Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches - TianGan DiZhi The Heart of Chinese Wisdom Traditions
Master Zhongxian Wu and Dr Karin Taylor Wu
Publishers: Singing Dragon (London and Philadelphia), 2014 Hardback: pp, 250 with 106 illustrations Price: £40.00, also available as an e-book
(Reviewed by Sam Patel, Vol. 8 No. 2)
Zhongxian Wu and Karin Taylor Wu have produced an excellent book on what is probably one of the most difficult aspects of classical Chinese medicine: time and space, and their interactions with us and the world around us. It describes in philosophical terms the backdrop to TCM and the Five Elements and therefore may be better suited to established practitioners and students of Stems and Branches who would find it easier to comprehend, and context and content, although anyone with an interest in yi jing, bagua, ancient cosmology and Five Elements would gain an insight into the historical path that informs acupuncture practice today. The book aims to inform rather than offer any direct guidance on treatment protocols, but could be complemented by books more treatment focused, such as Celestial Treatments for Terrestrial Diseases by Peter van Kerval. This book stands out in opening up our understanding in the challenging field of classical Chinese medicine, based on authentic classical texts. It shines a great light on some of the fundamental models that are known so well.
The first chapter outlines the basic principles and a clear and succinct flow from its origins through to the evolution of Five Element theory. This progresses to a fuller and in-depth discussion in the second chapter, exploring the Tian Gan, Heavenly Stems. The inclusion of poetry, illustrations and diagrams is done well with each Stem discussed at length, covering its relationship to elements, animals, seasons, directions, trigrams, the human body, numerology, transformation phases, qualities, Daoist internal alchemy and qi gong practice.
Chapter three makes a similarly in-depth exploration but this time with the Di Zhi, Earthly Branches. Included here is music, thereby showing the absolute integration that this philosophy has, making a far-reaching connection with art and culture which can still be seen today. Mentioned also is the use of music in therapy which, although not common, is being used effectively by some practitioners who have this knowledge.
Chapter four pulls together Tian Gan and Di Zhi. It describes their interactions and helps us to understand the impact of this dynamic force on health in a specific way through the pulses, the microcosm; also in terms of the transformational phases and cosmology, the macrocosm, leading ultimately to the cycle commonly associated with Stems and Branches.
Chapters four and five elucidate the ancient poems and verses of the classical texts to explain fully not only their meaning but also their impact and subtle qualities. This part of the book would have benefitted from examples of how the philosophy can be used clinically. That could have been done in a simple way, to reinforce the theoretical explanations. Perhaps a second book, adopting such an approach, would offer a more complete understanding. Overall I think this is a good addition to anyone’s library. It might not inform practice in a direct way but that in itself can be valuable, as long as it gets the reader thinking, which this book definitely will.
(Reviewed by Sam Patel, Vol. 8 No. 2)
Sam Patel is currently joint principal at the International College of Oriental Medicine, a teacher at the college and also internationally on the subject of classical acupuncture since 1998. More recently involved with the promotion of acupuncture globally as vice president of the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WFCMS) and enjoying clinical practice in Banstead, Surrey.