Chinese medicine glossary of terms

Chinese medicine can be very confusing if you have never encountered it before. You are placed inside a medical modality where none of the terms used may be familiar to you. Articles and blog posts are littered with strange words and terms to which you have no point of reference. This Chinese medicine glossary will hopefully come some part of the way to making things clearer for you. This page will continue to grow as the blog grows, and there is a need for more terms needing to be clarified. Also, if you would like a term clarified, leave a comment to this page, and I shall update accordingly.

Chinese medicine glossary

Term Meaning
Qi This is the energy that runs through our body via a network of meridians. Medically speaking it is the basic substance of all functions and processes that happen in the body. You may refer to general energy levels within the body, or to an organ or channels function. For example, you as a whole may be described as low in energy or qi deficient, or you could be referring to organs eg. spleen qi deficiency or liver qi stagnation.
Xue (blood) Traditionally, blood is described as the dense and material form of qi. Its role in the body is to moisten and nourish.
Yin The term given to the moistening and cooling aspects of the body. It is the material and physical parts of the body including tissues, blood, body fluids, blood and Essence. 
Yang This term is given to the warming and drying aspects of the body. It describes the metabolic activity within the body including growth, respiration, circulation and digestion.
Essence (jing) This is the yin element of the body that governs constitution, growth and development.
Heat A pathogenic factor that is yang in character. Heat rises so generally we will see heat affecting the upper parts of the body. It dries out the body, and harms yin and blood. It also impacts the shen.
Cold Is divided into external and internal cold. External cold is caused by external exposure to prolonged cold such as winter or air conditioning. This results in qi and blood stagnation manifesting in things like a fixed, cold dependant pain. Internal cold is caused by over consumption of cold foods such as ice-cream, or a deep penetration of external cold. This results in qi and blood stagnation but also a weakening of the zang organs.
Dryness Often appears with heat. Dryness damages the lung and harms the yin and body fluids.
Damp A pathogenic factor that generally comes from the environment such as wet weather, wet clothes or wet surroundings. It may also be produced internally by a spleen/pancreas network disfunction. If fluid metabolism is low, then acquired or produced fluids build up. The easiest example to see is oedema.
Channels Acupuncture meridians which are courses throughout the body which may be stimulated by acupuncture needles.
Shen Encompasses the mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of the person. It expresses in the consciousness and personality of a person.
Wind Is a carrier of pathogenic invasions such as cold and heat to the out layers of the body. This results in injury of these outer layers especially the channels of the upper half of the body.
Stagnation A blockage. Divided into different areas such as qi stagnation, blood stagnation or food stagnation.
Zang-fu The internal organs of the body which are divided into two. These have less to do with the Western anatomical definition, but should be thought of more as inter-connected functions responsible for the production of qi. The zang organs are the yin (storage organs): spleen & pancreas, lung, kidney, liver, heart
The fu organs are yang (or hollow): stomach, large intestine, bladder, gallbladder, small intestine, san jiao
San jiao (tripple burner) This has no Western anatomical equivalent, although it can be thought of as a devision of the body into three parts.
Upper burner: heart, lungs, pericardium
Middle burner: spleen, pancreas, stomach
Lower burner: liver, kidney, bladder, intestine
Wei Qi An immune system like barrier that covers the outside of the body. It is the bodies first line of defence.
Phlegm Phlegm is either substantial or insubstantial. Substantial phlegm is the term given to the the accumulation of fluids that can not be eliminated by the body. It may start of as dampness, and if the body does not rid it it may condense and become phlegm. It is visible, palpable and audible. Insubstantial phlegm is the term given to phlegm when it is not visible, not palpable or inaudible. Both are identical in nature.


  1. […] spleen and lung qi, treats lung heat conditions (eg: bronchitis), enriches yin particularly kidney yin, expels […]

  2. […] may become pathogenic factors causing disease. Excessive emotional activity may cause yin–yang imbalances, abnormalities in the flow of qi and blood, blockages in the meridians and damage to […]

  3. […] and breath in all the way to the bottom of the lung. Grief may constrict and stagnate the lung qi, so it helps to breathe in new air, and forcefully expel the […]

  4. […] term stress in Chinese medicine may impair what is called the qi dynamic. It is generally referred to as qi stagnation. Qi needs to flow freely around the body to […]

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