Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee Monkey Press, London, 2003 Paperback, 221 pages, £17.50
(Reviewed by Frances Turner, EJOM Vol. 4 No. 4)
It was a great pleasure to receive my copy of The Extraordinary Fu, the latest and probably the last book in the Monkey Press series of transcriptions of lectures given jointly in London by Father Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee. Father Larre, who died in 2001, was an eminent sinologist of the Jesuit tradition, whose teachings in the field of Chinese medicine went beyond contemporary controversy between acupuncture styles by simply presenting the classical perspective and going back to the roots of Chinese medicine (Firebrace and Hill 2002). Elisabeth Rochat worked with Claude Larre for over twenty years and has an extraordinary knowledge of the medical and philosophical Chinese classics.
In The Extraordinary Fu, Father Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee bring to our attention references in the Nei Jing Su Wen and Ling Shu to the extraordinary fu, giving us both a context for these concepts and an appreciation of the Chinese etymology of the terms used. They show us, for instance, that the word extraordinary is a translation of two Chinese words, qi and heng. To translate qi heng as extraordinary is a simplification that belies the true beauty of the concept. While qi is the image of a man uttering exclamations of surprise at something quite strange, and thus has indeed the meaning of extraordinary, heng is just the opposite of this. The image of heng is of crossing between two things, like a boat crossing between two banks. Added to that is the heart radical, the heart making a relationship between the two banks. This is the image of constancy, perseverance or permanence. So the concept of qi heng is at the same time the extraordinariness of something new coming into existence and the ordinariness of its subsequent existence. This yinyang paradox is not easily expressed in English, and to read such an explanation is a delight.
The authors’ style is to make extensive use of borrowing of Chinese words with explanation. Chinese words are transliterated into pinyin and clearly italicised, and bracketed characters are frequently appended. The font chosen for the characters is mercifully extremely clear and easy to read, which is helpful for the non-sinologist and, despite the emphasis on Chinese language and concept, this book is clearly written for the practitioner of Chinese medicine.
Based on verbal transcripts, the text is fluent and lively and has been carefully edited to minimise the naturally rambling nature of this type of format. Although the book contains no help in the form of illustrations or diagrams, the text has been systematically organised into clear chapters with a detailed and useful index to enable the reader to navigate it with ease. Each chapter is given over to a discussion of the Nei Jing references to one of the extraordinary fu, each reference being quoted in translation and then extensively explained and contextualised. The chapters end with a section on the pathology of each extraordinary fu, although overall the emphasis of the book is more on physiology than pathology.
Connections between the extraordinary fu and the regular zangfu (organs), the sense organs and the extraordinary vessels (qi jing ba mai) are also explored, and the way the text continually relates these subjects is most valuable to those who want to deepen their understanding of Chinese physiology in general. Indeed, one of the major themes running throughout the text is that of connection. Two types of connection between organs and channels are highlighted, the shu (dependent or belonging to) relationship and the luo (connecting) relationship. For instance, a channel has a shu relationship with its related organ and a luo relationship with its interiorly-exteriorly related organ, the marrow has a shu relationship to the brain and the mai (vessels) have a shu relationship to the eye because of the relationship of the eye to the heart.
Like earlier books in this series The Extraordinary Fu is a book to come back to again and again. It is perhaps not a book for the beginner, who might get lost in the intricacies of meaning presented, but is a rich storehouse of information and references that can be studied at leisure. It both gives the reader a new outlook on familiar concepts, and introduces concepts that are generally less familiar. Books specifically devoted to the extraordinary fu are rare indeed, and the amount of information on this subject available in most standard textbooks is minimal, thus The Extraordinary Fu substantially fills a gap in the literature. This is work of great quality and scholarship, and is a most welcome addition to our shelves.
Bibliography Firebrace, P. & Hill, S. (2002) Claude Larre 1919-2001. European Journal of Oriental Medicine, 4, 5-9.
Frances Turner Frances Turner practices acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and healing in North London. She teaches at the London College of Traditional Acupuncture, co-ordinating the first year of Chinese Medicine Theory and supervising the student clinic. She has just completed an MPhil, researching language use in the teaching of Chinese medicine in English.