TRT ancestor was a “bell” practitione

2010-02-10

 Beijing, the nineteenth year during the reign of Emperor Yongle (1421 A.D.). At the crack of dawn, various sounds mingled in the area from the Temple of Xiannongtan, Chengtian Gate (now called Tian’anmen), the Forbidden City, Wansui Hill (Jingshan Hill) to the Drum and Bell Towers - stonemasons’ boring of stones, carpenters’ working of the dragsaw, iron forging the blacksmith and also vigorous work songs, together with constant rolling wheels running on the road, all of which annoyed the residents living nearby. Just amidst the hustle and bustle, there came the clear and melodious tinkles of bells on the streets like the springs on the dry land and a good rain after a long drought. “The bell practitioner Yue is coming,” said many people who were familiar with the voice.

 

The profession of bell practitioner started from Bian Que and Hua Tuo and prevailed in the Song Dynasty, having a long history.

 

There is a legend about the bell practitioner. Once upon a time, Sun Simiao rid a dockey and went to see a patient. On the way, a tiger ate up his donkey, but was choked by the bones of it. The tiger had to ask Sun Simiao for help. Not mindful of the previous grievance, he removed the bones out of the mouth of the tiger using an iron hoop to prop up its mouth. From then on, the tiger became the mount of Sun Simiao to repay him for saving its life and the iron hoop, the bell for a bell practitioner to get attention from patients. Thus the bell is also called “hucheng,” which literally means the thing used to prop up the mouth of the tiger. Sun Simiao is respectfully titled as China’s King of Medicine. Although this is just a fairy tale, it can prove that bell practitioner has a long history with rich accumulations of tradition.

 

In the early period, bell practitioners had a low social status and had not been valued for a long time. The theoretical work about bell practitioners did not come into being until the twenty-fourth year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty (1759 A.D.), when Zhao Xuemin, an expert on medical science from Hangzhou, compiled the theory and medical skills of bell practitioners into two books called the Internal Therapies of Folk Medicine and the External Therapies of Folk Medicine. The Internal Therapies of Folk Medicine includes a total of 427 selected prescriptions and also the description of the “internal treatment” and “external treatment” of bell practitioners. The internal treatment mainly includes therapies of ding, chuan and jie. Ding refers to the emetic method and chuan means diarrhoea, while jie means to eliminate the cause of the disease and prevent the relapse. The External Therapies of Folk Medicine divides the common external therapies into 28 approaches, such as acupuncture, moxibustion, plastering and steaming etc., which means the treatment of diseases by acupuncture, applying plasters and fuming and steaming. Therefore, bell practitioners are very popular among people for being convenient and cheap.

 

The doctor Yue, who was familiar to many people, was called Yue Liangcai. He was a bell practitioner. Bell practitioners had “bell” in the name because they got attention from their patients by ringing the bell. They were also called itinerant doctors, wandering practitioners or folk doctors etc. These bell practitioners were on various levels of medical skill. Some adhered to very high standards of medical ethics and possessed great medical skills, and were called xing in Chinese. Bell practitioners often used some pills, pulvis, emplastrum and unguentum made from secret recipes by themselves to cure some difficult and complicated cases of illness, yielding good results with low charges. However, there were also cheaters among them and even those who swindled people of money and then disappeared quietly, disregarding the patients’ life; these bell practitioners were called jian in Chinese. When Yue Liangcai arrived in Beijing, only patients from poor families and migrant workers from other places came to him for medical advice. After some time, as he showed high degree of medical skill and the medicine he offered were effective with cheap prices, he became more and more popular and some patients from scholarly and wealthy families also began to send for him for medical treatment.

 

Several decades passed and Beijing started to take on a prosperous scene. At this time, another bell practitioner Yue was often seen wandering in Beijing with his bell. He was not Yue Liangcai, but Yue Tingsong, a descendant of Yue Liangcai. At that time, Yue Tingsong often wandered around places near the Daming Gate and the Front Gate. Yue Tingsong took over the mantle of his predecessor and moreover, as he lived in the metropolis, he had a more broadened outlook, also got the opportunity to study the classics on traditional Chinese medical science. Before long, he got married and had a clever son called Yue Huaiyu. Yue Tingsong passed on his knowledge to his son, placing high expectation on him. After Huaiyu grew up, he also inherited the medical skills and ethics of the Yues. For those carters who were tired after travelling long distances, the boatmen who caught the rheumatic disease as they were engaged in the water transport of grain to the capital, bricklayers who built golden buildings bu lived in thatched cottages, weaving women who weaved dragon robes but could not afford winter clothing, poor men who lay on roadside and beggars, Yue Huaiyu not only treated and cured them with all efforts but often did that for free or less charge.