In Chinese medicine the organs are not merely physical entities, they are functions. These functions reside throughout the body, not in one place. Just as the body overall needs these functions to maintain health, each cell also requires the same functions. We cannot say that just the body needs oxygen and needs to eliminate wastes. The function of respirations (via the Lungs) and elimination (via the Kidneys) are pervasive: every part of the body needs to be fed, nourished, and its wastes taken away.

These organ functions were discovered through observation, not dissection. [1] Because of this different approach, Chinese medical models often refer to the organs with a capital letter to differentiate their model from the Western view of organs, which are denoted by a small letter. When you see the word Heart with a capital “H” you will know you are dealing with the function of the Heart organ, rather than the physical heart organ, as we know it in the West.

The functions of the body are based upon the five solid organs, referred to as the zang organs. These are the Heart, Spleen, Lungs, Kidneys, and Liver. Everything in life requires yin and yang for balance; thus these solid, yin-like zang organs have their yang counterparts in the hollow fu organs of the Urinary Bladder, Gall Bladder, Small Intestines, Stomach, and Large Intestines. Each pair of organs is connected via meridian channels. Each of the zang organs is also associated with one of the five elements of Daoist cosmology and, through these elements, the emotions. This is somewhat comparable, in the yogic view, to the connection of the five lower chakras to the five elements.

Organ Type      Paired with Emotion Element Function
Stomach Fu Spleen Worry Earth Reservoir for food and water
Spleen Zang Stomach Earth Controls digestion, stores intention or determination
Liver Zang Gall Bladder Anger Wood Stores blood, regulates Chi flow, controls tendons, seat of soul
Kidney Zang Urinary Bladder Fear Water Regulates water volume, coordinates respiration, stores Ching
Urinary Bladder Fu Kidney Water Storing and discharging
Gall Bladder Fu Liver Wood Reservoir for bile (Liver Chi): Gung ho! Decisiveness/dithering
Heart Zang Small Intestine Joy/Fright Fire Blood circulation, mental functions
Lungs Zang Large Intestine Sadness/Grief Metal Controls Chi and respiration, regulates water flow
Small Intestines Fu Heart Fire Receives and contains food and water
Large Intestines Fu Lungs Metal Involved with transport and transformation
San Jiao Fu Digestion
Pericardium Circulation
  1. — Chinese physicians never dissected bodies and thus had to develop keen observational skills.

(Next: The Zang Organs )