In his youth, John Shen was a student at the Shanghai Technical College of Chinese Medicine, a school established in 1916 by physician-scholar Ding Gan-Ren. Ding was part of a famous medical lineage reaching back to the early 17th century. It was known as the “Menghe current,” and was named for the town in eastern Jiangsu province where it originated. This current of medical thought, centered on a handful of families and their social networks, produced some of the most influential physicians of the 19th and 20th centuries. Among other things, they were famed for their skills in pulse diagnosis.
Ding Gan-Ren published a book entitled Summary of Pulse Study and in its Foreword noted that he was integrating the styles of Lĭ Shí-Zhēn, Chen Xiu-Yuan, and Jiang Zhi-Zhen. The first two are authors of well-known works on pulse diagnosis, while the last is claimed to be the author of a secret manual passed down to Dr. Shen through the Ding family.
As a student at the school of Ding Gan-Ren, John Shen will have been exposed to all of these influences. From what we know of this part of history it appears to be this Menghe tradition of pulse diagnosis that Dr. Shen learned in his youth, later developed, and after his immigration to the United States, passed to Dr. Hammer.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century we find two prevailing schools of pulse diagnosis. One, predominant in Europe and parts of America, favors the two-depth system and the Wáng Shū-Hè interpretation; the other, predominant in China, employs three depths and is based on the perspective of the renowned Lĭ Shí-Zhēn.
Through his second-century book The Pulse Classic (Mai Jing), Wáng Shū-Hè has had a profound influence on the practice of pulse diagnosis. Wáng puts forth a compilation of the predominant pulse classifications wherein a zang and fu are both present in each of the six positions. There are five depths present in each position, and these are differentiated by beans of pressure (3, 6, 9, 12, 15). The deeper depths represent the yin (solid) organ, and the more superficial depths reveal its paired yang (hollow) organ.
Lĭ Shí-Zhēn, author of the sixteenth-century work Lakeside Pulse Studies (Bin Hu Mai Xue), has had an equally profound influence on pulse diagnosis. The system described in his text relates each of the six positions to one of the five solid yin organs. Each position has three depths: the most superficial reveals the qi aspect of the associated organ, the middle depth reveals the blood aspect, and the deepest represents the yin-substance aspect.
Classic of Difficulties (Nán Jīng)
This important text contains lively debates about several methods of pulse diagnosis. It includes one that involves five beans of pressure versus another with nine beans, as well as arguments in support of Wáng Shū-Hè’s methodology.
Today, the debate continues: does an entire individual position represents the qi, blood, and yin-substance aspects of a yin organ as held by Lĭ Shí-Zhēn, Dr. Shen, and the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, or does it represent the yin (solid) and yang (hollow) paired organs of a phase as described by Wáng Shū-Hè?
Other perfectly valid systems of pulse diagnosis completely ignore, or partially combine, the part the radial pulse plays with other pulses in other locations such as the carotid artery and the pedal pulses. As an organism, the body broadcasts information about itself in many ways. The fact that we can hear these messages at all is far more important than arguments over the best way to listen to them.
The Shen-Hammer system of Pulse Diagnosis is based upon the interpretations of Dr. Shen and leans toward an emphasis on the work of Lĭ Shí-Zhēn. In addition, some concepts reflecting the interpretations of Zhang Jie-Bin and others are drawn from the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic.