Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine

Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine

Wang Ju-Yi’s Lectures on Channel Therapeutics

Wang Ju-Yi and Jason Robertson

Eastland Press.

The short description of this book might be, “An acupuncture doctor with 45 years experience tells what he has learned to one of his students”. What this doesn’t tell you is how this has happened in the most fortunate of circumstances. Applied Channel Theory is the work of a (relative) beginner (Robertson) transcribing and exploring the mind of an accomplished and experienced practitioner (Wang). Wang has an inquisitive mind, an great sense of humor, has spent decades studying the Neijing and other classics and applying those styles in a very busy clinical career. Robertson has recently graduated from a Western TCM school, speaks and reads Chinese fluently and also has an inquisitive mind and a great sense of humor. Where Wang has the ability to pull the different elements of classic studies into an coherent form, Robertson has ingeniously put Wang’s words into a very readable and cohesive narrative. Wang has taken the challenge to delve into the most difficult yet basic concepts and Robertson has the confidence to ask the “simple questions” that illuminate throughout the book. Robertson is a clear and confident writer and Wang produces the answers. As my colleague said when she skimmed through the book, “It’s actually written in English!”.

Many of the chapters are taken from lectures and workshops that Robertson organized with Wang. There is a consistent thread of questions that pull the reader back to the basics just as the ideas start to spin in complexity. As one gets further and further into the book, themes emerge and are then re-explored. When looking at the classic text the material moves from theory into practical application. The relevance and significance of the book only gets deeper as one continues to read. This is material that should be discussed in every acupuncture school, here and in China. Applied Channel Theory is one of the most important books about Chinese Medicine to appear in 30 years.

The book has 20 chapters but has many threads. The first thread is a long discussion of each of the organs from the perspective of the 6 channels and an extended discussion of Ministerial Fire. This concept of the Ministerial will come back again and again throughout the book. It becomes especially evident in the 30 pages they devote to the Shao Yang. Another thread concerns the nature of the points as concepts and as functional processes. Robertson asks some basic questions that we often think of but never ask. “How does energy move through the channels?” “Does the qi from the limbs inward or outward to the limbs?” (Answered in an incredibly sophisticated manner by Wang.) “What does reinforcing and dispersing really mean?” “How do the five transport/antique/ting points work?” And Wang is not simply regurgitating texts, these are his unique explorations. By giving them full weight of his consideration it is apparent that the questions are neither stupid nor had Wang not thought that they needed answering. When Wang doesn’t have an answer for a question he responds that he truly doesn’t know. Robertson plays off his own naiveté as a recent graduate to extract these answers from Wang. Toward the end of the book there is a lengthy discussion about point combinations. Interspersed throughout are observations by Robertson about both the process of writing the book and the experience of Beijing. These digressions make the book more readable but lets us know that the book is not a final word about acupuncture but is itself an exploration. It’s an ingenious form for a book.

Applied Channel Theory comes at a time when Chinese Medicine needs a little help. Even as the popularity of acupuncture increases around the world, its roots often seems to have been lost for a practical and expedient functionality. The process started in China over 100 years ago and has been accelerated in all forms of acupuncture education and practice. While some have attempted to tie modern practice to the classics, the original writings have been notoriously difficult texts for ages. Indeed, most of our classics are attempts to explain other writings now either existent or lost. As a result, classical concepts of acupuncture all too often are either fetishized or abandoned as quaint. The latter is perhaps more common where the consensus is that “acupuncture works” but not perhaps in the ways that have been traditionally explained. Wang looks beyond the physiological metaphors and tells us why the ancients may have had it right all along.

When a chapter from this book was released to the Journal of Chinese Medicine, I was a bit disappointed as it seems that the book would simply be the palpation method of finding the points and diagnosis. Nothing could be further from the truth. Applied Channel Theory discusses the roots of acupuncture theory as so bridges the growing gap between acupuncture and herbal treatments. The future of acupuncture is not another Method be it Tung, Tan or Wang. Applied Channel Theory doesn’t necessarily demand any Method although it does answer how the Neijing might approach it. Instead the value of the book functions as a follow up to every TCM book we have ever seen. It takes up where Giovanni leaves off and explores what CAM only hints at. It takes Pirog and runs with it. This is one of the few TCM books that I wanted to read from front cover to back. And when I finished it, I started again from the front and reread it. It’s that good. It is that necessary.