One of the central features of traditional Chinese medicine is the analysis of diseases and their treatment in terms of the five zang (often translated as viscera, solid organs, or internal organs). That there are five internal organs that represent the focus of this medical system is a reflection of traditional reliance on the five elements concept. The concept of yin and yang, the other basis for Chinese medicine, is reflected in the depiction of pairs of internal organs: for each zang, there is a fu (often described as hollow organs) and the complete system is described as zangfu .
The term "organ networks" is utilized here to indicate that Chinese physicians were not interested in the organs as physical objects, but as extended networks functioning throughout the body. In modern medicine, it is common to look at the internal organs as individual physical units, subject to inspection and surgical removal (in part or in whole). By contrast, the Chinese system was developed by considering the person as a whole and by relying on what is visible or palpable at the surface. The Chinese organ networks were described in nearly complete absence of surgery .
In classical Chinese medicine, detailed knowledge of the dynamics and interrelationship of the five organ networks is considered the foundation for successful practice. This system of knowledge describes the body as a dynamic system of intertwined functional circuits that reflect and resonate with the macrocosm of the universe.
Unfortunately, the traditional view of the organs is made difficult to understand by the fact that organs known to modern medicine have been directly linked, by naming, to those of traditional medicine, as follows:
As a result of this linkage, the gan "rectifying system," traditionally defined by its function of regulating the upward and outward expansion of qi and blood, is now labeled with the same term, liver, as the anatomical organ that is known, almost exclusively, for its metabolism of biochemicals. In Chinese, both the traditional organ network and the anatomical organ are called "gan," and in English, both are called "liver."
The five organ network approach presented here owes much to the teachings and inspiration of Professors Deng Zhongjia and Zhou Xuexi of the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dr. Deng is the University"s Dean of Fundamental Studies, and is a prominent voice calling for the restoration of a Chinese medicine education that is anchored in the classics. Professor Zhou is one of the few remaining elders of the field. He is one of China"s leading authorities on studying the connection between ancient Chinese philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine. To further this cause, he has written two influential books, The Science of Change: Root Theory of Chinese Medicine (Zhongguo Yi Yi Xue) and The Five Organ Networks of Chinese Medicine and Their Pathology (Zhongyi Wuzang Bing Xue).
The bulk of the presentation of the five organ networks-which is in outline form-features the definitions that appear in the root classics of Chinese medicine, especially the Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor"s Classic of Medicine). These statements are accompanied by the remarks of traditional commentators who tried to illuminate the terse Neijing style. Each organ network web page consists of the following five parts:
Traditional Commentaries: Translations of selected texts about the network in question. Many of the statements contained in the Neijing are extremely brief, crafted during a time when the art of complex writing was still in its formative stages. The enigmatic character of the Neijing has prompted generations of medical scholars to interpret the five organ networks and other fundamental concepts of Chinese medicine in the context of their time. The commentaries presented here are only a small selection from scores of extant medical literature on the subject (see below for list of major sources). Most of them were chosen for their individual insight into particular aspects of an organ network, while others were selected to illustrate the strong bias that certain scholars, schools, and even entire eras of Chinese medicine held with respect to the importance of a particular organ network.
Network Functions: A compilation of statements defining the functional characteristics of each network, mainly from the Neijing Suwen (Simple Questions) and the Lingshu (Magical Secrets, often translated as Spiritual Pivot), the second part of the Neijing. These definitions are accompanied by explanations drawn from both ancient and modern source texts of Chinese medicine. The Neijing definitions presented here are the core of five organ network theory. They have been quoted by Chinese medicine scholars over the span of two millennia and continue to form the basis of modern textbook presentations. Most standardized TCM texts, however, do not list the classic definitions in their entirety and lack a comprehensive analysis of the inherent information.
Etiology and Pathogenesis: A brief outline of the pathological tendencies of the network, followed by a list of specific pathological scenarios. This section is designed as a stepping stone connecting the important topics of network physiology and network disease patterns. It aims at helping the reader understand how network pathology is primarily the result of a malfunction of one or several of the network"s physiological characteristics that were introduced earlier.
Therapeutic Guidelines: An introduction to the general treatment principles that apply to each network, based on its physiological functions and elemental characteristics. Since much has been written on the therapeutic principles of acupuncture, this section focuses on guidelines for herbal approaches.
Typical Disease Patterns: A presentation of common disease patterns mentioned in both traditional and modern textbooks. The patterns listed here primarily follow the format of Professor Zhou"s book, The Five Organ Networks of Chinese Medicine and Their Pathology. The headings within this section represent the actual terms in which a Chinese medicine practitioner would phrase the diagnosis. They are listed in order of importance, and the ones most typical for a particular network are at the beginning of the section. A listing of representative herbs and formulas has also been included in this section.