The Eight Principles

In traditional Chinese medicines, the symptoms of illnesses are grouped based on eight principles (also known as the Eight Conditions).

The eight princile symdromes are made up of four pairs of opposites:

  • Yin and Yang
  • Hot and Cold
  • Full and Empty (or Deficiency and Excess)
  • Interior and Exterior

For examples, symptoms can be defined as Full (an excess of something), Empty (a lack of something), Interior (internal causes), Exterior (external causes), Hot (diseases with symptoms of heat) or Cold (diseases with symptoms of cold). A symptom or disease can have several of these properties.

Generally speaking, Western medicines focus on bacteria or tissue damage to identify the likely pathology. Chinese medicines, on the other hand, look at the basic pattern of the disharmony to pinpoint the cause of the illness.

Yin and Yang ... The Eight Principles ...

Yin and Yang are the primary pair among the Eight Principles.

Exterior, Heat and Excess belong under Yang; Interior, Cold and Deficiency belong to Yin.

Yin People
Yin people are generally quiet and reserved, and tend to seek out a role at home or work where they can be supportive to others. They are careful and relaxed, and happy to enjoy a quiet life.

Yin illness
Chronic problems that develop over a period of time, and which drag on, are Yin illnesses. People with too much Yin need warming and drying, using herbs to strengthen Yang and Qi, and disperse Dampness.

Yang People
Yang people are extrovert and outgoing, forceful and dynamic. They are hard to ignore! They tend to choose careers that allow them to display these abilities. They have lots of energy, do not feel the cold, and find it difficult to wind down and relax.

Yang Illness
The symptoms of illnesses are sudden, acute situations (which are relatively severe) such as fever, swellings, thirst, and even convulsions, are typical Yang illnesses.

There will often be Heat conditions and dramatic reactions. People with too much Yang need to be cooled and calmed, using herbs to nourish the Yin, detoxify and moisten the system, and calm the spirit.

Exterior and Interior ... The Eight Principles ...

Illnesses can be subdivided into "interior" and "exterior" states under the eight principles.

An illness at the exterior stage is trifling and is easily treated.

If you like to learn more about Chinese Medicine

Try searching for “Chinese Medicine Books” here

Once an illness invades the interior, it means the illness has become serious. Some illnesses do move from the surface into the interior. Therefore, there is a saying in Chinese, "Illnesses should be treated while they are exterior and trifling."

Exterior ConditionExterior conditions are those which affect the skin and muscles.

Under the eight principles, this really refers to colds, flu and viruses, where the first symptoms are aching muscles, fever, chilliness, a stiff neck or a rash. However, not all skin diseases are classified as Exterior: most are due to an Interior condition that is manifesting in the skin. Only those skin rashes that are associated with an illness such as measles or chicken pox are classified as Exterior conditions.

Interior Conditions
Interior conditions are all those diseases that are not Exterior conditions.

Under the eight principles, this means that anything affecting the internal origins of the body - the Spleen, Lungs, Kidneys, Liver: Heart and so on - is considered to be an Interior problem. If minor Exterior problems are not treated, then they can move into the Interior of the body, where they may possibly become chronic or life threatening.

Cold and Heat ... The Eight Principles ...

The symptoms of cold are cold limbs, clear urine and pallor. The syndromes of heat include a flushed face, warm body, high irritability and constipation.

Hot illness
Redness, feverishness, thirst, dryness, strong symptoms, sudden occurrence and activity, and often (but not invariably) in the upper part of the body. Pain is burning or acidic.

If the patient comes into contact with warmth, this will worsen the problems, adding to the Heat already in the body. Heat turns Body Fluids dark yellow, or makes them green and thick.

Examples of hot illness
The symptoms of illnesses are: Indigestion that comes on suddenly after too much alcohol, with burning pain rising upwards. A typical sinus infection, with sudden pain and some thick yellow-green nasal discharge, inflammation and possibly a fever. Anger, irritation, a quick temper, red face, severe headaches, a tendency to high blood-pressure.

Cold Illness
The symptoms of illnesses are: cold Darkened areas, feelings of cold, increased fluids, slow onset, and lack of movement. Problems most often occur in the lower part of the body. Pain is cramping, twisting or tight in nature. Large amounts of white or clear Body Fluids.

Examples of cold illness
A bladder chill: feelings of cold, backache, lack of thirst, and lots of clear urine.

Joint pain that worsens in cold weather, stiffness, and feelings of tiredness. Abdominal cramps and watery diarrhoea following too much cold food.

Full and Empty (or Deficiency and Excess)
... The Eight Principles ...

Deficiency is marked by deficiency in qi and blood, a weak constitution, loss of weight, giddy spells etc.

Excess is marked by symptoms of illnesses such as rapid breathing, irritability and constipation.

Symptoms of Illnesses for "Deficiency"
A lack of something in the body. The disharmony usually develops quite slowly, is chronic in nature, and has relatively mild symptoms (e.g. Weakness, feebleness, dull pain, lethargy, sleepiness, and most chronic conditions).

Example of deficiency Coldness in the body which feels better when heated.

Symptoms of Illnesses for "Excess"
Severe symptoms of illnesses denote Fullness. These will often come on suddenly, flare up, and then die down quickly. Essentially, a Full condition is due to an overabundance of something in the body (e.g. Sudden and severe pain, severe or pronounced mental agitation, acute conditions).

Examples of Excess
A common cold that develops rapidly with thick catarrh, sweating, raised temperature and a rasping sore throat, indicating an Excess of Heat.

Move to the Top of This Page

Return from The Eight Principles to The Theory of Chinese Medicine

Share this page: