This is a three-part series; please go here for Part 1
In part one of this three-part series on Ming dynasty physicians, we discussed Imperial doctor Ge Lin. In Part 2, we’ll look at a well-known physician who could cure and diagnose diseases that other doctors could not — physician Wang Sizhong.
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Born with an interest in and skills in medicine
Wang Sizhong, courtesy name Jianfu, was born in Wujiang County, Jiangsu Province. He began studying medical books as a child and had unique insights into medical theory. After growing up, his medical skills gradually improved, and he became more and more proficient in pulse techniques.
After each pulse diagnosis, he could accurately diagnose the patient’s condition and cause. Then, he prescribed medicine based on his interpretation, and although he did not always use ancient prescriptions, his treatments were quite effective.
While living in his hometown in Wujiang, Wang Sizhong’s house was full of people daily. Because of his reputation, officers in southern China would visit him in person whenever they felt unwell. Later, during the Wanli period of Ming Shenzong (1572-1620), Wang Sizhong was also awarded the post of officer by the court.
The ability to cure diseases that other doctors could not
There was a well-known family named Peng in Haiyan, Zhejiang Province. The daughter-in-law, who had just married the head of the family’s son, always felt upset and developed chest tightness for an unknown reason. None of the doctors could cure her, so the family sought out Wang Sizhong to ask for his help.
When he arrived at the Peng’s house, Wang Sizhong discovered the patient had been poisoned with lacquer gas. First, he asked the family to remove the wooden window lattices, curtains, and furniture from the daughter-in-law’s room. Then, he had someone put the shell of a crab on the fire to roast.
After baking it into crisp slices, he ground the shell into a powder and mixed it with other medicines prepared in advance. After Peng’s daughter-in-law took the mixture, her illness was cured.
A man in Wujiang County had a fever and a relentless cough. The doctors said it was a syndrome of yin deficiency. But after a long period of treatment, not only did the symptoms not alleviate, they even worsened. In addition, due to the illness, the man had difficulty sleeping for several months.
Wang Sizhong went to see the man and quickly diagnosed him with stagnant qi, which caused hangover syndrome. Wang Sizhong prescribed medicine to promote the man’s qi and relieve the man’s depression, and after drinking only one dose, the man fell into a deep sleep, snoring like thunder. A few days later, his symptoms of a cough and fever disappeared utterly.
On another occasion, an officer was in charge of patrolling the court. Unfortunately, the man fell ill when he first arrived in Changzhou. The imperial physicians who followed him all said that his disease was due to an issue with his diaphragm, but they did not know how to treat it.
Wang Sizhong found that the crux of the disease was not in the man’s diaphragm, but in his acupoints. So he introduced a new prescription, with xia qu as the main component. The officer recovered after drinking the drug for less than half a month.
Wang Sizhong had superb skills and noble medical ethics. His colleagues and patients believed he was the reincarnation of the Qin Dynasty’s famous doctors, Wen and Huan (BC 227-207). The tales of his abilities to accurately diagnose and treat conditions that other doctors could not remain part of the legendary stories passed down to this day.