Sergey Zinin
Numerological Restrictions in Traditional Chinese Medicine
8th International Conference on the History of Science in China
Technische Universität Berlin, 23-28 August 1998

Sergey Zinin 2010


Numerological Restrictions in Traditional Chinese Medicine: Tai-Yi and the Eight Winds

This study is dedicated to an analysis of the medical aspect of the macrocosm/microcosm structural homomorphism in Chinese culture, presented in the "Tongren shuxue zhenjiu tujing" of Wang Weiyi (Song) and the "Zhenjiu jicheng" of Liao Runhong (Qing). These treatises are practical manuals of acupuncture, and both include short passages on lucky and unlucky days for the therapy ("ji1 ri" and "ji2 ri"). Generally, these conceptions of "lucky and unlucky days" belong to the set of ideas defined by Nakayama Shigeru as 'hemerology".

Liao's definition of these days is more extensive than Wang's, and includes more conceptual allusions (p.31-34). Liao indicates that the major reasons for defining these days as unlucky are the influence of the "eight winds" ("ba feng") and the travelling of the Tai-yi star through the "nine palaces" ("jiu gong").

The human body (microcosm) and the cosmos (macrocosm) have the common substrate - pneuma or qi. Therefore all important movements and changes in the macrocosm influence the microcosm. The principle is common to practically all traditional cultures. However, its implementation in Chinese medicine is rather specific and interesting. It is closely connected with popular religious ideas.

The human body, according to Chinese medical conceptions, has nine parts, corresponding to the nine celestial regions, and symbolized by the Ming Tang scheme. The Tai-yi star revolves around the Wei star, and visits all nine regions in turn. The deity Tai-yi animates the star, and it has a bodily counterpart, which visits all nine parts of the body. Supposedly, therapy for a given part is prohibited while the deity resides in it.

Liao Runhong provides eight numerical tables of "unlucky days" for every period of 45 days. Each table has nine columns, corresponding to the nine body regions, and five rows. So, for example, in the dong zhi period ("winter solstice" or midwinter), therapy for the left leg is prohibited on the 8th, 17th, 26th, 35th and 44th days. Liao's tables are a "rationalizing reordering" of Wang Weiyi's tables, bearing the Ming Tang form.

A symbolical reordering of the tables allows us to state that this pseudo-rational system has a numerological basis. All the tables are generated on the basis of eight magic squares with sums 15, 18, 21:

4 9 2
3 5 7
6 1 6

6 2 4
5 7 9
1 3 8

2 7 9
1 3 5
6 3 4
1 6 8
9 2 4
5 7 3
5 1 3
4 6 8
9 2 7
3 8 1
2 4 6
7 9 5
7 3 5
6 8 1
2 4 9
8 4 6
7 9 2
3 5 1


This system of squares could be further reduced to two matrices (magic squares):

2 4 6
3 1 8
7 5 9
8 4 6
7 9 2
3 5 1


Actually, the system of eight squares (and the whole "unlucky days" system) is a special product of these magic squares. Therefore it could not be a theoretical generalization (let alone a mystical one), based on empirical observations.

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