The Master of Chinese Medicine

Guowen Yang was a remarkable ancient Chinese physician, medical doctor and scientist of the Song dynasty. He was born on April 12, 1180 in Bianjing, the capital of the Song dynasty.  He was a respectful traditional medical scientist, because his significant contributions to traditional clinical medicine. One of his most important contributions to traditional Chinese medicine was his Herb Cyclopedia, which is a scientific book that summarized the characteristics of more than five hundred herbal medicines.

The Herb Cyclopedia is an unprecedented medical book, which has had profound and lasting influence on the traditional Chinese medical science. The book has detailed information of 568 herbs, which including their illustrations, flavors and treatment applications. The Herb Cyclopedia has been translated into many different languages, and still used as reference by herbalist doctor today.  His other important medical masterpiece is Shangbing Lun, which collected about one hundred of unusual prescriptions from many experimental researches. The Shangbing Lun was published in 1241, but it was lost during turbulent period because of war.


Early life

Yang was born in a desperately poor family, and he had three older sisters and one younger brother.  Two of his sisters were died form diseases, as they were so poor at that time and could not afford a doctor. When he was 16, he started as apprentice at a local clinic. He studied hard from his teacher and read lots of ancient medical literatures. After serval years of hard working, he already had good reputation in the local area as a practicing physician. He also earned himself a position at the local government at the age of 29.  



Because of his excellent medical talent, he was promoted as medical scientist at Imperial Medical Department at 37 years old, which was an institution provide medical services to the royal families. He did not like this job, because his childhood experience has had tremendous impact on him. He felt he should save more lives with his medical knowledge, especially the people who can not afford medical treatment. 

On the other hand, Yang’s position in the government provided him access to numerous medical resources. After worked in the institution for serval years, he realized that the current medical literatures are disordered, and some of them were filled with mistakes.  It was very difficult to find appropriate information because of the chaos of those resources. He then started his great idea on how to make the accumulative medical information organized and easily accessible. So, Yang quitted his job at the government and focused on the writing his medical book when he was 45 years old. He traveled all over the country, gaining different first-hand medical experiences and consulted with thousands of doctors and over 500 of medical books.  His new book fixed many errors of previous books, and add many new materials and prescriptions that never appeared before.  Finally, it took him more than 10 years to finished the medical book Herb Cyclopedia. He developed many innovative methods for classification of herbs to be used for treating diseases. One of the creative ideas about Yang’s book was using vivid paintings as guidance, which made the information more intuitive and accurate.



Guowen Yang was died from an accident when he was trying to climb a cliff to collect a rare herb, which was used in his experimental research. Because he accidentally found that the roots of this plant had pain relief effects. In memory of his outstanding contribution, people named this herb after him. As it turns out, modern scientific studies show that Guowen have precious medicinal value. It is commonly used for treating headaches and epilepsy. People must never forget this great ancient medical scientist and his remarkable contribution to traditional Chinese medical science.

Zhiyang Jin