Medicine Is a Humane Art

By Zhang, Daqing; Cheng, Zhifan | The Hastings Center Report, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Medicine Is a Humane Art

Zhang, Daqing, Cheng, Zhifan, The Hastings Center Report

The Basic Principles of Professional Ethics in Chinese Medicine

The value system of medical ethics in China has a long tradition that can be traced back to ancient times. Those values are reflected in the (Confucian) precept that "medicine is a humane art." That is, medicine is not only a means to save people's lives, but also a moral commitment to love people and free them from suffering through personal caring and medical treatment. Although this precept has been well accepted as the basic principle of professional ethics as a general principle that emphasizes doctors' self-accomplishment and self-restraint, there has never been a universally accepted professional code and binding principles in Chinese medicine comparable to the Hippocratic Oath in western medicine.

Medical Ethics in Ancient China

As in ancient Greek medicine, the professional values f ancient Chinese medicine arose with the development of medical professionalism itself. In ancient China, "profession" meant one's duties. During the Zhou Dynasty (from 1065-771 B.C.E.), an independent medical profession and medical system took shape, built around four aspects: dietetic, internal, surgery, and veterinary. Standards for evaluating, and paying, doctors were established. Thus the Rites of the Zhou Dynasty records that "at the end of each year, doctors are paid according to their medical performance, the highest payment to those who got 100 percent cure rate, the payment for 90 percent cure rate ranks the second, 80 percent the third, and so on."[1]

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.E.) and the Warring States (475-221 B.C.E.), medicine began to divorce itself from witchcraft and became an experience-based knowledge and a professional skill. At the same time, professional physicians emerged as a distinct social class, no longer seen as wizards with superman skills but as ordinary technicians, whose relationships with patients and among themselves were being redefined. Codes of ethics and standards concerning medicine arose, and the emergence of schools of medicine laid the foundation for the development of formalized medical ethics.

In ancient China, folk physicians didn't have fixed clinics or hospitals but went from one place to another practicing medicine freely. They hadn't formal training and weren't licensed, but performed their work by their own skills and consciences. As a result, there were deceitful quacks as well as experienced, good-hearted physicians. Physicians also ran tremendous risks while practicing medicine. For instance, in the Code of Hanmorabe (1700 B.C.E.), there were severe punishments for physicians' wrongdoings. Wenzhi, a 5th century B.C.E. physician, lost his life for failing to cure Emperor Qi's illness. To preserve their own reputations and distinguish themselves from quacks and to protect themselves, values emerged among physicians and between physicians and their disciples, such as emphasis on prognosis and observation of codes of conduct. These values gradually formed the foundation of early medical ethics.

Unschuld identifies three protective mechanisms for physicians in medical history: sorcery, prognosis, and medical ethics.[2] We agree with Unschuld but we also think that these mechanisms are basically stages in the development of medical ethics. However, the evolution of these three stages isn't simply a substitute of one for another; there are overlaps among them and even coexistence of them. The first mechanism, sorcery, hinges on belief in ghosts and gods and supernatural power to effect treatment; it is the domain of wizards and magicians.

The second mechanism, prognosis, rests on the advancement of medical knowledge and therapies and changes in people's conceptions about illness to believe that natural and reasonable factors cause disease. As physicians distinguished themselves from wizards and medicine lost the protective aura of magic, prognosis became the new protective mechanism. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Medicine Is a Humane Art


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.