Bian Que

Ancient Chinese Medical Texts verified to belong to legendary Bian Que

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Several days ago we reported on the discovery of 920 bamboo strips at an archaeological site in China containing recipes for treating ailments that date back 2,000 years. Archaeologists speculated that the traditional Chinese remedies may have been written by the successors of Bian Que, reported to be China’s earliest known physician. Now, new details have emerged about this incredible discovery and amazingly, some texts were found to have been written by Bian Que himself, a famous and legendary character in Chinese history.

The bamboo strips were found, along with many other precious relics, within four Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD) tombs located in Tianhui town in China's Sichuan province.  Among the finds were four models of looms, nine medical books, 50 inscribed wooden tablets, 240 lacquer wares, jewellery, and tomb figures. 

Out of the nine medical books, some have been verified to be the long lost medical treatises written by the physician Bian Que.  

According to Chinese legend recorded in the Records of the Grand Historian, Bian Que was gifted with remarkable abilities from a deity.  The story states that he was given a packet of medicine which gave him the ability to see through the human body.  He thereby became an excellent diagnostician with his x-ray like ability. It is said that he pioneered pulse-taking, used anaesthesia and even performed an organ transplant.

One legend stated that once, while visiting the state of Guo, Bian Que saw people mourning on the streets. Upon inquiring what their grievances were, he got the reply that the heir apparent of the lord had died, and the lord was in mourning. Sensing something afoot, he is said to have gone to the palace to inquire about the circumstances of the death. After hearing of how the prince "died", he concluded that the prince had not really died, but was rather in a coma-like state. Using his acupuncture, he was said to have brought the prince back to consciousness. Prescribing the prince with medicine, the prince healed within days.

Whether there is factual basis to the legends or not, Bian Que is known to have been a remarkable physician who was centuries ahead of his time. The discovery of his ancient remedies is an incredibly rare and important find.

By John Black

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