A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
is published by
All material © 2016
by Yin Qianhe
(Pole Star Press & Joined in Harmony Press, 1961. Brennan Translations, 2015. 202 pages.)
Ridding Illness without Medicine
Review by Christopher Dow
In Prolonging Life: Ridding Illness without Medicine, Yin Qianhe has assembled a thorough manual on health and self-healing based on traditional Chinese medicine. With the exceptions of a few chapters, this is not a book to be read for insights or understandings. Instead, it is a catalog of techniques and methods to combat illness, whether transitory or chronic. The opening sentence of the book says it all: “My aim with this book is a hope that you will keep fit by way of internal exercises, using psychology, physiology, and natural principles to treat and cure illness, as well as [by] methods of first aid, and the expressing of human willpower, to dispel illness invisibly.”
The emphasis here is first on prevention of illness and second on curing it. Yin begins the treatise with several introductory sections that lay out his basic background in the martial arts and meditation and how those led him to a deeper understanding of health and well-being. The purpose of his book, he writes, is to share his knowledge for the benefit of his fellow human beings. You could call this a mid-20th century Chinese version of contemporary self-help and self-healing literature.
Over the course of twenty-nine chapters, each containing several sections, Yin discusses a great number of health-related exercises, practices, and dietary suggestions. The first three chapters are those that most probably would interest the general reader. In chapter one, he defines the basic parameters of internal energy and discusses the idea of cultivating it through specific exercises and practices. Along the way, he gives reasons to take up these exercises and practices as well as warning against certain pitfalls. Chapter two, while still remaining philosophical, discusses health and illness in more specific terms, still with a concentration on internal energy. Chapter three contains four somewhat lengthy passages from previous Chinese elixirist literature, all of which are intrinsically interesting.
The focus of chapters four and five is massage techniques. The reason to use each technique is explained, and the descriptions of the technique’s methods are adequate, but each one is accompanied by only a single photo of poor quality. Meditation is the subject of chapter six. Three methods are discussed—standing, sitting, and lying—and each has a photo. This is a pretty basic gloss of a very deep subject.
Chi kung takes up chapter seven, and in it, Yin gives a general explanation of chi kung exercises as well as discussions of the psychology of chi kung and breathing techniques, including abdominal breathing. Chapter eight goes back to the subject of massage, and chapter nine is a brief discussion of how to practice chi kung. I’d have put chapter eight alongside chapter six, which would have combined all the massage material in one section and all the chi kung material in another, instead of leap-frogging back and forth between them. Chapter ten, which contains various saying from authors other than Yin about health and nourishing life and internal energy, also will interest the general reader.
With the exception of the final chapter, the entire remainder of the book—about 75 percent of the total—is given over to discussions of a vast number of illnesses and conditions, ranging from digestive issues to problems of the eyes, ears, nose, and throat, to athlete’s foot and acne, and on and on. Each is furnished with a set of cures or palliatives, though some are old-fashioned in the light of modern medicines. I’d call this a sort of home-cure manual since none of the cures involve doctors, and all of them can be accomplished through physical actions, such as exercise or spreading balms, or through dietary supplements that one can make at home if you have access to the right ingredients. That might be difficult, since you’d have to have access to a Chinese herbalist to concoct some of these remedies. Also, quite a few of these cures do not sound palatable, and the reader should take all of them with a proverbial grain of salt. Yin also discusses a vast range of food stuffs and delineates their benefits and side effects.
In the final chapter, titled, “Some Further Thoughts,” Yin presents a number of maxims on life in general and on ethics and moral purpose more specifically, again by other authors. This chapter also would be of interest to the general reader.
As I implied earlier, Prolonging Life is not a book to be read through in its entirety, though a number of chapters do lend themselves to that purpose. For the most part, it would primarily appeal either to readers who already have an interest in self-help literature and self-healing techniques or to those who want to research cures for practical reasons