Emotions in Chinese Medicine: by Dr Damiana Corca, DOM, AP, L.Ac.

“The sage is like a mirror: he neither sees things off, nor goes out to meet them. He responds to everything without storing anything up. Thus he is never injured through the myriad transformations he undergoes”

Confucian Huai Nan Zi

Emotions play an essential role in Chinese Medicine. They are of particular importance because the spirit and the body are strictly connected in diagnosis and treatment. We can go as far as saying that oftentimes the treatment of physical symptoms affects the spirit and the other way around.

In older Chinese texts, emotions were in general more emphasized when viewed as causes of disease. Rousseau (c.1700) implemented the notion of emotion, however many philosophers before Descartes used the term passions for emotions. The word “emotion” comes from the Latin “e-movere” which means to move out, while the word “passion” comes from the Latin verb “patire” which means to suffer. “Passion” mirrors better the Chinese word “qing”, in the light of the concept of emotions as cause of disease.

One of the most important principles in Chinese Medicine is that emotions are a cause of disease only when present for a long time or very intense. In such cases, the circulation of Qi is impaired, the spiritual aspects from Chinese Medicine such as the Mind (Shen), Ethereal Soul (Hun), and Corporeal Soul (Po) perturbed to further affect the Organs and the Qi and Blood.

Emotional disturbances can also root from the diseased organs, which might have primarily started due to dietary factors, for example. If the affected organ were the Liver, the resulting emotion would be irritability.

One of the oldest written books on emotions comes from Confucius (c. 500 B.C.) where he lists seven emotions: joy, anger, grief, fear, love, hatred, and desire. The Daoist Lao Zi lists the same number of emotions though slightly different: joy, anger, worry, sadness, love, hatred and desire. The 5 Element view states that anger affects the Liver, joy (extreme joy) the Heart, pensiveness the Spleen, worry (grief) the Lung, and fear the Kidneys. In spite of this classification, the Heart is particularly affected by all emotions. Many of the numerous emotions not mentioned here are assimilated within the traditional emotions. For example, indignation can be assimilated within anger, respectively the organ Liver.

Desire seems to be the ultimate root cause of disease. This is reflected in Daoist, Confucian and Buddhist thought, feature that is probably mentioned in many other philosophies. Maybe this is exactly because desire is what drives many of our aspirations – or it is rather the non-gratification of the same desire that actually leads to a diseased state.

These emotions and their organ associations can indeed be the base of highly effective treatments for the complex pathologies present in our society. The success of the Chinese Medicine treatments lies in the specific diagnosis and treatment based onpatterns that are found in each individual rather than diseases.

Examples of diseases successfully treated with Chinese Medicine therapies such as Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders (manic-depression), night terrors, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).



Maciocia, G. The Psyche in Chinese Medicine. (2009). Churchill Livingstone: New York.


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