The Nan Jing or Classic of Difficulties

By Arnaud
May 16, 2023

In the grand library of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), alongside the renowned Huangdi Neijing, stands another vital piece of ancient medical literature: the Huangdi Bashiyi Nanjing (黃帝八十一難經), or The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Eighty-One Difficult Issues. This text, more commonly referred to as "the Nan Jing" or the "Classic of Difficulties", is a cornerstone of TCM and a crucial supplement to the Nei Jing.

Who wrote the Nan Jing?

The Nan Jing is a mysterious text. Its authorship is unknown, and its creation date, while estimated to be between the end of the Western Han and Eastern Han dynasties, remains uncertain. Some experts suggest that it might have been written by someone from the Qin or Yue kingdom. Despite the obscurity surrounding its origin, the Nan Jing's content and the wisdom it carries have earned it a prominent place in TCM literature.

The Nan Jing's format and topics

The format of the Nan Jing mirrors that of the Nei Jing: a series of questions and answers. However, its focus is unique. The book seeks to explain 81 "difficult issues" or complex ideas from the Nei Jing, hence its name, the "Classic of Difficulties". These issues delve into pulse diagnosis, internal organs, meridians, acupuncture points, acupuncture techniques, and diseases.

Why is the Nan Jing so important in TCM history?

One of the Nan Jing's significant contributions to TCM is its unique methods for pulse diagnosis. The book introduces new techniques and ideas that have since become critical in pulse-taking, an essential diagnostic tool in TCM. The Nan Jing thus adds to and refines the diagnostic tools available to practitioners of TCM.

Furthermore, the Nan Jing delves into the theory of the Gate of Life (Mingmen 命門) for the internal Organs. It places the gate of life in the right Kidney, painting a picture of the body where the gate of life holds the primal Yin and Yang. From this foundation, all substances and functions develop and depend on. This further underscores the holistic approach of TCM, where all elements of the body are interconnected and interdependent.

The Nan Jing also completes the Nei Jing by providing a systematic description of the circulation, functions, and pathological evidence of the eight channels of the odd meridians. This addition offers a more detailed and comprehensive understanding of the meridians, which are crucial to the theories and practices of TCM, particularly acupuncture.

Moreover, the Nan Jing proposes key principles regarding the relationships between organs within the 5 element theory. For instance, if an organ is Deficient, the text suggests nourishing its "mother". For instance if the Liver is suffers from Blood deficiency, the treatment would be to nourish its mother within the 5 elements theory, which is the Kidneys (i.e., Tonify the Kidneys with Blood). Conversely, if an organ is in Excess, the text advises to reduce the "son". These principles provide a more nuanced understanding of how to approach treatment within TCM, highlighting the intricate relationships between organs and the importance of balance.

While the Nan Jing may not be as widely known as the Nei Jing, its importance in the canon of TCM is undeniable. By explaining complex issues from the Nei Jing, introducing unique methods for pulse diagnosis, and providing a comprehensive understanding of the meridians and relationships between organs, the Nan Jing is a crucial supplement to the Nei Jing. It deepens our understanding of TCM, adding further depth and complexity to this rich and ancient system of health and wellness.

Article tags: Chinese Medicine theory