Stories of Ancient Healing Wisdom: Fighting Epidemics With Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese herbal medicines.
As we continue to battle the unknown in modern medicine, the legacy of ancient Chinese healers may still hold valuable insights and inspiration. (Image: Xue Lei Ma via Dreamstime)

The world has been stricken with an epidemic so mysterious that even after three years of research using precise instruments, Western medicine has not fully understood its toxicity, nor has it developed the most accurate vaccine or prescription. Modern Chinese medicine, too, has failed to genuinely inherit the essence and intricacies contained in ancient traditional Chinese medicine‘s practices. Those natural herbs, which once could cure diseases with a single dose, have become ineffective in healing the epidemic tormenting people today.

In the medical records of China’s last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, we can still find doctors carrying the secrets of special and alternative remedies for plagues. This article narrates the stories of just a few among many renowned physicians from that era, revealing the profound and intricate art of ancient traditional Chinese medicine.

Dr. Wang An and his self-made pills

Wang An, also known by his courtesy name Shiping, hailed from Kaiyuan County in Liaoning Province. Born into poverty, he faced additional challenges due to a foot ailment that required the use of crutches. Despite these hardships, Wang An’s exceptional intelligence and natural talent for learning did not go unnoticed. His village teacher, recognizing potential that might have otherwise gone untapped because of his family’s financial situation, offered him a place in the school without charging tuition and even provided him with free meals three times a day.

Wang An was talented in many areas, but he had a particular affinity for medicine. Once, he met a highly skilled doctor in a pharmacy. The doctor was of great character and imparted all his medical knowledge to Wang without reservation.

Chinese herbal medicine on a wooden background next to a mortar and pestle.
Once, Wang met a highly skilled doctor in a pharmacy who imparted all his medical knowledge to Wang without reservation. (Image: Ang Hui Hoen via Dreamstime)

Wang An was skilled in acupuncture and had remarkable effects with various pills and herbal medicines he developed. For example, the Black Dragon Pill and Xuan Yang Powder for gynecology and the Bao Yuan Pill, Gu Tong Powder, and Qing Fei Powder for pediatrics effectively cured diseases. Even tricky and unpredictable epidemics could be treated with pills that he developed, which were easy to distribute and had remarkable effects.

In the first year of the Tongzhi reign (1862), an epidemic broke out around Faku Gate and countless people died. At that time, Wang opened a pharmacy in the area. He opened the door of his pharmacy and gave out his self-made Tai Gong Pill and Bao Yuan Pill to passersby free of charge day after day. Eventually, he saved countless lives. By the end of the year, when the epidemic subsided, one group  after another came to thank him in person.

During the fourth and fifth years of the Tongzhi reign (1865-1866), bandits and thieves were rampant. Faku Gate, where Wang lived, was devastated by looting. After the bandits entered the city, they left destruction in their wake, burning and looting, with no act of violence beyond their reach. However, after hearing about Wang’s reputation for medical healing and selfless aid, those bandits immediately respected him and looked at him with admiration. Later, under Wang’s persuasion, the bandits spared nearly a hundred shops. They departed with a sense of triumph, yet without causing total destruction, thereby saving many shop owners from the ravages of looting.

Several years later, Wang’s pharmacy grew larger and larger, but whenever he had extra money, he would help and support his hungry relatives. Even in his old age, he was still generous. After his death, his descendants were able to inherit his medical skills.

Dr. Fan Pinduan treated epidemics with affordable remedies

Fan Pinduan, also known by his courtesy name Zhicheng and style name Zhangfu, hailed from Zhongjiang County, Sichuan Province. He immersed himself in the classics, histories, and various literary works at a young age and demonstrated remarkable writing prowess as well. Intrigued by ancient medical texts like The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine and Suwen, he developed a profound interest in medicine. He believed that medical skills were a way to help people with benevolence, so after years of arduous study of medical books, he resolutely embarked on the path of a doctor.

Fan believed that traditional Chinese medicine skills were a way to help people through epidemics.
Fan believed that medical skills were a way to help people with benevolence. (Image: Photomall via Dreamstime)

Never one to shy away from hard work, Fan devoted himself to treating patients. Even in his sixties and seventies, he continued to visit those in need. During the day, he would walk with a walking stick, and at night, he would be supported by his two grandsons. He braved all weather conditions without hesitation. His focus was solely on his patients’ well-being and he did not want to delay treating them for a moment. Esteemed for his extraordinary medical ethics and skills, he commanded great respect in his community.

Dr. Fan had a particular aptitude for treating epidemics. A friend, who later became the governor of Kaizhou (now in Guizhou), called upon him during a severe outbreak in the region. Without hesitation, Fan and his family moved to assist, treating the afflicted with dedication.

His prescriptions proved highly effective, alleviating the suffering of the infected. He even formulated an economical remedy, urging the governor to ensure its sale at minimal cost, particularly for low-income families. This affordable and potent solution saved many lives.

During this time, a man named Bai fell ill with the epidemic. Dr. Fan initially found Bai in stable condition but was alerted to his apparent death the next day. Unconvinced, Dr. Fan entered Bai’s home, finding him cold but still breathing. Swiftly, he instructed Bai’s wife to administer a specific medicine, confidently assuring her that Bai would recover. True to his word, Bai soon stirred, his condition improved daily, and he was ultimately cured.


These remarkable stories illustrate the depth and wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine in treating epidemics. The ingenuity and compassion of physicians like Wang An and Fan Pinduan reveal not only the power of ancient remedies, but also the timeless importance of empathy and benevolence in healing. Today, as we continue to battle the unknown in modern medicine, the legacy of these ancient healers may still hold valuable insights and inspiration.

Translated by Joseph Wu

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  • Mikel Davis

    Mikel serves as editor and sometime writer for Nspirement. He loves foreign cultures and foreign places. They have taught him many lessons. He hopes his work can impact others so they have a better life, or at least a better day.