Sun Simiao Waited 50 Years for Li Shimin

Emperor Taizong.
Emperor Taizong of Tang was also known by his original name, Li Shimin. (Image: via Public Domain)

In traditional Chinese culture, Buddhism emphasizes predestined relationships among people: between husbands and wives, relatives and friends, and rulers and ministers. The encounter between Sun Simiao and Emperor Taizong of Tang, born Li Shimin, was also predestined.

Sun Simiao was a Chinese physician and writer of the Sui and Tang dynasties. He was titled China’s “King of Medicine” for his significant contributions to Chinese medicine and tremendous patient care.

Sun Simiao wrote two books—Essential Formulas for Emergencies [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold and Supplement to the Formulas of a Thousand Gold Worth—that were both milestones in the history of Chinese medicine, summarizing pre-Tang dynasty medicine.

During the reign of Emperor Wen of Sui, as news of Sun Simiao’s miraculous cures spread, the emperor intended to offer him a high position and handsome salary, but he refused. Later, Sun Simiao told his confidants: “Fifty years later, a sage will appear, and I will help him to serve the people and society then.” After that, he lived in seclusion to practice Tao.

Sun Simiao left the mountain

As he expected, the wise Emperor Taizong of Tang took power 50 years later, but Sun Simiao was old. Still, according to the chronicles, he looked young, agile, and radiant. After walking out of the remote mountains, he wandered around the streets, starting to fulfill his mission of saving people.

Sun Simiao, as depicted by Gan Bozong.
Sun Simiao, as depicted by Gan Bozong. (Image: via Public Domain)

Empress Changsun, Emperor Taizong’s wife, had been pregnant for over ten months and bedridden, yet had no sign of giving birth. Many imperial doctors tried to help her but could not. At the time, the minister Xu Maogong suddenly thought of Sun Simiao and introduced him to the emperor. Without hesitation, Emperor Taizong immediately sent people to invite Sun. It was late into the night when he arrived at the palace.

At the time, due to the social etiquette of “no physical contact between men and women,” the doctor was not allowed to touch the imperial family’s womenfolk in the diagnostic process and could only judge the condition based on the description of others.

So Sun Simiao had no choice but to inquire about the empress’s illness from her maid and carefully reviewed the imperial doctors’ records and prescriptions. Afterward, he removed a red thread and asked the maid to tie one end to the queen’s waist and draw the other out of the bamboo curtain. In this way, he pinched one end of the thread to take the empress’s pulse outside the room.

After Sun Simiaofinished taking her pulse, he asked the maid to hold the empress’s right hand to the curtain, and he immediately stabbed a needle into an acupoint. The empress felt pain, and a quiver resulted all over her body. Suddenly, a baby’s crying erupted from the room. The empress and the prince were saved, and the good news spread throughout the capital. Thus, Sun Simiao became well-known and received the honor of “King of Medicine” by later generations.

The emperor was overjoyed when he heard the good news.
The emperor was overjoyed when he heard the good news. (Image: via Public Domain)

The emperor was overjoyed when he heard the good news. He was such a rare, talented doctor that the emperor asked him to stay to take over the Imperial Institute of Medicine.

However, Sun Simiao expressed his aspirations of Tao cultivation to Emperor Taizong and politely declined the official position offer, along with gold and silk fabrics. The emperor was disappointed, but understood and admired Sun Simiao’s medical skills and character.

After a few years, he went to Wutai Mountain in Huayuan County to pay his respects to Sun Simiao.

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  • Nspirement Staff

    Nspirement (or Inspirement) is the act of becoming motivated, encouraged, and enthused to the point of making a significant difference or change. Our aim is to offer articles that will inspire, uplift, and educate our readers, as well as insights into all things China and China’s impact on the world today.