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Systems of Diagnosis

Yin or Yang
Yin and Yang describes two opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe and it is often referred to disease in TCM. Yin, represents the dark, feminine side, passive force; it is sad, passive, feminine, dark, weak. Yang, is the masculine, bright and active force; it is happy, active, masculine, bright and strong. In TCM practices of reaching balance, a Yang’s symptom will be treated with opposite Yin treatments. F.g, a cold symptom will be treated with herbs of hot nature. Though being a pair of opposing forces, the pair Yin and Yang can transform into each other and are interdependent.

Five elements
In traditional Chinese philosophy, natural phenomena can be classified into the Five Elements (Chinese: 五行; pinyin: wǔxíng): wood, fire, earth, metal, and water (木, 火, 土, 金, 水; mù, huǒ, tǔ, jīn, shǔi). The doctrine of five phases describes both a generating (生, shēng) cycle and an overcoming or restraining (克, ) cycle of interactions between the phases. In the generating cycle, wood generates fire; fire generates earth; earth generates metal; metal generates water; water generates wood. In the overcoming cycle, wood overcomes earth; earth overcomes water; water overcomes fire; fire overcomes metal; metal overcomes wood.

Eight principles
The Eight Principles are one of the basic ways Chinese medicine has to diagnose. It uses the following eight divisions of symptoms:

  • Yin or Yang (yin-yang 阴阳)
  • Superficial or internal (biao-li 表里)
  • Cold or hot (han-re 寒热)
  • Deficient or Replete (xu-shi 虚实)

Zang Fu theory
Zang-Fu theory is a concept within traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that describes the functions of the organs of the body and the interactions that occur between them. Zang 脏 refers to the yin organs - heart, liver, spleen, lung, kidney, pericardium - whilst Fu 腑 refers to the yang organs - small intestine, large intestine, gall bladder, urinary bladder, stomach and san jiao. Each of the twelve zang-fu organs listed have a corresponding organ, except the pericardium and san jiao which both describe functions that are not related to an organ. Each zang is paired with a fu, and each pair are assigned to one of the five elements.


Paired Fu

Assigned element


Corresponding organ

Malfunction and weak symptoms


Large Intestine


Descend and disperse Qi

Skin and hair, immune system

Eczema, thin hair, tend to catch colds & flu


Gall Bladder


Ensure smooth flow of qi throughout the body

Sinews and tendors

Headaches, premenstrual symptoms, tense muscles, loss of appetite, insomnia, irritability and frustration




Transform food and drink into qi and blood and transport these substances around the body

Muscles and blood vessels

Nausea, cold hands and feet, poor concentration, easy bruising

Meridian (Chinese medicine)
The concept of meridians (Chinese: "jing-luo"经络) arises from the techniques and doctrines of traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture and acupressure. According to these practices, the body's vital energy, "qi", circulates through the body along specific interconnected channels called meridians. Disruptions of the body's energy flow (such as stagnations, blockages and redirection) are thought to cause emotional and physical illness. To release those disruptions, specific points on the meridians called acupoints, or tsubo in the Japanese practice, are stimulated via needles, pressure or other means.

The *Standard Acupuncture Nomenclature published by the World Health Organization listed about 400 acupuncture points and 20 meridians connecting most of the points.

Six levels
The Six Levels are first heard of from Zhang Zhong-Jing in the Shang Han Lun from about 220 AD or about 1700 years ago.

The six stages are:

  • Tai Yang or initial yang
  • Yang Ming or greater yang
  • Shao yang or lesser yang
  • Tai Yin or initial yin
  • Shao Yin or lesser yin
  • Jue Yin or greater yin

As can be seen the names of the levels are the same as the names of the head and foot pairs of acupuncture maridians. The order is roughly the order that a disease takes as you go from health to death. In some disease levels are skipped or the order can change.

Four stages
The four stages are from the book Discussion of Warm Diseases by Ye Tian Shi, written in the years 1667-1746.

The stages are:

  • Wei level
  • Qi level
  • Ying level
  • Blood level

Three jiaos
The identification of disease according to the Three Burners (San Jiao) was first described by Wu Ju Tong (吳鞠通, 1758-1836) in his book "A Systematic Identification of Febrile Diseases". The system is often combined with Four Stages theory when diagnosing and treating an externally contracted disease caused by a wind-heat pathogen. The disease will be diagnosed and understood according to its location within the three burners. This system is used within the practice of Chinese herbal medicine, rather than acupuncture or other Chinese medicine modalities. Note that San Jiao theory differs slightly from the San Jiao organ, which is described by Chinese Medicine as the passage of heat and fluid throughout the body.

The three burners are most commonly referred to by their respective names:

  • Upper Jiao (上焦)
  • Middle Jiao (中焦)
  • Lower Jiao (下焦)

This broad system of traditional medicine applies to all aspects of therapy used by the ancient Chinese, particularly acupuncture, herbal medicine and massage.

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