Blood circulation

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Mon Jul 5 15:43:48 UTC 1999

Temple is simply wrong about the Chinese knowing about the circulation of
the blood.

He is probably thinking of the the Huang-di Nei-jing in which one Ch'i Po
is said to hold the idea that there are conduit vessels which contain "a
flow which has an annular circuit".  But it is ch'i which is flowing in
these vessels, and perhaps cold influences, but not blood, or at least not
always blood. There is no mention of the heart.  There are complications
to this interpretation, which are all spelled out clearly in Unschuld's
classic "Medicine in China: a history of Ideas" (Berkeley, Univ. of
California, 1985), 75 ff. et passim.  See this for a fuller explanation,
as well as the usual Needham works.

Finally, there is more to the idea of blood circulation than merely
"things going round".  There is the functional distinction of arterial and
venous flow, for a start, as well as an understanding of the function of
the chambers of the heart and the link of the system with the lungs.  None
of these ideas is present in the Chinese texts.

And Sanskrit sources do not contain any description of blood circulation
either, so it wouldn't make any difference if Harvey had access to Arabic
translations of them or not.

If one actually reads Harvey's account, it is immediately perfectly clear
that he is talking about direct personal observation and experiment
throughout.  It doesn't really matter what may or may not have been
available to him from Asian sources -- and there is no evidence that he
was influenced by such -- he absolutely and certainly worked things out
for himself.


Dominik Wujastyk

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