How to Understand and Use Classical Formulas

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Brendan's picture
Joined: 10/30/2013
How to Understand and Use Classical Formulas

Continuation of discussion from the seminar

The point of this forum is to create an area were we can add our understanding and notes whilst studying the Jing Gui Yao Lue and Shang Han Lun. So using the different methods we learnt during the seminar i.e

1- Formula elements (Fang Yuan 方元)
2- Formula Pattern ( Fang Zheng 方證)
3- Treatment method ( Zhi Fa 治法)
4- Pathomechanism ( Bing Ji 病穖)
5- Formula Families ( Fang Zu 方祖)
6- Six Channel differentiation ( Liu Jing Bian Zheng 六經辨證)

Trying to meet high academic standards, while we are studying my hope is that we can share are insights and ask any questions for greater understanding. For Example....

Potential Formula Elements from the Shang Han Lun (only) BASED ONLY ON THE AMOUNT OF HERBS PER FORMULA (THREE OR LESS).

Formula { Lines

Bai Tong Tang 314
Ban Xia San 313
Ban Xia Tang 313
Chi Shi Zhi Yu Yu Liang Tang 159
Da Huang Huang Lian Xie Xin Tang 154, 164
Da Xian Xiong Tang 134, 135, 136, 137, 149
Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang 29, 30
Gan Cao Tang 311
Gan Jiang Fu Zi Tang 61
Gua Di San 166, 355
Gui Zhi Gan Cao Tang 64
Jie Geng Tang 311
Ku Jiu Tang 312
Ma Huang Fu Zi Gan Cao Tang 302
Ma Huang Xi Xin Fu Zi Tang 301
San Wu Bai San 141B
Shao Yao Gan Cao Fu Zi Tang 68
Si Ni Tang 29,91,92,277,323,324,353,354,372,377,389
Tao Hua Tang 306, 307
Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang 29, 70, 94, 105, 123, 207, 248, 249
Tong Mai Si Ni Tang 317, 370
Xiao Cheng Qi Tang 208, 209, 213, 214, 250, 251, 374
Xiao Xian Xiong Tang 138
Yin Chen Hao Tang 236, 260
Zhi Shi Zhi Zi Chi Tang 393
Zhi Zi Bai Pi Tang 261
Zhi Zi Chi Tang 76,77,78,81,221,228,375
Zhi Zi Gan Cao Chi Tang 76
Zhi Zi Gan Jiang Tang 80
Zhi Zi Hou Po Tang 79
Zhi Zi Sheng Jiang Tang 76

On page 693 of the Shang Han Lun from Nigel Wiseman has all of the lines in numerical order showing the pages for each line.

Have Fun!

sboyanton's picture
ProD Speaker
Joined: 11/06/2013


Thanks for opening this discussion. A small note, "formula families" in Chinese is fangzu 方祖, leifang 類方 means "categorized formula" which is slightly different since not all the formula have to be genetically related to one another through their construction.

I'm amazed you got this list of small SHL formulas put together so quickly. It should be very useful in tracking down formula elements. It also highlights the analysis needed to find formula elements. For example, Zhi ZI Chi Tang is a formula element for dispersing depressed heat from the stomach duct and chest, but Zhi Zi Hou Po Tang is the formula element hou po + zhi shi (found most famously in Da and Xiao Cheng Qi Tang) which dispels fullness of the abdomen and disperses glomus. To this is added zhi zi and the whole thing used to treat a Zhi Zi Chi Tang-like condition with lower abdominal fullness added (dou chi is presumably taken out because the acridity which it contributes to Zhi Zi Chi Tang is more than adequately supplied by hou po and zhi shi). In this formula you can see that hou po and zhi shi are doing one thing and zhi zi is doing something else, hence you wouldn't combine them into a single formula element.


Brendan's picture
Joined: 10/30/2013


Regarding leifang 類方 and fangzu 方祖, In Huang Huang's work he uses the term Lei Fang quite frequently. It was Micheal Max who translated the term into Formula families. Looking at what Huang Huang considers to be Lei Fang seems very similar to Fang Zu. For example in his book "10 Key Formula Families in Chinese Medicine" The formula used for Gui Zhi Lei Fang are as follows-

1-Gui Zhi Tang
2-Gui Zhi Jia Fu Zi Tang
3-Xiao Jian Zhong Tang
4-Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang
5-Dang Gui Si Ni Tang
6-Wen Jing Tang
7-Zhi Gan Cao Tang
8-Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang
9-Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan
10-Zhi Shi Xie Bai Gui Zhi Tang
11-Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang

In Huang Huang's terms is Lei Fang the same as Fang Zu, if not can Lei Fang be used as another complementary method to understand Zhang Zhong Jing's formula.



Brendan's picture
Joined: 10/30/2013

A note on the SLIPPERY pulse!

I was listening to Jimmy Wei Yen Chang pulse diagnosis and he was saying that he doesn't believe that the slippery pulse represents damp. Rather he believes that a deep pulse reflects Taiyin and therefore damp which was quoted in the Nei Jing. He proves this by pressing certain points on the body which sink under pressure and come back slowly showing damp.

So I was studying the Shang Ha Lun tonight and came across a line in the book that referred to a slippery pulse and that reminded me of Jimmy, that pulse was not related to damp so I rushed to Chapter 14 of Jin Gui Yao Lue on Water Qi (Shui Qi) and I thought that pretty much a whole chapter on diagnosis and treatment of dampness there would be at least one mention of slippery pulse.

To my surprise there was nothing. Instead there was a far more complex pulse qualities based on the location of dampness and if there is accompanying wind or cold.

This is the basic overview on line 1- (much more complex)

1-Wind Water- Floating pulse(because of wind) w/ joint pain and aversion to wind

2-Skin Water- Floating(because water is in the skin) w/ skin swelling when pressed engulfs the finger, no aversion to wind, drum like abdomen and absence of thirst. (Taiyin)

3- Regular water- Sunken and slow pulse w/ spontaneous panting

4- Stone Water- Sunken pulse w/ abdominal fullness without panting

5- Yellow sweat- Sunken and slow pulse, w/ generalized heat effusion, fullness in the chest, swelling of the four limbs, head, face which will eventually lead to welling abscesses and pus.

I personally have no clinical experience, the case studies we receive at school (which I believe are textbook case studies not based on actual clinical reality) always emphasize all slippery pulses being either damp or phlegm. The classical books obviously don't agree with this, can anyone comment on clinical experience.


Brendan's picture
Joined: 10/30/2013

A note on the current translations of Jin Gui Yao Lue and Shang Han Lun

Jin Gui Yao Lue

1- By Sabine Wilms and Nigel Wiseman by Paradigm publications

Note- Provides simplified Chinese(should have been traditional) with Pinyin and English translation with commentary. I like Sabine Wilms and her translations and I think that she is a good person to translate this book. My problem is when it comes to the commentary of each line, instead of utilizing thousands of years of commentary from doctors who were trying to apply this material clinically, she instead provided her own opinion and giving the fact that she isn't a practitioner, her clinical experience is non-existent. In my opinion this severely damages the quality of the book.

2- Synopsis of prescriptions of the Golden Chamber by Library of Chinese Classics.

Note- This is a Bilingual directly translated version with no commentary, just for comparison of other translations.

3- Understanding the Ji Gui Yao Lue: A Comprehensive Textbook by People's medical publishing house.

Note- I have not read this book.

Shang Han Lun

1- By Nigel Wiseman, Feng Ye and Craig Mitchell by Paradigm publications

Note- I enjoy this book for it's scholarly work. It provides Simplified Chinese(should of been Traditional), with Pinyin and the English translation,it also goes over terms mentioned in each line and gives their own plus other doctors commentaries on each line. Being published in 1993, this book is well overdue for a second edition. Don't take their opinions too seriously. I don't agree with the authors changing the original line order too make it easier for the student. We are not babies, we are capable of studying the original just like they did.

2- Shang Han Lun Explained by Churchill Livingstone

Note- This book contains simplified Chinese and traditional at the back with an English translation and commentary. I applaud the authors work in creating this book but feel that sometimes too much information is given. This book offers case studies which makes it quite valuable and worth purchasing. At the back are some fabulous appendixes including the original text line by line with traditional Chinese and English translation. Again this changes the line order but fortunately in the back contains the original which I generally use.

3- Treatise on Febrile caused by cold by Library of Chinese Classics

Note- Same as above.

IMPORTANT NOTE- I don't want to turn this forum into my blog, so all of you that happen to be viewing this page feel free to say something, opinions, questions, answers, doesn't matter, this is for all of us.

Brendan's picture
Joined: 10/30/2013

A note on translations of "Classics to aid the understanding of Shang Han Za Bing Lun"


Some people studying the Shang Han Za Bing Lun study it by using the modern textbooks to understand the pathomechanisms and formula contained in the book. I don't agree with this at all. I believe that we should thoroughly study the classics Zhang Zhong Jing studied as well as some other classics written after Zhang Zhong Jing who clearly were heavily influenced by his work, to understand how Zhang Zhong Jing thinks.

1- Huang Di Nei Jing-


A- By Paul Unschuld and Hermann Tessenow




Note- This is a four book series including a an overview of the concepts found in the Suwen, two books on the translation and a dictionary of all the Chinese characters found in the Suwen and what they mean in the Suwen. This project took around 25 years and over 1800 documents including commentaries and articles to help understand this information. The overview contains an overview of different commentaries, academic school of thoughts and an analysis of Chinese medical concepts and how they are viewed in the Su Wen ( eg. Zang-Fu, Channels and Pulse diagnosis and so forth). If you are not familiar with the Suwen then I highly recommend this book. The translation is very high quality and of the highest available in English. It contains a direct translation and commentary from many sources to help understanding. If you are not going to learn Chinese then the dictionary will be a waste of time. My major issues with this book is that it doesn't contain the Chinese in the translation but instead in the back of the dictionary, which is hard to reference, and with the amount of effort and time that was spent on this translation, it seems such a shame that the Ling Shu wasn't included. It's like focusing solely on yin and forgetting about yang.

B- The yellow emperors classic of medicine by Maoshing Ni

Note- This is an easy to read translation. Because Maoshing Ni mixed his own commentary with the original material with the Suwen, this is not a solid reference book, just for a quick read. It comes in E-book form too.

C- The yellow emperors classic of internal medicine by Ilza Veith

Note- This book contains a nice introduction into the Nei Jing and a translation of 36 of the original 81 chapters, which makes it a very incomplete work. Regarding the other works done on Suwen, this work is not needed.


A- By Nguyen Van Nghi, Christine Recours Nguyen, Tran Viet Dzung

Note- This is a quite a comprehensive translation of the Ling Shu, but in my opinion, not very good. This is a translation from the french translation of the Ling Shu in Chinese. It comes in three different books with commentary from Ma Shi, Zhang Shi and Nguyen Van Nghi. I believe Ma Shi and Zhang Shi provide a low quality understanding of the Ling Shu. There is quite a confusion with the concept of Qi being energy and the Renying pulse being at the wrist instead of the neck. These points damage the books quality. Nice diagrams.

B- Spiritual Pivot by Wu Jing Nuan

Note- A direct translation of the Ling Shu with no commentary. An average translation but good for comparison.

2- Nan Jing-

A- Nan Ching by Paul Unschuld

Note- Although I much prefer the Nei Jing over the Nan Jing and I believe that the Nan Jing quite clearly got many concepts of the Nei Jing thoroughly confused. It is still a great book anyway and essential to read to understand how Zhang Zhong Jing thinks. Paul Unschulds translation is brilliant. It contains the original Chinese, a translation, lots of commentary (Liao Pings is my favorite) in a very organised manner with great appendixes. Highly recommend. It should have been updated by now and changed into Pinyin instead of Wade-Giles.

B- The Classic of difficulties by Bob Flaws

Note- Average translation, very small book, but helpful for comparison and quick read.

3- Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing by Yang Shou Zhong

Note- Although I enjoyed the other translations by this author (Mai Jing and Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing), this is a very poor book. His translation is average, but his understanding is even worse. If it wasn't the only translation available I would say stay far away from this book.

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