What I’ve Been Up To

Windstone Press is offering this book at a discount until May 31. To read more about The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology or to order,click here.  It’s also available on Amazon.com.

I have been awfully quiet, but that usually means that I have been busy working on something. Last year, after I had recommended this book to several people, I found out it was out of print. Windstone Press offered to put this book back in print for several reasons. Because this is a Chinese medicine blog, let me try my best to stick to the topic and explain why I feel this book will greatly enhance knowledge among those of us in the Chinese medicine community.

The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology (DDCC) by Professor John Henderson is very broad, but amazingly thorough, in its coverage of this topic. Many books try to tackle a very long period of time and the results are often too superficial. But Henderson’s study manages to cover a period from the early Han all the way to the end of the Qing (nearly 2,000 years) without painting specific thinkers or even certain eras with a broad brush. This is a pretty rare accomplishment.

The reason I often recommend this book is because I regularly get Chinese medicine students who send me a thesis in the hopes that it can become a book. I use DDCC as an example of how a great piece of research can become a book. I urge people to look at how he uses sources, both in Chinese and English. This book is the best example I know of for showing people how to use evidence to make arguments free of agenda (something our profession greatly needs).

In my view, the Chinese medicine community needs to seriously consider critical views. We are often barraged with critical commentary from the Western medical community, making many of us cringe at the thought of criticism; thus, we ignore that many scholars in China, from the earliest periods, were also very critical of cosmology. These critiques cannot and should not be ignored. I firmly believe they add to a person’s knowledge of the medicine, even pushing one to think outside of the box, resulting in a much more refined practitioner. Classical criticisms are treasure troves of information about Chinese thought and understanding many different viewpoints can lead to a much broader view of the medicine.

Understanding how cosmology waxed and waned, developed and declined, and flourished until it didn’t is important. There is a pervasive myth today that cosmology was strong until the Cultural Revolution, which destroyed it. This is not only superficial but false. The cosmology of certain periods was vigorously questioned at a few important points in Chinese history, sometimes with a rehashing of more ancient ideas and sometimes with new ideas. Many great Chinese thinkers looked at the cosmology of their time with a critical eye resulting in ideas at least as brilliant as the ideas they were criticizing.

On a related note, DDCC is a great reference for many of the great thinkers throughout Chinese intellectual history. For those who are doing research in Chinese philosophy, history, anthropology, medicine, and virtual any field within Chinese studies, it is an indispensable reference.  There are plenty of ideas here for research at any level-I used it to generate ideas for many papers and I have at least two friends whose PhD dissertations ideas were helped by referencing this book.

In short, I wanted this book back in print because I think it is important for anyone interested in the intellectual history of China, and that should include Chinese medicine practitioners. I believe the Chinese medicine community will benefit greatly by understanding how many of the related ideas, even the very basis of Chinese thought, developed and declined throughout Chinese history.


Write Chinese Medical Characters

The Character Writing workbooks are finally finished and available! This project took much longer than anticipated, but they are finally done. The characters from all three books are available together or separately (see below). The samples are still available here if you want to review the first four chapters from Volume I first.

Please note that while more than 90% of the characters are included, a few had to be left out because they are so rare that no computer program would recognize them. The good thing  is: if you learn to write all of the characters in these workbooks, you should be able to write any character you see. This is part of the point, actually-once you can write these characters, you will be able to write any character you come across. Once you can do that, the process for memorizing characters will become much easier.

Here are the links to buy!

Chinese Medical Characters (Vol. 1, 2, & 3 Combined): $19.99

Chinese Medical Characters (Vol. 1): $9.99

Chinese Medical Characters (Vol 2): $9.99

Chinese Medical Characters (Vol. 3): $9.99

You will be sent an email with a download link. Please not that these workbooks are only available as PDF documents and there are no plans to put them into print. This will allow you to print the pages you want to practice on so as not to waste any paper.

Also, some of my time is now freed up to finish the free writing guide available on this site. I will have this finished by the end of the year, so keep checking back for updates. The free guide on this page will help you learn to use the worksheets in a more productive way.

IMPORTANT: If you have trouble viewing the documents correctly, please make sure you have the most recent version of Adobe PDF Reader installed, which is free and  available here.

Character Writing Samples

The character writing workbooks are nearly complete. Until they are, here is a free sample that includes chapters one to four of Volume I:

Free Sample: Character Worksheets

Unless you have Volume I of Classical Chinese Medical Texts, these samples will probably not make much sense. When the worksheets for all three volumes are done, there will be an option for those who don’t have the books (and for those who do) of using the stroke order index to study in a different order-from easy to difficult characters.

These worksheets will be best used in conjunction with the free page on how to write characters, as the worksheets do not show the direction that each character needs to move. This free page has been started and I expect the first part will be available next week. The whole page will be completed by the end of September.

The worksheets will all be available on October 15. The decision was made to keep these worksheets as simple as possible. There  is no doubt that a lot more time could have been spent making all of the writing boxes line up better-in other words, these were not designed to be pretty. I worked closely with a couple people who were using them and the overall feeling was this: keep it simple and cheap. This is what we decided to do, and everyone who took part in the earliest version found them extremely helpful, so we are not going to change much of anything.

Feedback on using the samples is certainly encouraged. Because these will only be available in digital format, we can update things more easily and let everyone who eventually buys them have access to the newest version.

Stay tuned!

Exciting Changes

I have recently decided to start using this site in a different way. First, coming in October, there will be a new page that will be a completely free guide to writing Chinese characters. I will use many of the characters from the Classical Chinese Medical Texts series and more than likely some new ones. This guide will include animations like the one to the left.

Related to this, I am currently creating character writing workbooks for all three volumes of CCMT. These will only be available as PDF files so that you can print the characters/chapters you want to work on-it just never made sense to create a physical book for this. These won’t be free, but they will not be expensive, either.

The goal of the page is to give people all of the basics of writing so that any character can be written. The sheets will give extra help figuring out how to apply the basics to specific characters. Don’t have the CCMT books? No problem-I will be including a stroke order index so you can work your way from easier to more difficult characters. If you use the PDF files with the free page, I have no doubt you will be able to write any character. Stay tuned-samples coming soon.

Want to know when the character writing page goes live? Just sign up to receive announcements in the upper right hand corner of the page.

Second, I have decided to use this page for bigger projects like the one above. I will not write as many post here, but plan to participate more over at the Deepest Health Forum and post links here. I really prefer forums to blogs for my own purposes because they allow for more interaction and discussion. Here are two posts at the forum you might find useful:

I am often asked about studying Chinese in Taipei by people who are interested in really getting into the language and its relationship to the medicine. I have posted information for those who are interested in studying abroad here.

Eric Grey is sharing his experiences of studying Classical Chinese Medical Texts and is inviting others to join. I’ll be there helping out-if I’m needed, of course. You can find that here: Study Group.

Special Offers

Offer Expired
I have noticed Barnes and Noble has not be very consistent with its offering of the pre-order for Volume III. I did some complaining and Windstone Press now has their own offer at a nice savings. You can view the original offer by clicking here, but I copied it below for convenience:

Click Here to Order Volumes II and III Together

Regular Price: $60

Special Price: $50.00 (Save over 15%)

Free International Shipping

Click Here to Order All Three Volumes

Regular Price: $95

Special Price: $75.00 (Save over 20%)

Free International Shipping

Both offers expire on June 30, 2010.  Free international shipping available to all locations. Items will ship in one package. If you do not receive email confirmation of your order within 24 hours of the order, please contact us on this form.

Some short announcements

I have a lot of mini announcements, so here I go:

First, I have recently realized that for what I want to do, a blog is not the right format. I get a lot of ideas, but they end up being WAY too long to put into blog posts. I also need a muse, and people are usually not so eager to interact on a blog. Therefore, I am going to spend less time here and more time at the Deepest Health Forum. I am likely going to move the content from this site to a separate page at Windstone Press- I will keep writing articles, but they will probably be available as free PDF’s instead of in a blog format. I have a lot I would like to say, especially recently. I just need to find the right format.

Second, the idea I had for doing on online class isn’t working out. I have tried to put together more to say, but I think for a book like this, audio just does not cut it. People can only get so much from that format, and video probably would have been a better way to go. The three volumes of Classical Chinese Medical Texts are reading books, so without video, there is nothing I can really say that is not already in the books. I recorded a few more classes, but I just don’t think they do much but repeat what has already been written. Instead, I am working on some other freebies that will be more helpful directly with all of the books instead of focusing on just the one volume. More on that to come!

Finally, I was told the other day that Volume III might be a few days late. I was told why, but kind of disassociated when I started hearing words I didn’t understand, like rasterized, distilling, and bit something or other. I am told the problem is under control….

The good news is that means the ability to pre-order at a discount will go on for a few more days. You can still get Volume III at a deep discount from BN.com. It won’t be available elsewhere until it is ready to go!

I am happy to hear any suggestions on what you need in order to help you get through all three volumes. That was the idea behind this blog, but (and I take responsibility for this) it never went as I wanted it to, despite getting many more hits everyday than I thought it would.

I firmly believe the Chinese medicine community will be served as a whole if a good number of practitioners become fluent in reading classical texts. To this end, I have a publishing schedule that is going to keep me busy for at least the next two years. Books are a big part of what I want to do, but the goal of those books is to increase the knowledge of Chinese language among Chinese medicine practitioners. Anything that can be done outside of writing books to help with this, I am certainly willing to do!

Final Volume Available for Pre-order

$29.99 List price

$20.24 Online Price

Classical Chinese Medical Texts Vol III is now available for pre-order exclusively through Barnes and Noble online. They currently have a nice discount for pre-orders, which will last only until the book becomes available on June 15.

This volume focuses heavily on herbal theory, including monographs of single herbs, theories of qi, flavors and herb combining, and the modification of formulas. There is also an entire unit dedicated to acupuncture, channel, and acupoint theory and practice.

My goal in doing this series was to lay a strong foundation with the most basic and essential characters and grammar particles to better grasp not just the language, but to increase readers’ understanding of Chinese medicine in general. While working on this series, my editor left a comment in one of the chapters that said “You know, this makes so much more sense in Chinese.” That was the best editorial comment I could have received because this is the most important thing people can get from this series: the medicine just makes more sense in the original language. People’s questions get answered and ideas that once seemed so foreign suddenly make sense.

Here are some highlights of what is in Vol. III:

  • 針灸大成 (Great Compendium of Acupuncture): Instructions on needle depth insertion and retention organized by a discussion of the channels according the the six levels.
  • 靈樞一 (Ling Shu One): A discussion of the Shu points and their importance regarding the twelve regular and fifteen network vessels.
  • 難經二十九 (Classical of Difficulties 29): A discussion of the Eight Extra (or Extraordinary) vessels and their related illnesses.
  • 靈樞五十六 (Ling Shu 56): Questions and answers on the flavors, their relationship to channel entry, and how Qi is assimilated and circulated throughout the body.
  • 湯液本草 (Tang-ye Materia Medica): A discussion on the interactions and combinations of qi and flavors.
  • 醫學津梁 (A Guide to Medical Studies): Specific single herb choices for supplementing and draining qi for each of the five zang organs and incorporating five phase theory for mother-son treatments.
  • 神農本草經 (Shen Nong’s Materia Medica): Numerous herb descriptions from the different classes of herbs in this early classic.
  • 儒門事親 (How a Confucian Adept Serves His Parents):  Combines ideas  from Shen Nong’s Materia Medica and theories of ruler, deputy, assistant, and envoy herbs.
  • Plus texts from the 石室秘錄, 萬病回春, and 瘟疫明辦, all discussing various aspects of herbal medicine and treatment of disease with herbs and more.

Order now from BN.com

Note: As of this writing, the BN.com website does not have a cover image and does not specifically say “Vol III”. Follow the links on this site to order and you will definitely get the correct book.

Communicating Meaning

I have a rather long story to make a rather simple point, so bare with me. . .

After being in Taiwan for about a year, my ATM card stopped working. This was stressful because I was far from home, without cash, and sick. The ATM machine kept spitting out a piece of paper that said my card was 異常, which basically means out of the ordinary. I figured out that this probably meant the machine could not read my card.

Fast forward to today. I live in a building where I have to use a “smart” card to get into the public areas, elevator, and the main door to my building. The smart card was not working and I went and told the door man that my card was 異常. He smiled and said the words that I have learned do not mean what they say: Your Chinese is so good. Translation: that was too formal, too weird, and you didn’t really use that correctly. Someone later told me that this is normal for written language, but probably not many people would say it.

When I first came to Taiwan, my Chinese was awful, but people often told me how good I was. It is a joke among Westerners here that if someone keeps telling you your Chinese is good, it’s time to go back to school. They use this as an encouragement to keep studying. If it’s really good, then they usually just talk to you. The point is that in communication, meaning is not always to be taken at face value.

How does this relate to reading classical Chinese and medical texts? Well, maybe it doesn’t, but I’m going to try!

In verbal communication, I’m facing the person and I can usually pick up on several cues to let me know what the meaning behind the words is. Do they really mean my Chinese is good? Actually, sometimes they do and I can usually pick up on this. Equally obvious is when they don’t mean this, like when I say “uh” more frequently than comprehensible words.

In reading, trying to understand meaning takes away that face-to-face advantage. Add that we are dealing with not only a different culture, but a completely different time, and this becomes a big challenge. We have to know as much as we can about character definitions and classical Chinese grammar, or from the very beginning we will be completely lost and misunderstand passages.

One of my better habits is to pick up a source text (say the Su Wen or Nan Jing) and take some notes on my own interpretation. Then I pick up some of the classical commentaries and read as much of that as I can. Then, I pick up a translation into modern Chinese and later in English, if one exists. What fascinates me is how different all of our interpretations are (and how I can be completely wrong). Sometimes, authors allude to even more ancient literature or written works of their time. Sometimes, I have to search meticulously through ancient dictionaries to find a very rare use of a character before it makes sense. I still have notebooks filled with things I have not yet figured out.

The point is, it takes a lot more work to understand meanings in classical texts. It’s not as simple as a facial expression or tone of voice. I have found that when I come across sentences or chapters that are initially confusing, my first impressions are almost always wrong (or at least a little off) and I chalk this up to the fact that I live in a different time and culture. The good news is: after some time, it is easy to pick up on certain patterns and character uses and with practice, sentences where the meaning is not clear or just plain takes research to figure out become less frequent. With practice, the number of completely mind boggling phrases/sentences will lessen.

I set none of my conclusions in stone simply because I have went back to something many times and found something new or found out that I was completely wrong.  What I find sad is when people are so convinced they are “right” that there is no chance to learn anything further (and there is a lot of this in Chinese medicine!).

If all of this sounds too challenging, then I understand. It takes a lot of work to really arrive at a solid understanding of an ancient language. You may not have the smirk of another person to tip you off, but with a lot of patience, hard work, and the desire to learn a variety of skills, anyone can improve.

Class Six

Class Six Podcast

Please click above for the podcast for Ch. 6 of Classical Chinese Medical Texts Vol I. The sound quality is a little poor on this one because of how I used the recorder. I could hear it with headphones, but not with the speakers on my computer. If too many people report they can’t hear it, I will record it again. I have already recorded this one twice, so the third time might be a charm!

Between this class and class seven, I will have a written blog about some of the issues that came up for me while recording these two classes, so stay tuned for that.

Busy! But it’s almost over

OK, it has been too long….let me explain.

I am moving, and most of you know what that does to one’s life. If I were only moving, that would probably be ok. But up until yesterday, I was in almost daily contact with painters and contractors who were…well, let’s just say some problems are quite international!

Ah, but yesterday I checked things out and I can move this weekend. SO, that means I will be able to focus more on what I love doing, which is writing and finishing the class I promised so long ago.

I am going to first focus on finishing the class and do not plan on writing anything else until it is completely done. I will probably spend at least the first full week in my new office doing nothing but recording and posting classes-I owe you all that much. When the class is finished and all posted, I will move on to finishing Volume III and expect that it will be available in early 2010. I have selected all of the texts for this volume already, and they are quite a bit longer. The focus will be primarily on herbs, herbal theory, and prescriptions, with some other interesting stuff as well.

Until then, there is a very interesting discussion going on at http://www.deepesthealth.com about learning to read classical Chinese medical texts, plus an interview with me. I’m sure some of you will have something very worthwhile to contribute to the discussion as to the relevance of reading the classics with modern Chinese medical practice. While there, check out the offer on ordering both books together at a discount through Eric’s site.

Two websites are currently offering a bundle of Vol I and II together at a discount, plus free shipping. Read their websites and if you have any desire to have both books, please feel free to order through them. They have great content and I am very excited to be offering through them-plus it helps them keep their sites going.

Chinese Medicine Notes

Deepest Health

Wish me luck this weekend! I’m really ready to get back to work (the fun kind).