Chinese Organ Systems or You Don’t Need a Kidney Transplant with Kidney Qi Vacuity

Posted by Jean Carr     Category: Chinese Medicine

A rose by any other name. . .

Chinese medicine uses many words that sound familiar. We recognize the names of organs in our bodies. Other words are strange. Words like Qi, Essence, San Jiao, Yin and Yang are not found in our everyday vocabulary. Regardless, the functions and applications of the Chinese medical vocabulary are different from our Western paradigm.

You do not need to understand this vocabulary to benefit from acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas. But an understanding of the vocabulary can become a powerful medicine in your kitchen. Chinese medicine uses the same vocabulary to identify and treat patterns of imbalances. You can treat these patterns with acupuncture, herbs and diet. The same words are used for all treatment modalities. While you don’t need to understand any of this lying on an acupuncture table, it can make a big difference in what foods you choose in the kitchen.

The Chinese Organ System

In Chinese medicine, the internal organs have a wider area of function and influence than in Western medicine. Each organ system has distinct responsibilities for maintaining the health of an individual. Each organ corresponds to a channel or meridian that flows throughout the body. Chinese organs sound similar to Western organs, but have additional energetic functions and govern all aspects of the mind, body and spirit. More importantly each organ system works in relationship with the other organs.

Some organ systems are Yin and some are Yang. Together the Yin and Yang organs create a balanced whole. Each Yin organ system is paired with a yang organ one that complements it.

Yin                            Yang
Heart                       Small Intestine
Spleen                     Stomach
Lungs                       Large Intestine
Kidney                     Urinary Bladder
Liver                         Gall Bladder
Pericardium          San Jiao

I discuss five key yin organs below including some basic Chinese medical statements of fact about each organ. This will give you a thumbnail understanding of the main yin organs.


In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered to be the foundation of our life. The kidneys are the main organ for the storage of prenatal Qi. (The kidney is shaped like a fetus.) The kidney yin and yang are the foundation for the yin and yang of all the organs of the body.

The kidneys are responsible for human reproduction, development and maturation.
They are the foundation of water metabolism.’
They rule the grasping of Qi from the lungs (inhalation).
The kidneys govern the bones and engender the marrow. The brain is the sea of marrow.
The kidneys open into the ears (which are shaped like kidneys).
The low back is the mansion of the kidneys.
The kidneys store the Zhi, the will.
The emotion associated with the kidneys is fear.


The spleen plays a fundamental role in the creation of Qi and blood from food and drink. While the spleen is less important in Western medicine, in Chinese medicine the spleen is one of the two most important viscera of the body. (The other is the kidneys.) The spleen plays two pivotal roles: the creation of Qi and Blood and the circulation and transformation of Body Fluids.

The spleen governs movement and transformation of foods and liquids.

The spleen is the source of production of Qi and Blood out of food and drink.

The spleen abhors cold and is averse to damp.
Spleen vacuity is the source of phlegm.
The spleen holds the blood in the vessels.

The spleen governs the muscles and the four limbs.

The emotion associated with the spleen is thought, including over-thinking.


The liver controls free flow of Qi throughout the body. The liver is easily damaged by emotional causes especially stress and frustration.
The liver controls coursing and discharge, the uninhibited spreading of qi throughout the body.
The liver stores the blood.
The liver controls the sinews.
The knees are the house of the sinews.
The nails are the surplus of the sinews.
The liver opens into the eyes.
The emotion associated with the liver is anger.


The lungs govern the Qi and respiration.
The lungs govern the down-bearing of Qi.
The lungs regulate water passages.
The lungs control skin and body hair
The lungs open into the nose.
The lungs govern the defensive exterior.
The emotion associated with the lungs is grief.


The heart is the emperor of the body mind.
The heart governs Blood and controls the blood vessels.
It houses the Mind (Shen) including consciousness, memory, thinking
The heart manifests in the complexion.
The heart opens into the tongue and governs speech
The heart controls sweat.
The emotion associated with the heart is joy.

Essential Substances

Each organ system is characterized by its interaction with what Chinese medicine calls the essential substances. These fluids, essences and energies circulate throughout the body and nurture the organ systems. The essential substances include Qi, Blood, Shen & Jing:

Qi, Life Force or Vitality: The presence of Qi is what animates matter. There are 12 types of Qi, some you inherit from your parents and some you acquire through breathing or eating. The functions of Qi are: Protecting, Transforming, Transporting, Holding, Raising, and Warming.

Shen, the Mind-Spirit: In Chinese medicine the word Shen encompasses the concepts of insight and memory, the act of thinking, consciousness and one’s mental-emotional faculties. Shen or Spirit is the nothing other than an accumulation of Qi and blood in the heart. The Blood supplies the material basis for the Shen.

Jing, Essence: Essence nurtures growth and development. There are two forms of essence. We inherit essence from our parents and we also produce our own essence from the food we eat and air we breathe. We have a finite, limited amount of the inherited essence. Depletion of essence has serious implications for our overall health and well-being. Jing is depleted throughout life by sickness, tension, other lifestyle issues and the passage of time.

Xue, Blood: Xue refers to the red fluid that flows through our vessels recognized in Western medicine, but it also has meanings that are different in Chinese medicine. Blood is a very dense and material form of Qi that nourishes and moistens all the body tissues and is not confined to the blood vessels. Blood is inseparable from Qi. They form a Yin and Yang pair.

“Qi is the commander of Blood
Blood is the mother of Qi.”

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