Saturday, November 27, 2021

Medical Sage Li Shizhen

Li Shizhen was a great medical practitioner who lived during the Ming Dynasty. He is famous for the Compendium of Materia Medica, the most comprehensive volume ever written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. He is known as the “Sage of Medicine” and became famous due to his extraordinary medical skill.

There are even stories of Li Shizhen “opening the coffin to bring the dead back to life.” He could diagnose terminal conditions and recommend treatment to help ease a patient’s suffering. Li Shizhen holds a place among the other great Chinese physicians — Bian Que, Hua Tuo, and Zhang Zhongling. Together, they are known as the divine doctors of traditional Chinese medicine.  

Li Shizhen bringing the dead back to life 

It has long been a belief in China that once the coffin has been sealed, it is unlucky to open it again. It’s not only considered unlucky, but it’s also disrespectful to the dead. The only exception to this is when the authorities have requested an autopsy.  

Li Shizhen was out one day when he saw a funeral procession passing by. He noticed there was blood dripping from the coffin. Realizing that the person must still be alive, he ran to the group and said: “Stop! They’re not dead, we can still save them!” The mourners all stared at one another in disbelief. They were afraid to believe him because opening a coffin was unthinkable. He understood their hesitation and eventually persuaded them to open the coffin.  

Angel statue next to a grave.
The mourners were afraid to believe their loved one might still be alive. (Image: Thomas Eder via Dreamstime)

When the coffin was opened, he saw the body of a pregnant woman who had passed away while in labor. He massaged her and inserted a needle near her heart. Miraculously, the woman awoke and soon afterward gave birth to a healthy boy. Li Shizhen saved two lives with his silver needle, and stories about him being able to bring the dead back to life spread like wildfire. This story earned him the title of “Divine Doctor.”  

Predicting the time of death 

The so-called “death of a living person” means to diagnose a living person and predict when they will pass away. The divine doctors Bian Que and Hua Tuo had this ability and could diagnose patients who had a terminal illness.  

One day, the son of the local chemist heard the story of Li Shizhen bringing the dead back to life. Li Shizhen was treating people nearby so he decided to go and see him and ask some questions. He found a dense crowd had gathered to see the great healer. He squeezed through the crowd and finally stood in front of Li Shizhen. He asked the divine doctor: “Sir, do you think I have any illness?” 

He looked intently into the young man’s face and took his pulse. Sighing with regret, he told the chemist’s son: “Little brother, it’s a real pity for someone so young. You won’t live past the next six hours. Please go home to your family and tell them you love them.” The boy was so angry that he yelled at Li Shizhen and left. Everyone who heard the diagnosis was puzzled — this young man was in the prime of life and was the picture of health! They thought that Li Shizhen was trying to give him a scare for causing trouble.  

A doctor checking a patient's pulse.
After looking intently into the young man’s face and taking his pulse, he told the young man that he would soon die. (Image: Richlyons via Dreamstime)

No one expected this healthy young man to die as Li Shizhen had predicted. However, that is exactly what happened. He passed away within six hours of returning home. Everyone was so shocked that Li Shizhen had accurately predicted the death of this boy who seemed to be in perfect health. No one could believe it. The cause of death was ruptured internal organs.

The young man had overeaten and exercised too soon after eating, causing rupturing and damage of his internal organs, which was impossible to treat. People far and wide heard the story and Li Shizhen’s reputation grew to even greater heights, truly earning him a place among the divine healers of traditional Chinese medicine.

Translated by Chua BC

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Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.
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