Stories about the Renowned Physician Hua Tuo

Hua Tuo (140-208 AD) lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty and he was a renowned physician in the Three Kingdoms. At a young age, he traveled to learn medicine and had no interest in becoming a government official. With a comprehensive mastery of medicine, he was especially famous for his surgical expertise. People later referred to him as a “Surgical Sage” or the “Founder of Surgery.”

A Wise Child

Even as a child, Hua was intelligent and prudent. His father died when he was 7, leaving the family in poverty, so his mother had to ask for help from her husband’s friend, a doctor Cai. Hearing that Hua was willing to learn medicine, Cai decided to test him.

At that time, several of the doctor’s disciples were collecting leaves from a mulberry tree in the yard, but they couldn’t reach the highest branches.

The doctor asked him if he knew of a way to pick leaves from the highest branch and Hua said, “No problem.”

He asked for a rope and tied a small stone to one end. He flung the stone over the branch, pulled the rope, lowered the branch, and easily reached the leaves.

Pleased by what he saw, the doctor then pointed at two goats who were fighting. With eyes red, the two were very aggressive, and no one could pull them apart.

Again the doctor asked the boy what he would suggest should be done. This time the boy answered, “I can give a try.”

Grabbing two handfuls of grass, he placed them on either side of the goats. Hungry and exhausted from fighting, the goats turned away from each other and began to eat the grass. Noticing that Hua was intelligent and agile, the doctor decided to teach him.

Superb Medical Skills

According to Hou Hanshu (Book of the Later Han), the wife of a General Li was sick, and Hua was asked to treat her. After examining her meridian system, Hua said it was caused by an injury during pregnancy and that the fetus needed to be aborted.

The general said “My wife was indeed injured when she was pregnant. But she already had a miscarriage.” When Hua insisted that a live fetus was still inside her, the general dismissed him.

The woman’s condition worsened, and 100 days later, the general called on Hua again. After checking her meridian system, Hua made the same diagnosis and then explained, “There were two fetuses. The first one miscarried and caused such heavy bleeding that the second fetus could not be expelled. This fetus, which is now no longer alive, is lodged so firmly that it cannot come out on its own.”

Hua treated her with acupuncture, followed by herbal medicine, and the dead fetus was successfully removed.

Learning from Deities

Hua often visited renowned mountains and caves. On Gongyi Mountain, he once heard someone in a cave talking about medicine. Out of curiosity, Hua slipped in to listen.

One man said, “That young fellow Hua Tuo is right here. We can teach him medicine.” “Hua is greedy by nature,” another man said, “and he has no pity. We cannot teach him.”

Entering the cave, Hua saw two elderly men. Both were wearing tree bark and straw hats. He said, “I am always interested in medicine, but I have yet to meet a real master. I hope you two sages know that I am sincere and will teach me medicine. I will be forever grateful and never let you down.”

“Yes, we can teach you medicine, but it may cause you trouble at a later time,” one man said. “You should not treat people according to their social status or wealth. If you are not greedy for money and not bothered by hard work, you can avoid the trouble.”

Hua thanked them again and said, “I dare not forget your advice. Yes, I can do that.”

Both men smiled. Pointing to a cave to the east, one of the men said, “In there is a book on a stone bed. Read it. Please leave the cave now and keep this a secret. You cannot casually show that book to anyone else.”

Hua picked up the book and looked back, only to see that the two men had already disappeared. Afraid, he quickly left, hearing the cave collapse behind him.

A Prescription to Treat Greed

During the Three Kingdom era, Yang Xiu and Yang Dang, uncle and nephew, served Cao Cao. Yang Xiu was intelligent and knowledgeable, but his arrogance and confrontational ways with Cao led to his death.

Yang Dang was in charge of military supplies, including food. Although he was not a high ranking official, he made a fortune by keeping some of the supplies for himself.

After Xiu was executed, Dang knew he no longer had the support he used to and was worried. Afraid of being punished for his affiliation with Xiu, he planned to profit yet again from another transit of military supplies before he retired.

He was ill at the time with chest congestion. He felt as if a rock was stuck in his chest. As a result, Dang had difficulty sitting or standing, and lying in bed was even more painful. He saw many doctors, but they couldn’t help.

Later on, Dang heard that Hua was practicing medicine nearby, so he asked him many times to treat him. Having heard about Dang’s behavior, Hua made excuses repeatedly and did not see him. In the end, Dang resorted to asking his son to kowtow to Hua, while begging for his help with tears covering his face. Seeing his sincerity, Hua came and examined Dang’s meridian system. He then gave him two prescriptions and instructed him to take them one after the other.

After Hua left, Dang read the first prescription and saw that it contained eight herbal medicines: erwu, guoluhuang, xiangfuzi, lianqiao, wangbuliuxing, faxia, biba, and zhusha. Familiar with literature, Dang connected the first Chinese characters of these medicines, which turned out to be: “Er guo xiang lian, wang fa bi zhu” (With two wrongdoings connected, [one] will be executed).

Thinking that Hua was aware of his plot, Dang was scared and sweat profusely. Nonetheless, he felt this congestion was somehow relieved, so he canceled his plan to make more money from the upcoming supply transit.

Next he picked up the second prescription, looked at it, screamed, vomited blood, and fainted. His family was in a panic and started to weep. The six medicines on this recipe were: chang [shang]shan, ruxiang, guangui, muxiang, yimucao, and fukuai. The first Chinese characters of these medicines strung together read: “Shang ni guan mu yi fu” (Here is a coffin for you). No wonder Dang had such a strong reaction!

After a while, Dang regained consciousness, his family still crying over him. He opened his eyes and felt very good. His chest congestion had disappeared—he was cured.

This time Hua came without an invitation. “Your chest congestion was caused by your blood flow slowing down as a result of greed. As greed came out through your sweat and blood, you recovered from the ‘illness.’ Nonetheless, you are still weak, so I will write you a prescription for your full recovery,” he said. Dang took the medicine and got well. From then on, he no longer dared to illegally profit from the military supplies.

Heritage of Chinese Medicine

Wang Bo, a renowned poet in the early Tang Dynasty, had a good friend named Cao Yuan. Based on Xintangshu (New Book of Tang), Wang learned a lot of medicine from Cao, and he wrote down the heritage of Chinese medicine.

Chinese medicine started from the divine, which was passed on to Qibo (official of Huangdi), then to Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor), to Lijiushi to Yin Yi (chancellor in the Shang Dynasty), to King Tang (Shang Dynasty), to Liliushi, to Jiang Ziya, to King Wen (Zhou Dynasty), to Lijiushi, to Yihe, to Liliushi, to Bian Que, to Lijiushi, to Hua Tuo, to Liliushi, to Huanggong, and to Cao Yuan.

Because of their divine connection, both Bian Que and Hua Tuo mastered great medical skills and were known for their supernormal abilities.

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