Sun Simiao (541-682 AD) lived for 142 years until the early Tang Dynasty.
He went to school at the age of seven and memorized texts that were more than 1,000 words long each day. By the age of 20, he enjoyed reading the texts of Daoism, Buddhism, and others. Dugu Xin, a well respected general, once met Sun and said, “This child has talent. I am just worried that though he knows a lot, he probably cannot apply it appropriately. Therefore, he may not become a high official.”
Observing the degenerate moral values of earthly people fighting for fame and material interest out of greed, Sun highlighted the importance of virtue. By cherishing virtue, one would be blessed without seeking blessings and would achieve longevity without pursuit.
During the reign of Emperor Xuandi of the Northern Zhou Dynasty (578-579 AD), Sun went to live in seclusion in Zhongnan Mountain.
During the reign of Emperor Wendi of the Sui Dynasty (581-604 AD), Sun was appointed as an Imperial Academy doctor, but he refused, citing his health. “Fifty years later, a saint will come. I will then help him save society and the people,” he told the people around him.
Later, during the reign of Emperor of Taizong of the Tang Dynasty (627-649 AD), Sun was summoned to the capital city. Impressed by his youthful appearance, Emperor Taizong said, “From you, I know that those who practice Daoism should be respected. And stories of ancient deities such as Guangcheng Zi are real.” Emperor Taizong repeatedly offered him positions, but Sun rejected them resolutely.
During the fourth year of the Xianqing Period of the Tang Dynasty (659 AD), Emperor Gaozong summoned Sun and offered him a counseling position, and he refused again.
On the first year of Shangyuan Period of the Tang Dynasty (674 AD), Sun asked to return home, citing his health. Emperor Gaozong gave him good horses and offered that Sun stay at a fief [an estate] that used to belong to Princess Poyang.
Throughout his life, Sun practiced medicine and collected herbs. He had been to numerous mountains including Taibai Mountain and Zhongnan Mountain (both in Shaanxi), Taihang Mountain (in Shanxi), Song Mountain (in Henan), and Emei Mountain (in Sichuan). He studied single regimes, and approved of recipes and herbal medicine usage.
Sun wrote two books, Qianjin Yaofang (Essential Formulas for Emergencies [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold) and Qianjin Yifang (A Supplement to Essential Formulas for Emergencies [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold).
Sun considered human life very precious and referred to these recipes as being worth a thousand pieces of gold. Both texts were considered great medical encyclopedias, which connected medical knowledge from the Han Dynasty and continued to dominate the field until the Song and Yuan Dynasties. Qianjin Yaofang was also published in Japan several times.
To commemorate Sun’s achievements, people called the Wutai Mountain where he had once lived in seclusion the Mountain of the Medicine King. They also built a temple and a statue of him on the mountain and held a celebration every year for 15 days, starting from February 3 in the lunar calendar.
Shoes That Weighed 8.5 Jin (or 9 Pounds)
When he was young, Sun learned medicine for many years in the mountains. He was diligent and demonstrated good ethics, so his master taught him everything he knew.
When it was time for Sun to leave the mountain, his master said, “Things in the human world have their reasons. Please do not let difficulties compromise your will for saving people and helping society. I also know you will not harm people or commit disgraceful deeds. Always keep your original intention in mind and you will have big achievements.”
With tears in his eyes, Sun said farewell to his master and left the mountain.
Following the instructions from his master, he helped people with their medical needs wholeheartedly.
Contrary to what he had expected, he could not cure illnesses, no matter where he went, and the people he treated died. Villagers reprimanded him and swore at him. They later avoided him like the plague and drove him away. Sun not only needed to suffer from the difficulties of food and travel, he also had to endure insults and humiliation from people.
One day he could not take it anymore. He returned to the mountain and tearfully told his master the pain he had been suffering. With no blame, his master just looked at him kindly and said slowly, “I am fully aware of your pain. But this is a process, and things will change at a later time. Please do not give up. When the straw shoes you wear are as heavy as 8.5 jin (or 9 pounds), things will get better.”
Once again Sun bade farewell to his master and left the mountain. The experiences he encountered were the same, but he did not give up and instead often motivated himself amid the misery.
One day he walked through a muddy pond, and his shoes were almost torn apart. After getting out of the pond, he leaned against a big tree to tie up his straw shoes with more straw. The shoes were now clumsy and heavy; nonetheless he had no choice but wear them.
After some time, a group of people passed by carrying a coffin for a funeral. Noticing blood dripping from the coffin, Sun examined it and knew the person could be saved. So he ran after them and called aloud, “Stop! Stop! I can save this person! She is not dead yet!”
People ignored him, thinking he was insane. Sun begged them to stop and put the coffin down, but no one listened to him, since locals considered stopping a coffin halfway bad luck. Sun had no choice but to follow them and continue calling, “This person had an obstructed labor—the baby did not come out, and the mother kept bleeding and died too, right? She continues to bleed now, so it means this person can be saved. Please put down the coffin now; otherwise, it will be too late.”
Surprised by his accurate description, as if he had seen the entire incident, people stopped. They put the coffin down and opened it. Sun took out a needle and pricked the appropriate acupuncture point of the woman. Not long after that, she came back to life with an exhalation. Just as everyone was overcome with surprise and joy, there came the cries of a baby. Both the mother and baby were saved and people were very joyful.
This miracle of saving two lives with one needle quickly became known throughout the community. The family welcomed Sun into their home and were very thankful.
The next day, Sun was preparing to leave. The family wanted him to stay, but he insisted on leaving. He also refused money and gifts from the family, except for a new pair of straw shoes. As the baby’s father was discarding his old shoes, Sun indicated that he wanted to keep them. They then weighed the shoes, and they were exactly 8.5 jin.
Sun then believed his master’s words even more. He continued to treat people’s illnesses. Interestingly, whoever he treated would now recover. People thus called him the “magic doctor in straw shoes.”
(To be continued)