Hua Tuo

Hua Tuo, (chin.: Huà Tuó 華佗) also met as Yuan Hua (chin.: yuán Huà 元化), is considered as one of the most eminent personalities in the history of traditional Chinese medicine(TCM). He lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty and earned a wide respect as a healer. Many medical accessories(e.g needles,coatings) are named after him and medical institutes too. As an honor, a set of 34 spinal acupuncture points were named Hua Tuo Jiaji ( chin: 華佗夹脊). Hua Tuo brings the title of Shen Yi, (chin.: shén yī 神醫) meaning divine, miraculous doctor.

He is regarded as the father of anesthesia in China and the first surgeon to perform operation in the abdomen. In the west, he is popular by a set of therapeutic qi gong (chin.: qì gōng 氣功) exercises known as wu qin xi (chin.: wǔ qin xi 五禽戲),which is interpreted as the five animal frolics. Throughout this set, movements of animals and birds are imitated, in a group of physical and breathing exercises. This system was developed on existing ancient Chinese traditional physical exercises following theories and functions of the internal organs and meridians as well as the principles of the circulation of Qi and blood in the human body.

He was inspired by observing and studying of the behavior and activities of tigers, deer, bears, monkeys and birds. The conclusion was that wild animals regularly performed certain exercises to build up their constitution and improve their skills. Indeed, regular exercise of this set has demonstrated improvement of both physical and mental health to the practitioners. As time went by, this set was embodied in forms of tai ji quan (chin.: tài jí quán 太极拳).

Hua Tuo was born around 110 B.C in Iao of Peiguo(now called Haoxian or Bo).The latter comprises one of the four major centers of herb distribution in China. He lived nearly 100 years, with perfect health, to the extent that he was considered immortal. It is said that Cao Cao around 207 A.D., governeror of Wuei province, killed Hua Tuo for reasons yet unknown. He asked him to become his private healer as he was suffering from acute migraine attacks. Hua Tuo did not stay for too long. Filled with anger, possibly due to Hua Tuo’s disobedience or suggestion to perform brain surgery (this was perhaps considered as attempt to murder him), the governor ordered to imprison him and later his execution. In the meantime, his consultant Χun Yu begged Cao not to kill him because many lives could be saved by Hua Tuo’s skills. Sadly, he did not pay any attention. According to the records of Wuei Dynasty ( Wei Ζhi ), the second son of Cao Pi (187-226 A.D) took over the throne by enforcement from, at that time emperor Xian. China sank into chaos after that.

According to limited existing information concerning his life, it is said that he studied and mastered at an early age, many classical texts, relating to clinical and medical measures, astronomy, geography, philology, agriculture and astronomy. The stimulus to pursue a career in medicine, was the death occurred by famine, epidemics and injuries from battles.

His father passed away when Hua Tuo was only seven years old.  He lived with his mother in poverty. She wanted her son to follow a career. Hence, Hua Tuo walked hundreds of kilometers to reach Xuzhou, with a view to accessing all classical medical texts preserved over there. He studied under a renowned physician named Cai. He studied and practiced relentlessly. Soon he became expert in many fields such as, acupuncture, gynecology, pediatrics and surgery. As far as the latter is concerned, he invented some anesthetic herbal formulas. One of them is the powder under the name Fei Sa (chin.: má fèi sǎn 麻沸散) the basic ingredient of which, was cannabis. This was addressed with alcohol prior to operations.

His formal biography includes little information regarding his surgical operations in the abdomen. Nonetheless, one of them set the grounds for treating appendix.

The story with Guan Yiu is one with particular interest, as it became a famous historic subject in Chinese art. In this, the general is depicted, cool, playing a game of Wuei Qi (chin.: wéiqí 围棋) with Ma Liang, while Hua Tuo performs an operation on his wounded arm (by a poisonous arrow), removing the necrosis to the bone.

Hua Tuo never pursued glory and materials, despite the fame surrounding him as being a miraculous doctor. He devoted his entire life, solely in curing people and turned down numerous offers for working with the government (this probably cost his life).  It is said that he wrote many books. Unfortunately none of them is saved. Sad to mention that Hua Tuo’s thunders (e.g some of his surgical monographs) were stolen by others. Just before his execution he asked his guard to keep the book of his medical practice ( named Qing Nang Shu (chin.: qīng náng shū 青囊書 ) ), saying that “This may save lives”. The guard in fear of the law he rejected. Then Hua Tuo, in utter despair and disappointment, asked for a punk and burned his work down.

Hua Tuo had many students, including Wu Pu, Fan E, and Li Dangzhi. All of them were brilliant healers. They practiced similarly qi gong, acupuncture, herbal medicine and all what their master passed them on.It is mentioned that Fan has lived up to 100 years thanks to his regular practice.

Hua Tuo adhered to the principle that prevention is always better than cure.