The idiom 妙手回春 (miào shǒu huí chūn), often translated as “magical hands bring the dying back to life,” is used to describe physicians who have such extraordinary skills that they can cure the most severe of diseases and seemingly revive the dying.
This idiom is composed of two parts. Each part originated from classical Chinese poems from two separate dynasties.
The first part, 妙手 (miào shǒu), or magical hands, is a reference from the “Poem of Weiqi” by Cai Hong of the Jin Dynasty. In it, he mentions famous skilled craftsmen, such as Lu Ban and Wang Er, who used high-quality wood to make an amazing chess board.
In the poem, Cai Hong used 妙手 to describe the craftsmen’s exquisite skills. Later, the characters became a metaphor for anyone who is very skilled.
The second part, 回春 (huí chūn) means “spring returns” and is a reference from the lyrical poem “The Tune: Waves Sifting Sand—Yesterday outside Eastern Town” written by the renowned “ci” poet, Su Shi, of the Song Dynasty.
In this lyrical poem, Su Shi described how, at the end of winter, he went out of town to fully experience the arrival of spring.
This poetic focus on spring refers to the sense that winter has passed and spring is returning and the earth is full of life again. Therefore, 回春 describes “revival” or “to be alive again.”
Later these two allusions, or parables, were combined into the idiom 妙手回春 (miào shǒu huí chūn) to describe physicians who have the skills to bring patients back from the brink of death.