The Life of Dr. Ye Tianshi, Founder of the Theory of Seasonal Febrile Diseases

By Shu Rong
Shu Rong
Shu Rong
February 25, 2010 Updated: February 25, 2010

Dr. Ye Tianshi was born in 1667 and died at the age of 79. He was one of the greatest medical experts in Chinese history. His theories on seasonal febrile diseases greatly assisted modern Chinese Medicine doctors and scholars in dealing with the outbreak of SARS that occurred a few years ago. Dr. Ye had clearly defined diseases capable of causing an epidemic, such as seasonal febrile diseases, from others, thereby helping people understand more about febrile diseases and thus identify better ways to treat them.

Dr. Ye was born into a family of Chinese Medicine doctors. His grandfather and father were both famous doctors in their time. He started learning Chinese Medicine from his father when he was 12. Dr. Ye was 14 when his father passed away. He continued his study of medicine with Mr. Zhu, one of his father’s apprentices. Ye was so intelligent that he quickly learned everything Mr. Zhu could teach him. Thereafter, Dr. Ye began searching for outstanding doctors from whom he could learn more. Within 10 years, he had been taught by 17 teachers. As he was good at studying and adequately applying what he learned in practice, his medical tactics became more and more advanced, which led him to become one of the greatest physicians of his time.

Although Dr. Ye was a very famous doctor, he maintained a humble personality and good study habits. He researched ancient medical texts every day and sincerely taught those who came to learn from him. In addition, he was always willing to learn from other doctors whose medical skills were alleged to be better than his. Should he hear about such a physician, he would try his best to find a way to learn from such a master.

There are many legends about Dr Ye’s quest to learn as much about medicine as possible. What follows are two interesting examples.

Dr. Ye had one patient that he considered to be incurable, so he was surprised to see that this vey sick patient recovered within a year. The patient told him that a monk had cured his disease. Dr. Ye decided that he could learn from this monk. He wondered if the monk would have the courage to take such a famous doctor as his student. Dr. Ye changed his name so he could learn from this admiring monk. In addition, he did a lot of chores, such as carrying water, getting firewood, cooking, and cleaning whereby he acted like a young apprentice, which deeply impressed the old monk.

Several years passed and the monk told Dr. Ye “You have learned all of my techniques and your performance is now superior to the famous doctor Ye Tianshi.” Then Dr. Ye kneeled down and kowtowed to the old monk and admitted that he was Ye Tianshi. The old monk was very moved by Dr. Ye’s behavior.

The second story is about Dr. Liu, a famous acupuncturist whom Dr. Ye was highly interested in learning from but had no way of approaching. Coincidentally, Dr. Liu’s nephew, Mr. Zhao, was sick and went to see Dr. Ye when his uncle was unable to cure him. Mr. Zhao recovered soon after taking the medicines Dr. Ye prescribed. To express his gratitude, Mr. Zhao introduced Dr. Ye to Dr. Liu so he could serve as an apprentice. Of course, he concealed his true identity again.

One day, a very weak pregnant woman was brought to Dr. Liu for emergency treatment. After feeling her pulse, Dr. Liu said he would not be able to save her life. However, Dr. Ye carefully observed the patient, and inserted an acupuncture needle below her belly button. After the treatment he asked her family to rush her home.

As soon as she arrived home, the woman successfully gave birth to a male infant. Dr. Liu was very surprised when he found out what had happened. He then realized that his student was the reputable Dr. Ye. Dr. Ye’s humble character and zeal to pursue knowledge touched Dr. Liu so much that he taught all of his acupuncture skills to Dr. Ye.

By the time he reached an advanced age, Dr. Ye’s medical skills almost reached perfection, and he was recognized as a medical expert. However, he maintained the same humble and sincere attitude as always, and never talked down to his patients.

In his dying moments, he told his son” Not everyone is qualified to be a doctor. To become a practicing physician and save people’s lives, one can’t rely on innate intelligence alone; one also needs to study hard. Otherwise, it is difficult to guarantee that doctors will not jeopardize people’s lives. After I die, my descendants should not talk about medical science too casually.”

Read the original Chinese article.

Shu Rong