Chinese Pulse Images: The 3 Step System of Chinese Pulse Reading
Frances Turner CD ROM Published by Frances Turner, 2008 Links created by Alan Hancock. Available from Oxford Medical Supplies, price £19.95
(Reviewed by Simon Fielding, EJOM Vol. 6 No. 3)
In order to use this CD you will need Adobe Acrobat which is free, and simple to download.
As a devotee of books I was not used to using a CD in this way, but with perseverance I became accustomed to the complexity of using links compared with simply turning the pages of a book. Once I became familiar with the links provided in it, its potential as a way of exploring and familiarising oneself with pulse images became obvious.
Frances Turner is a teacher of herbs and acupuncture, and has developed ways of breaking down complex areas of Chinese medicine into easily comprehensible ‘chunks’. She also has an interest in how Chinese medical terms are expressed in English. This CD has clearly developed from those interests.
The CD first presents us with a contents page, from where a click will direct us to any page we wish to view. Each page fits the screen, so no scrolling down is necessary unless we want to ‘read’ the CD page by page. Page 3, ‘How to use this CD’, gives an overview of how it is organised. It seems complicated at first, but after a little exploration it becomes fascinating, and I was impressed by the careful and well designed system of links.
It is organised into three main sections: namely ‘Overview’, ‘Pulse Explanation’ and ‘Pulse Interpretation.’ Each section is further divided into the three steps referred to in the title, namely: ‘The Basics’, ‘Quality Types’ and ‘Combined Pulses’. ‘The Basics’ describe speed, regularity, force and depth. ‘Quality Types’ describe flow, length and width. ‘Combined Pulses’ are divided into floating and deep and then sub-divided into forceful and forceless. Chinese names are used as well as English translations, and in the introduction there is a good explanation of how the terminology is used. In fact, the characters and radicals used in the Chinese are explored in another very enlightening section of the CD, easily accessed by links.
For example, starting from the Contents page we could click on ‘Quality Types Overview’. There we find a flow chart showing qualities divided under the headings ‘flow’, ‘length’ and ‘width’. Under width, one of the qualities we see is ‘Jin’ (tight). Clicking on ‘Jin’ will take us to an explanation page where we will find a description of that pulse, what it feels like and an illustrated exploration of the characters which form ‘Jin’. From here we find a link to the ‘interpretation’ section, where the pathology identified by the tight pulse is explained, with quotations from the classics. We can also click on to an exploration of the radicals, or of related characters which gives examples of other CM terminology in which we see the same characters. This is just a simple example which does not convey the full versatility of this CD.
Pulse interpretation is one of the most important methods of diagnosis in Chinese medicine, but one of the most difficult to learn. Touch is a more subjective sense than sight: we are all agreed on what a red tongue looks like, or a greasy tongue coating. We can see pictures of tongues and recognise their appearance. But how can we share with others what we are feeling when we take a patient's pulse? Even in college, there is seldom an opportunity for students to gather round a teacher who says ‘This is a slippery pulse. Feel!’ Such an opportunity would be difficult for any college to provide, so the nearest we can get to it is in the limited one-to-one environment of supervisor and student in a college clinic.
Beyond that, we rely upon the written descriptions, sometimes with diagrams, which we find in books. One of the most succinct and clearly illustrated is Li Shi Zhen’s classic Pulse Diagnosis, in Hoc Ku Huynh’s translation (Paradigm Publications,1981). Bob Flaws’ The Secret of Chinese Pulse Diagnosis (Blue Poppy Press, 1995) is also among the most useful. That work is thorough; but relying upon verbal descriptions and tables, it is hard to digest and to put into practice. Diagrams facilitate understanding in Tietao Deng’s Practical Diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Trans. Marnae Ergit and Yi Sumei, Churchill Livingstone, 1999). However, we are still faced with ‘lumps’ of information which, because of the limited nature of conventional ‘book’ form are unable to give us the more three dimensional connections which Frances Turner has used with maximum clarity in this CD. Zheng-Hong Lin’s Pocket Atlas of Pulse Diagnosis (Thieme, 2008) scores over Turner’s CD in one way, in that it has a chapter devoted to pulse images relating to specific disorders. In fact I find the two complement each other well.
Many of us, I suspect, make do with a rather narrow range of pulse images with which we have become familiar, and do not use this vital method of diagnosis as richly as we could if we learnt accurately to interpret the classic 28 pulse images. This CD does not seem to be aimed specifically at any particular level. I imagine a complete beginner would find it an invaluable introduction to a difficult art: its attractive presentation makes it readily approachable although it is, in fact, a meticulously logical way to teach a skill which only experience can develop more deeply. However, even the more experienced practitioners who want to refresh and develop their skills in pulse diagnosis, will find it more than useful.
Simon Fielding Simon Fielding taught at L.C.T.A. where he was also a clinical supervisor. He runs a practice in acupuncture and herbal medicine in Leicester.