Practical Course on Chinese Herb Recognition

We just completed the 6th Practical Course on Chinese Herb Recognition with student-practitioners from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine. We covered 20 hours of CEUs over the span of 4 days.

“I really appreciated the breadth of the experience – seeing everything from field, to processing, to market and then final industrial scale processing and packaging. It’s a big missing piece in a college-based TCM education.”

Click to watch short clip #1!

“Great learning experience that is hands-on, making it easy to familiarize ourselves with the herbs. I appreciated the ability to compare the herbs and see the difference in quality from one supplier to another.”

Click to watch short clip #2!


The aim of this tour is to deepen your familiarity with Chinese herbal medicine. Many students of Chinese medicine learn the names of herbs and how these herbs work, but have not seen it before. Others might have seen the herb, but are not sure whether it is a root, stem, bark or how it has been processed.

“This is a great experience that i will never forget. The whole trip opened my eyes to the herbal manufacturing, selling and packing process. It is amazing how much effort goes into the whole herbal process from planting and harvesting to selling and packaging. Thank you for this one-in-a-lifetime experience!”

Many herbs arrive to our clinic pharmacy already cut or powdered and packed so we wouldn’t recognize the herb in its whole form. We would never distinguish a good quality herb from an inferior one, and certain will not recognize the herb if it is growing in our backyard!

The Practical Course on Chinese Herb Recognition will enrich your understanding of herbs:

  • We will visit the biggest Chinese herb market in China and learn from first-hand experience (see, touch, smell) about herbs.
  • We will visit a herb farm and see how farmer here in China live and how they manage their crops.
  • We will go to a local factory to learn how herbs are processed here.
  • We will learn how to differentiate herbs that look different. In fact, every participant will receive a booklet (usual price $50) for compliments of our team.
  • The overall experience will aid all participants in understanding the possible origin of herbs in their countries, from planting in the farm to its sale in the markets to processing in the factory to its final packed form.

We hope that after this course, you will have a much better understanding of Chinese herbal medicine.

“Great trip! Seeing the herb rush was great and very educational. Markov was an excellent guide and very fun. This 4-day trip was highly educational and a wonderful time! i learned a ton!”

“I don’t think I would have ENJOYED my Bozhou experience without MARKOV as our guide, and all his connections/friends. Really enjoyed & recommend this trip with Markov.” 

“Markov did an excellent job organizing a smooth and fun trip. He attended to the needs of the group and each individual with care and grace. I had a wonderful time and I learned a lot!” 

“Thank you for sharing your knowledge, I feel like this enriching experience has made me a better herbalist.”

“This experience was invaluable to deepening my understanding of herbs in China.”

“This is a wonderful way to learn about herbs from seed to patient! Markov is an excellent host and a natural bridge between  people and places of all kinds!” 

Applied Clinical Gynecology

“What I really liked about your course was that is was very thoroughly done. You covered a lot of new material for us, especially explaining the four-phase cycle theory and how to treat the patient according to this theory, but you also explained the history of the theory. I was very happy with the way you explained the menstrual cycle really well and kept going over it and reexplaining it. The notes are well set out and easy to follow. Your course has given me confidence in myself that I have a better understanding of gynecology and how to treat my patients. Thanks Markov! – J. B., Macleod, Australia”

” I would like to thank you for a most informative course in gynecology, even though we covered it in some detail, your presentation made the subject completely clinically relevant and as I was fortunate enough to be in the Gynae ward the following week I was able to take full advantage of your info and to be completely involved. The micro management of the cycle with different formulae was the most interesting part for me. You have given me an interest in gynecology I didn’t expect to acquire. My patients are all going to get BBT charts to do! – S.A., Victoria, Australia

What is this workshop about?

For those who have already worked on gynecology patients at the student clinic, you will understand how broad the scope of Chinese medicine gynecology is. You will need to know and understand the Western medicines the patients are on, the imaging and lab tests they have done. You will need to employ both the use of acupuncture and herbs to treat the pattern you have diagnosed. You will need to understand the woman’s cycle, both in terms of the complex hormonal changes as well as these changes as understood in terms of Yin and Yang, Five Elements or the Zang-fu Method of Diagnosis/Treatment.

This workshop is about equipping soon-to-be practitioners with skills specific to treating diseases of gynecology using an integrative approach as practised in Nanjing. We will be covering only theory that is useful to clinical practice. For sure, we will not waste time running you through yet another wholesale repetition of a disease and its various patterns; many of you have already gone through enough of this in great detail during your recent years of training.

Who is Eligible?

This is a workshop specifically designed for students who are about to graduate and start working as Chinese medicine practitioners. It will cater to the following groups of students:

  • Recent graduates from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM)
  • Final year students of the RMIT degree program in Chinese Medicine and Human Biology.

You will already be doing observation rounds in the Hospitals of Nanjing. By attending this workshop, your understanding of herbal formulation as well as treatment strategies will be further enhanced. This workshop is invaluable to those interested in really applying Chinese medicine to diseases of gynecology in your future practice.

This workshop has a huge slant toward the use of herbs, so participants are expected to already know their herbs well. We will also be using quite a bit of medical terminology, so some level of familiarity with Western gynecology would be appreciated too.

What content will be covered?

  1. The woman’s cycle, effective use of BBTs in diagnostics
  2. The use of Chinese herbs to regulate the cycle; textbook theories and clinical practice
  3. Ovulation and strategies for promoting ovulation
  4. Understanding how to use the hormone panel and other lab tests
  5. Common gynecological diseases that you will see in the clinic and treatment strategies
  6. Patient intake, not focusing just on the yin and yang, but zooming in on relevant questions.
  7. Understanding where Chinese medicine and acupuncture can be useful in diagnosis, and where Western medicine diagnostics are crucial.
  8. Treating the disease vs treating the pattern, and how to do both in this day and age.

When is it?

The next one will be conducted in late September 2014. It will comprise 3 sessions over 3 days, each session lasting 90 minutes.

Who will be teaching?

Mark Chern will be teaching this workshop. Mark Chern (Singapore) is a practitioner of Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine. He also teaches at the annual American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine Fellowship in China. He will be making many theoretical concepts relevant to clinical practice.

What else will I get from this workshop?

Apart from the invaluable practical knowledge you will receive, you will also get a certificate for having taken this course. More than that, you will get a signed letter elaborating on the topics covered and what you have learned.

What is the investment?

This adds up to a total of A$400 for the three evenings.

Those who are really interested in practising TCM Gynecology are going to understand how valuable this investment is. Those who sign up will be given 2 assignments to do even before the workshop begins. You WILL leave the course feeling more confident in handling gynecological conditions, especially as it relates to fertility and reproductive disorders.

I am interested, what do I do next?

Please fill up the APPLICATION FORM and hit SUBMIT at the bottom of the page. Upon receiving your application, we will proceed to give you detailed instructions on how to pay.

Application is limited to 4 people only. Any more will make the workshop too crowded. Once we get 4 applications, we will close subscriptions.

Mark Chern

Mark Chern practices Chinese Medicine in Singapore – see Before this, he was maintaining a busy TCM Fertility & Women’s Health practice in Indonesia. He is conversant with using Chinese medicine alone or in combination with modern drugs/technology. He also assists women in pregnancy as well as post-partum using Chinese medicine. For client testimonials, please look here.

Since 1998, Mark has trained in complementary modalities that include Shiatsu, Myofascial Release, Visceral Manipulation and Craniosacral Therapy. He started giving acupuncture in 2004, after learning and practising in a traditional setting at Lee Zheng Yu Medical Clinic (Taiwan). He had further training in China regarding the integration of Western medicine and herbal therapies at the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as several hospitals of integrated medicine like the Jiangsu State Hospital of Chinese Medicine, Qin Huai Hospital of Chinese Medicine and People’s Hospital of Chinese Medicine. Even now, he continues conducting advanced seminars in China: the Practical Course in Chinese Herb Recognition for the Oregon College of Chinese Medicine ( and the Advanced Fellowship on Oriental Reproductive Medicine for the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (, as well as short elective workshops for students from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia.

In addition to running the programs hosted at tcm-nanjing, Mark has produced a language CD for the TCM English textbook used nationwide by students in China. He is also a proponent of the integrated East-West approach, and has trained in this aspect in China. This approach entails understanding both modalities and using one or a combination of both in a sensible manner.

While in China, Mark has developed several Clinical Observation programs to assist practitioners and students of Chinese Medicine in enhancing the value of their China experience. Areas covered include:

  • Gastroenterology
  • Pulmonology
  • Oncology
  • Rheumatology and Autoimmune Diseases
  • Reproductive Medicine – both Women’s Health and Male Factor Infertility

Mark is a strong believer in using traditional medicines in a responsible way. As practitioners of traditional medicine, we have a responsibility to understand the advantages and limits of using the mainstream approach of today. Only then can we fulfil our role and provide the ‘integrated holism’ that can benefit the patient’s overall health.

Advanced Oriental Reproductive Medicine Fellowship – Training Program in China.


The Advanced Oriental Reproductive Medicine Fellowship will be an intensive one week of observations, lectures and discussions. This Fellowship is the only advanced education course offered by us. It is created for Chinese Medicine Reproductive Specialists who already possess all the basics in reproductive medicine and are experienced practitioners. As such, it is exclusive to members of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine ( and members of Clinical Excellence in Fertility Professionals ( The 4th Fellowship Training Program will be in May 2015. Read on and write in if you are interested.

“The Fellowship in Nanjing is an intensive submersion into how Chinese Medicine, with a specific focus on reproductive health & fertility, as practiced in its home country. In daily clinic sessions it is not unheard of to see 60 or more patients per shift.”

Participants will observe the combined use of Western and Chinese medicine to treat both male and female infertility. The aim of the course is not only for participants to have the clinical experience of observing famous Chinese medicine doctors from the best gynecology hospitals in Nanjing, but also be part of a select group to learn more and discuss about how these doctors run their practice.

“There is nothing to replace the experience of being there-the sights, sounds, smells, the information! It will take your practice to a whole new level. There are things I saw and hear that I could only have seen and heard because I was in China.”

“The lecture and case discussion sessions were a valuable addition to the clinic observation. These sessions truly made it possible to decoct and extract the most valuable information from the observation sessions.”

“The doctors that were selected are some of the best in the field of Reproductive Medicine/Gynecology so it was very focused on what we see in our daily practices. Clinically, it was incredible to see the way the different doctors created herbal formulas and their theories on how to treat infertility were much more diverse than what we learn here in the States. TCM doctors in China are able to prescribe Western medications as well as herbs so it was invaluable to see how the two were used hand in hand. I learned a lot that I have already started applying in my practice.”

To find out more, or to register, follow the arrows below.

Mastering Herbal Formulation

How does one put together a herbal formula?

Many of you who read this will already have gone through much material regarding the expansive pharmacopoeia utilized in Chinese Medicine. Many would also find familiar the core set of formulas laid out in TCM textbooks.

“markov, thanx a lot for the great lectures you gave if us last term, they totally gave a new approach to herbs and formulas, also to think out of the box when it gets to deal with individual herbs in/out a formula.. please let me know when you’ll be back in town to have other sessions
kind regards and loads of gratitude.”

Click  to watch our snippet from “FOCUS ON TCM GASTROENTEROLOGY”

And if you are interested, check out (click) our FOCUS ON TCM GASTROENTEROLOGY course.

In our opinion, the more you see, the more flexible you become with the use of herbs in a formula. Most people are stuck to the main formulas and find it difficult to move away from it. Our aim is to help you encounter different possibilities using a comparative approach to learning. This will help you to set up a system for learning that is systematic and directed. What you catch will ultimately be yours. Together we will go through various case studies within each disease category, and in the process learn how herbal formulation it is done outside of the classroom.

A systematic means to mastering the art…

It is important that the classics are included in the course material. Classics allow you to understand the historical roots of a modern herbal prescription. That said, we want to give you more. We want to share with you a straightforward approach to creating empirical formulas that have clinical relevance. This hands-on approach can be immediately applied to your practice.

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Short Term Courses in Acupuncture/Tuina


How is Chinese style acupuncture different than how it is done where you are?

Many who come to learn and observe are amazed at how the clinical experience is interpreted here. It is at once efficient and social. Some then decide to bring back and set up such a system back home.

Come and learn how acupuncture is practiced in China. It is recommended you come for at least one month, but some people stay on for a couple of months. Leave us a note telling us what you want to learn and we will put together a suggested schedule for you.


Tuina is the ancient art of Chinese body work. Pediatric massage forms a component of Tuina and is a natural form of treating pediatric illnesses like fever, stomachache, respiratory issues. Much of the focus is on stimulating the body so that its own immune system is better regulated.

We can help you arrange observations with one teacher or with a few. Drop us a note and tell us what you would like to learn!

– – – – S N I P – – – –

Channel Palpation – Dr. Wang Ju-Yi

Those still interested in attending Channel Palpation workshops with Dr. Wang Ju-Yu can contact us on email. We no longer travel to Beijing to conduct that workshop and observations with other doctors. You also contact Richard Blitstein (click on his name) for related info on learning Channel Palpation.

Group Photo with Dr. Wang
Palpating the lower extremities
Working on the Du Channel

Outside of time with Dr. Wang Ju-yi learning from him about his form of Classical Acupuncture as well as the method of Channel Palpation, we also take time to visit Beijing City Hospital to understand how they integrate acupuncture into their treatment of patients.

Conference on modern use of acupuncture, Beijing City Hospital
Dr. Hu explaining the use of their fire needle

We also visit two other places to learn herbal medicine and tuina at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine Affiliated Clinic.

In front of Dr. Zhang’s local clinic
TMJ manipulation

Critique of a Medicine God

伤寒有五:有中风,有伤寒,有湿温,有热病,有温病。 – 难经

In the time of Mr. Zhang Zhongjing, all externally contracted diseases were classified Cold Damage (伤寒).

Cold Damage was the umbrella term for all classifiable infectious diseases then. The Classic of Difficulties gives us the five sub-categories: Wind Strike (中风), Cold Damage (伤寒), Damp-Warmth (湿温), Hot Diseases (热病) and Warm Diseases (温病).

Zhang’s classic tome On Cold Damage is revolutionary. Why? Because it unveils a theoretical framework for classifying disease based on the signs and symptoms exhibited. Mr. Zhang used a six-channel theretical framework, which later people have come to understand as a mapping out of the diseases process – from the 3 yang channels into the 3 yin channels. During the disease process, the sick person would manifest heat and cold symptoms. This language of heat and cold is the bedrock upon which herbs (also classified thus) were chosen to deal with the illness.

In fact, after Zhang’s time, later scholars spent much time writing and interpreting his work, which was a theoretical masterpiece, then as it is today.

A copious half of the book focuses on the Greater Yang (太阳) channel, which later scholars have understood as the first pass, the initial encounter with disease. Whether or not this has any basis, we will find a heavy documentation with regards to Wind Strike (中风) and Cold Damage (伤寒), both of which see the disease etiology as Wind or Cold entering the body. Both these ‘external pathogens’ then begin a process that moves inward from the outside, and when it reaches the innermost parts, the person dies.

In China today, within the sub-culture of Chinese Medicine, there are the people who still hold steadfast to such an understanding of diseases; they use this theory to treat disease. Even though the Cold Damage sect are a minority today, and many practitioners see it as one of many systems, there are those who swear by this one framework only.

In the earlier time notwithstanding, from the late Han up till the early Song dynasty, almost everyone used Mr. Zhang’s framework to treat diseases.


There was a running phrase: The method should not depart from On Cold Damage; the method should abide by Zhang Zhongjing’s.


We can see here how he had become a medicine god that some had come to follow without too much critical thought. In fact, the herd who saw Zhongjing as the one and only also came up with other self-uplifting aphorisms, like this one in particular: If one discusses Cold Damage but does not read Zhang Zhongjing’s books, it’s like saying you are Confucian but not know the Six Classics of Confucius.

Many of the doctors before the Song era would be using herbs in a formulaic manner as dictated in On Cold Damage. While likely that such manner of practice works sometimes, it may not be the most effective method if used blindly.

Two formulas and their variants were used and stuck to for goodness knows how long, only because they were created by the much-revered Zhang Zhongjing. Cinnamon Twig Decoction (Gui Zhi Tang) was the solution for Wind Strike, while Ephedra Decoction (Ma Huang Tang) was used to treat Cold Damage. On hindsight, these are formulas with herb components more suitable for diseases linked to Wind and Cold. Are these formulas suitable for other sub-categories like Damp-Warmth, Hot Disease and Warm Disease? Perhaps yes? Perhaps not too.

An aside: Herbs are classified into the framework accorded in the Chinese Medicine framework, by flavor and by the channels they enter. This was a theoretical framework borne of an ancient past, and while they no longer sound scientific to the intellectuals of today, this framework was discussed and improved upon by the intellects of many a foregone era.

Zhugong (朱肱) in his book Living Scroll of Cold Damage-type Patterns (伤寒类证活人书) was vocal about the need to use herbs more flexibly.

“桂枝汤自西北二方居人,四时行之无不应验。自江淮间,唯冬及初春可行,自春末及夏至以前,桂枝证可加黄芩半两,夏至后有桂枝证,可加知母一两、石膏二两,或加升麻半两。若病人素虚寒者,正用古方,不再加减也。” – Zhugong

Zhugong voices a very reasonable suggestion regarding the use of Cinnamon Twig Decoction, which is warm in nature. He says that the people in the north can use it to good effect at any time of year, but for the people in the south, only in the the winter and early spring should it be used. From the end of spring to the peak of summer, we should add Skullcap (黄芩). After the peak of summer, consider adding Anemarrhena (知母) and Gypsum (石膏), or Cimicifuga (升麻). If the person is of deficient-Cold constitution, use the original formula.

Beautiful. Zhugong is suggesting that we add herbs of a cold nature to an essentially warm-natured decoction. In a nutshell, he encourages the act of modifying the original decoction depending on geography, season and personal constitution.

During the Jin-Yuan era, discussion was rife and tempers flared. One man who emerged within this pre-revolutionary mess as a man named Liu Wansu (刘完素) who later came to be known as the founder of the ‘cold sect’ (寒凉派). His focus was on the use of ‘cold’ herbs to remove the ‘heat’ characteristics of most externally contracted disease. An analogous phrase using today’s medical jargon would be “inflammation is the substance of all infectious disease.”

Mr. Liu was most famous for getting patients to ‘shit out’ the pathogen, although he also applied vomiting and perspiration to his repertoire of treatment methods. While the form of his methods is congruous with that used during the medicine god’s era – vomit, sweat, shit – the substance of his core herbs couldn’t be more different from Mr. Zhang’s.

Would Zhang have have declared war on this different manner of treatment? We don’t know, but being of open mind and ingenious spirit, Zhang might have found resonance with Liu’s ideas. But why did those who made him a medicine god raise such a ruckus?

Wang Hao Gu

Spleen-Stomach Guy?

Wang Haogu (王好古) is often lumped together with Ligao (李杲), both having been disciples of Zhang Yuansu in Hebei, North China. Wang Haogu later put himself under the discipleship of Li Gao. We will naturally see him as a Spleen-Stomach kind of guy. But in fact, he was never affixed to any one idea, using cold herbs as and when necessary.

His most oft-used formulas included siwu tang (四物汤), lizhong tang (理中汤) and pingwei san (平胃散), each of which he had manifold modifications of — 60 for siwu tang alone. He would also use “colder” formulas like baihu tang (白虎汤), xijiao dihuang tang (犀角地黄汤), ganlu yinzi (甘露饮子) and xie bai san (泻白散), so readers see the broad nature of his herb usage. The important thing to him was to have the herb combination fit the disease situation at hand.

On Yin Patterns?


Wang Haogu is known for his views on Yin patterns. One of his views (the quote above) is that “Yang patterns are easy to diagnose and treat;Yin patterns are difficult to diagnose and treat.”

Who gets Yin patterns (阴证)? Not the hardy person riding on horseback. The hardy person will likely show Yang patterns (阳证) however mild the pathogenic attack. But the bloke with constitutional deficiency will exhibit Yin patterns, even if it is caused by a heat pathogen (热邪).

This, to me, concerns the inflammatory process. Imagine a kid with fever – this kid has alot of yang qi (阳气) and so the fever is high. Compare the kid against a grown man with weak immunity – it could be because he has a weak constituion (体质弱) or because of a chronic disease (慢性病). He will exhibit low fever or none at all.

Greater Yin Disease (太阴病) in the Shang Han Lun (伤寒论)?

When discussing the treatment of cold patterns (寒证) in the Shanghanlun, Wang Haogu says that a person who gets Greater Yin disease (太阴病) is ill not so much because of pathogen invasion, but rather because this person already has deficiency in Spleen yang. If you think about it, it is a very enlightened statement for his time.

This Spleen yang deficiency manifests as diarrhea and occasional abdominal pain. We can push it further and conclude that lizhong wan (理中丸) is not for treating Cold Damage (伤寒). Rather, it is for treating diseases of miscellaneous internal damage (内伤杂病).Y

In a similar vein, he views the person with Shao Yin disease as having Kidney Yang Deficiency. As for Jue Yin Disease, tongmai sini tang (通脉四逆汤) is used to rebalance a Liver yang deficiency (肝阳不足). The formula danggui sini tang (当归四逆汤) is also used.

Regarding the three yin diseases (三阴证):

The issue here is that the person is already deficient (病人体质), and yin pathogen is thought to be hiding inside the body (内已伏阴). The treatment principle is first to strengthen the Right Qi (扶正).

Note too that Zhang Zhongjing was already accounting for deficiency in people with the three yang patterns (三阳证). For example, when using baihu tang (白虎汤), ginseng (人参) is being added for the deficient types. He also made it very clear that mahuang tang (麻黄汤) is not suitable for people who sweat easily (汗家). Similar considerations are made in the case of guizhi jia fuzi tang (桂枝加附子汤).

Prescribing using Han Dynasty measures of quantity

Mastering the quantity of each herb used is very important in clinical practice. This is especially so when we want to practice prescribing 经方 i.e. those created by Mr. Zhang Zhongjing.

桂枝汤 as an example:

In 桂枝汤, 3 liang each of 桂枝 and 芍药 are used, and the function of 桂枝 is to 解肌祛风、调和营卫.

  • If we increase the quantity of 桂枝 – as in 桂枝加桂汤 where 5 liang of 桂枝 is used – its purpose is to 温补心阳、降逆平冲 as treatment for the running piglet pattern.
  • If we increase the quantity of 芍药 instead – as in 桂枝加芍药汤 – the decoction’s purpose is to treat intrusion on the taiyin spleen channel that causes 气血不和-type of abdominal pain(腹满时痛).

Yes, you say, in the latter decoction, the key herb is no longer 桂枝 but 芍药, and it’s 芍药 that helps to take away the pain. One can even infer further that treatment of such pain is limited to the 桂枝-type person. As for the former decoction, the additional 桂枝 just turns up the heat on the lower jiao in addition to helping the heart, all in all eliminating further activity by the piglet.

麻黄汤 as an example:

Again, the ratio of 麻黄:桂枝:甘草 should be 3:2:1, otherwise you’ll probably spend all day trying to get the patient to perspire.

五苓散 as an example:

The herb used in the largest quantity here is 泽泻, while 桂枝 just plays a minor role. If used as presribed in the ancient texts, this formula has a diuretic effect. Interestingly, when all five component herbs are used in equal portion, the diurectic effect is no significant. Obviously, that’s because we now know 泽泻 to be a diuretic, and of course it has to be the main player here.

We’ve only covered ratios above, which most people won’t have a problem with. The more important question becomes “how many grams of each herb do I put in?” We have to understand that Mr. Zhang was living in the Han era, and the Han era didn’t measure in grams or units we use today. If the chinese measurements of qian and jin could have been different in that era.

And it was.

Checking out the Han era books:

Checking up 《汉书·律历志》, which reflects measurement norms in the Han era, we see the following phrase:


meaning 1200 grains of rice is 12 zhu (unit of measurement)  and two 12 zhu is one liang. Hence 24 zhu is 1 liang. Which tells us that the most fundamental unit was zhu and we used rice grains to determine that. Which also tells us that the unit of measurement liang is 24 zhu.

The book continues…


informing us that 16 liang is one jin, and 30 jin is one jun, and 4 jun is one shi.

Overall, we’re set, we just need to find those grains of rice and count 1200 of them. But from where? Beijing, Changsha, from the sack, fresh from harvest? So there’s an issue here. But luckily, we needn’t go through all that trouble, because in the museums are heavy bronze pieces of different units of measure, and that includes one that says 1 jin and when we weigh that something, we realize that it’s 250g. So easy.

And so, using the original text once again, we can deduce that if 1 jin is 250g, then 1 liang is 250/16 = 15.625g. Let’s approximate 1 liang at 15g then.

Let’s now move on to volume measurements:


If you put 1200 grains into a container, that container contains one yue. So the smallest volume measurement is called yue. Two yue is one ge. And so on.

We go back to the museums and find out that One ge is 20ml. One sheng is 200ml. One dou is 2,000ml. One hu is 20,000ml (you can actually find a big hu in the Shandong Museum).

It seems that there’s no problem at all when there are artifacts to tell us exactly what was. We can then re-measure them using contemporary units of measure.

Now, we understand what eight ge means, we realize the book is exhorting us to drink 8 times 20ml of Ephedra Decoction, which is a total of 160ml. Great! And for Cinnamon Twig Decoction, it would be one sheng which equals 200ml. Eureka! Same with 麻杏石甘汤,which is one sheng, and the text adds “温服一升,本云黄耳杯” meaning that the yellow-earred cup(黄耳杯)approximates one sheng. And when if we go to the museum and check, voila, it is!

Before and after the Song dynasty:

Up till the Song dynasty, most practitioner would use the units of measure delineated above. There were changes, especially between the Jin and Song dynasty (a period of about 800 years), however the units of measure remained the same. After the Song dynasty, because the government brought about many changes, you’ll see the following units of measure: 斤、两、钱、分、厘、毫. So that’s a way to recognize whether the manuscript you’re reading is before or after the advent of the Song dynasty.

Later on though, in the modern era, the Chinese converted 1斤=500g, but this didn’t affect how chinese practitioners calculated herbal quantity. 1钱 was still about 3g, and so 3钱 was  about 9g. And since 9g is close to 10g, that’s why we see so many 10g herbs in prescriptions these days. A typical quantity at that time was 3钱, which is approximate 10g today.