top of page
  • Writer's picturePhilip Niño Tan-Gatue

Sun Simiao’s Medical Ethics

Sun Simiao or "药王“ - the King of Medicinals

Sun Simiao or “药王“ – the King of Medicinals

There are times during one’s practice of medicine, of whatever tradition, when one feels burned out.  Sometimes it is merely the pressure of having to be of service to a legion of patients day after day.  At other times it is the toll on one’s personal life due to the time constraints demanded of the medical professional.  Even worse are the moments in one’s life when one feels disappointment at the medical profession itself, when it would seem where we have forgotten our roots and our commitment to relieve suffering.

It is during times like these where I look to the great physicians and role models of the past for inspiration.

I would like to introduce the novice reader to the great Sun Simiao.

Sun Simiao is one of the four renowned famous physicians in Chinese history.  The others are Bian Que, Zhang Zhongjing and Li Shizhen.  (Personally though, I count Zhu Danxi as one of the greatest as well.)   He is known as “药王” (yao wang), which means king of medicinals.  Orientals love naming things as “king of” something.  I remember a hole-in-the-wall in Taipei known as the “Pork Chop King”.  Guess what their specialty was! I say was because it finally closed down recently.  Wait, what I am blabbering about?

Ahem, Sun Simiao was the greatest physician of the Tang Dynasty.  This era in history was like a second Golden Age in China after the Han Dynasty.  Sun lived from 581-682 AD.  Yup, that’s not a typo.  He was a master at health preservation as well.

But one of the things he is known best for is his contribution to medical ethics.  This is what I want to share today.  The following excerpt is from a page I found recently at (link).

On the Absolute Sincerity of Great PhysiciansWhenever a great doctor treats an illness, he must first of all calm his spirit and fix his resolve. He should not give way to wishes and desires but should develop first of all an attitude of compassion. He must vow to rescue the sufferings of all sentient beings. If someone comes for help, he must not ask if the patient is noble or common, rich or poor, old or young, beautiful or ugly. Enemies, relatives, good friends, Chinese or foreigners, foolish and wise, all are the same.He should think of them as his closest relatives. He should not be overly circumspect and worry about himself. He should look on others’ sufferings as his own and be deeply concerned. He should not hide away in the mountains. Day and night, in cold and heat, in hunger, thirst, and fatigue, he should single-mindedly go to the rescue. Whoever acts in this manner is a great doctor for the living. Whoever acts contrary is a great thief for those who still have their spirits.

This text strikes a lot of chords within me.

Admittedly there are times when the physician is exhausted and seemingly just wants to get through the day.  I understand that this overload of work, especially for the brave and undersupported health workers of the University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital, where I trained and I still serve, can lead to grouchiness, and downright snarkiness.

But simply remembering this should remind us to put things into perspective.  “He should think of them as his closest relatives.” – Even if we do not think along that path totally, we have to remember it.  This patient is someone‘s loved one.

“He should not …worry about himself.”  I only worry that I do not do my best.  I also do not worry about either giving patients false hope or unnecessary grief.

“He should not hide away in the mountains.” – Oh I know what that feels like.  Sometimes you just want to get away.  From the stress, from the bickering, the politicking… But patients will be there.  And they need help.

Well, time to put the keyboard away and start hitting the books.

Tomorrow, patients await.

Image courtesy of (link)

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page