Harmony and Disease: The case of the chinese liver

Francois Beyens

The Chinese concept of the Liver function has very little to do with what medical science knows of the liver organ. Like the four other Zang Organs it plays an active part in a certain number of relations with tissues, sense organs, Fundamental Substances, mental and emotional characteristics, as can be seen from the pathological patterns. As such, it shows already marked differences with the activities of the hepatic cells, and obeys to the approach of TCM which attributes to the Zang a network of physiological responsibilities going far beyond the scope of an anatomical organ, although not devoid of organisational logic.

Apart from this network, the Liver is endowed with a kind of synthetic function called SHU XIE TIAO DA. At first sight the translation seems rather like an enigma. But further understanding reveals an organic action in the whole body. It controls the movement qualities of Qi and Blood, which physiologically must be smooth, balanced and unimpeded. This influence takes place in three important domains: the mental and emotional sphere, the digestion, and the circulation of Qi and Blood related mostly to gynaecological physiology.

These domains are interrelated, as can be seen from the different patterns. But what is more interesting is that this profile of influences expresses a fundamental goal: the balance, the stability, the harmony of movements in the body. When the harmony is lost, the imbalance comes in, and with it the procession of diseases. In regards to this responsibility, the Liver could be seen as a “Great harmonizer”, and at the same time manifesting the first understanding of psychosomatic relations.