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.

OrganType     Paired withEmotionElementFunction
StomachFuSpleenWorryEarthReservoir for food and water
SpleenZangStomachEarthControls digestion, stores intention or determination
LiverZangGall BladderAngerWoodStores blood, regulates Chi flow, controls tendons, seat of soul
KidneyZangUrinary BladderFearWaterRegulates water volume, coordinates respiration, stores Ching
Urinary BladderFuKidneyWaterStoring and discharging
Gall BladderFuLiverWoodReservoir for bile (Liver Chi): Gung ho! Decisiveness/dithering
HeartZangSmall IntestineJoy/FrightFireBlood circulation, mental functions
LungsZangLarge IntestineSadness/GriefMetalControls Chi and respiration, regulates water flow
Small IntestinesFuHeartFireReceives and contains food and water
Large IntestinesFuLungsMetalInvolved with transport and transformation
San JiaoFuDigestion
PericardiumCirculation
  1. — Chinese physicians never dissected bodies and thus had to develop keen observational skills.