous Qing Dynasty Physicians, was written in 1928 and is still highly regarded. He was especially known for his ability to take complex ideas and contradictions in classical texts and present them in a clear, concise, and systematic format. One of his fundamental endeavors was collecting the doctrines of different physicians and creating principles that could be applied practically in the clinic. In this, he was a great integrator of ideas.
This is a classic Chinese idiom (four-character phrase) of which Qin Bo-Wei was especially fond: yóu bó fân yuë. Dr. Qin gave this phrase to my teacher, Wu Bo-Ping, as a sort of mantra, and Dr. Wu in turn gave it to me. A literal translation is, "From the plentiful, return to the simple." This can be further elaborated and understood as, "[The scholar] starts with extensive amounts of knowledge, but ultimately strives for a profound, yet concise, understanding." It now hangs above my desk in my home office.
Qin had no attachment to any single methodology or school of thought but merely sought out the most effective and practical methods. Although he had a very strong foundation in the Chinese medical classics, and thought that Chinese medicine should be firmly based in ancient wisdom, he warned against paying excessive attention to the exact wording of those texts.
Qin believed that Chinese medicine had its own distinctly scientific spirit. Although he was an advocate of the integration of Chinese and Western medicine, he believed that the Chinese medical model should be the primary context for such a synthesis. Consequently, when the Ministry of Health, under directives from Mao Ze-Dong (毛泽东), wanted to integrate Chinese medicine into a modern medical system guided by Western medicine, Qin and four other prominent physicians spoke out and directly confronted the government on this issue. They argued for an emphasis on the study of the Chinese medicine classical texts and the use of more traditional methods of learning. These efforts ultimately failed and consequently the TCM we now study lacks much of the foundation that Qin thought was so important. Such views cost Qin dearly during the Cultural Revolution. Prevented from practicing medicine, he was ridiculed and forced to clean toilets. This emotional blow likely contributed to his early death in 1970.
Qin's dedication and work in systematizing and synthesizing the most important ideas throughout the history of Chinese medicine nevertheless forms a cornerstone of what we recognize as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) today. However, many of Qin's most important ideas did not make it into TCM textbooks. For example, his magnum opus, Medical Lecture Notes of [Qin] Qian-Zhai (Qiän-Zhäi yï xué jiâng gâo), was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution and was only reconstituted later. In addition, when TCM was developing, much of Qin's work on differentiation and treatment was replaced by more simplified and politically aligned alternatives that we now see dominating our modern textbooks.
The text that we present here was actually a core part of Qin's vision for an integrated Chinese medicine. It directly competed with the system that later became TCM. There were a number of political reasons that Qin's approach was not chosen, and a full analysis of the history is beyond the scope of this introduction. However, one important point was that Qin's system did not allow for easy integration of Western diseases and thus was not easily exportable.
Although Qin lived and breathed Chinese medicine, he was adamant about the importance of a broad-based education and life experience in developing a high level clinical practice. Just like his teacher Ding Gan-Ren, he required his students to memorize many
philosophical texts, especially Confucius and Mencius. Qin was also an accomplished calligrapher, artist, and poet. He actually published quite a bit of poetry throughout his life, one example of which is below on p. xxi. For Qin, a rounded life was essential to becoming a good doctor. Examples of his calligraphy, poetry, and painting can be found on p. xxiv.
When death comes I fundamentally know that all things are empty.
Yet in life and in death, this hope doesn't change.
When the day comes that the medicine of our country has fully flourished.
Don't forget to tell your old man when next you visit his grave(1).
When reading such poetry it was expected that one understood the context and historical overtones in order to fully appreciate it. Although a full exploration of this poem is beyond the scope of this introduction, it is worth noting that it is based in part on the famous poem "To My Son" by the renowned Song dynasty poet, Lu You (陆游). This demonstrates Qin's link to an ongoing literary tradition. Qin also purposely noted his commitment to his country, keeping with the spirit of the times, while at the same time proclaiming his love for the medicine. Thus, Dr. Wu and I chose this poem because it shows Dr. Qin's love of poetry, medicine, and country.
I would like to end this very short biography with one of Qin's favorite sayings:
"Stay lively until you're old, study until you're old, and never stop learning"
(活到老，学到老，学不了 huó dào lâo, xué dào lâo, xué bù liâo)
(1) Translated by Charles Chace.