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The meridian system (simplified Chinese: 经络; traditional Chinese: 經絡; pinyin: jīngluò, also called channel network) is a traditional Chinese medicine belief about a path through which the life-energy known as "qi" flows.
The meridian network is typically divided into 2 categories, the jingmai (經脈) or meridian channels and the luomai (絡脈) or associated vessels (sometimes called "collaterals"). The jingmai contain the 12 tendinomuscular meridians, the 12 divergent meridians, the 12 principal meridians, the 8 extraordinary vessels as well as the Huato channel, a set of bilateral points on the lower back whose discovery is attributed to a famous physician in ancient China. The collaterals contain 15 major arteries that connect the 12 principal meridians in various ways, in addition to the interaction with their associated internal organs and other related internal structures. The collateral system also incorporates a branching expanse of capillary like vessels which spread throughout the body, namely in the 12 cutaneous regions as well as emanating from each point on the principal meridians. If one counts the number of unique points on each meridian, the total comes to 361, although 365 is usually used since it coincides with the number of days in a year. Note that this method ignores the fact that the bulk of acupoints are bilateral, making the actual total 670.
There are about 400 acupuncture points (not counting bilateral points twice) most of which are situated along the major 20 pathways (i.e. 12 primary & 8 extraordinary channels). However by the 2nd Century CE, 649 acupuncture points were recognized in China (reckoned by counting bilateral points twice). There are "Twelve Principal Meridians" where each meridian corresponds to either a hollow or solid organ; interacting with it and extending along a particular extremity (i.e. arm or leg). There are also "Eight Extraordinary Channels", two of which have their own sets of points, and the remaining ones connecting points on other channels.
The twelve standard meridians, also called Principal Meridians, are divided into Yin and Yang groups. The Yin meridians of the arm are Lung, Heart, and Pericardium. The Yang meridians of the arm are Large Intestine, Small Intestine, and Triple Burner. The Yin Meridians of the leg are Spleen, Kidney, and Liver. The Yang meridians of the leg are Stomach, Bladder, and Gall Bladder.
The table below gives a more systematic list of the twelve standard meridians:
|Meridian name (Chinese)||Quality of Yin or Yang||Extremity||Five Elements||Organ||Time of Day|
|Taiyin Lung Channel of Hand (手太阴肺经) or Hand's Major Yin Lung Meridian||Greater Yin (taiyin, 太阴)||Hand (手)||Metal (金)||Lung (肺)||寅 [yín] |
3 a.m. to 5 a.m.
|Shaoyin Heart Channel of Hand (手少阴心经) or Hand's Minor Yin Heart Meridian||Lesser Yin (shaoyin, 少阴)||Hand (手)||Fire (火)||Heart (心)||午 [wǔ] |
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
|Jueyin Pericardium Channel of Hand (手厥阴心包经) or Hand's Absolute Yin Heart Protector Meridian||Faint Yin (jueyin - 厥阴)||Hand (手)||Fire (火)||Pericardium (心包)||戌 [xū] |
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
|Shaoyang Sanjiao Channel of Hand (手少阳三焦经) or Hand's Minor Yang Triple Burner Meridian||Lesser Yang (shaoyang, 少阳)||Hand (手)||Fire (火)||Triple Burner (三焦)||亥 [hài] |
9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
|Taiyang Small Intestine Channel of Hand (手太阳小肠经) or Hand's Major Yang Small Intestine Meridian||Greater Yang (taiyang, 太阳)||Hand (手)||Fire (火)||Small Intestine (小肠)||未 [wèi] |
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
|Yangming Large Intestine Channel of Hand (手阳明大肠经) or Hand's Yang Supreme Large Intestine Meridian||Yang Bright (yangming, 阳明)||Hand (手)||Metal (金)||Large Intestine (大腸)||卯 [mǎo] |
5 a.m. to 7 a.m.
|Taiyin Spleen Channel of Foot (足太阴脾经) or Foot's Major Yin Spleen Meridian||Greater Yin (taiyin, 太阴)||Foot (足)||Earth (土)||Spleen (脾)||巳 [sì] |
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
|Shaoyin Kidney Channel of Foot (足少阴肾经) or Foot's Minor Yin Kidney Meridian||Lesser Yin (shaoyin, 少阴)||Foot (足)||Water (水)||Kidney (腎)||酉 [yǒu] |
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
|Jueyin Liver Channel of Foot (足厥阴肝经) or Foot's Absolute Yin Liver Meridian||Faint Yin (jueyin, 厥阴)||Foot (足)||Wood (木)||Liver (肝)||丑 [chǒu] |
1 a.m. to 3 a.m.
|Shaoyang Gallbladder Channel of Foot (足少阳胆经) or Foot's Minor Yang Gallbladder Meridian||Lesser Yang (shaoyang, 少阳)||Foot (足)||Wood (木)||Gall Bladder (膽)||子 [zǐ] |
11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
|Taiyang Bladder Channel of Foot (足太阳膀胱经) or Foot's Major Yang Urinary Bladder Meridian||Greater Yang (taiyang, 太阳)||Foot (足)||Water (水)||Urinary bladder (膀胱)||申 [shēn] |
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
|Yangming Stomach Channel of Foot (足阳明胃经) or Foot's Yang Supreme Stomach Meridian||Yang Bright (yangming, 阳明)||Foot (足)||Earth (土)||Stomach (胃)||辰 [chén] |
7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
The eight extraordinary meridians are of pivotal importance in the study of Qigong, T'ai chi ch'uan and Chinese alchemy. These eight extra meridians are different to the standard twelve organ meridians in that they are considered to be storage vessels or reservoirs of energy and are not associated directly with the Zang Fu, i.e. internal organs. These channels were first systematically referred to in the "Spiritual Axis" chapters 17, 21 and 62, the "Classic of Difficulties" chapters 27, 28 and 29 and the "Study of the 8 Extraordinary vessels" (Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao) by Li Shi Zhen 1578.
The eight extraordinary vessels are (奇經八脈; qí jīng bā mài):
In 1694, during the "quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns", after having seen some meridian diagrams from the Nèi Jīng and misinterpreting them as anatomical drawings, British Scholar William Wotton wrote this famous criticism of TCM: