Stories from Ancient China: With Ethics Foremost, No Grudges Remain

Renowned physician Wan Quan of the Ming Dynasty demonstrated professionalism, noble character, and the height of ethical conduct in a story that has been passed down.

Also known as Quanren and Mizhai, Wan Quan was a well-respected physician in the Ming. He was born on Hongzhi 11th Year (1498 A.D.) in present-day Luotian County in Hubei Province.

Not only was he highly skilled in the noble art of medicine, he was even more admired for his impeccable bedside manners. He was known to be caring and forgiving, and treated all patients equally, holding no grudges for past squabbles.

Wan had a run in with a fellow villager, Hu Yuanxi. Later, Hu’s four-year-old son suffered from a perplexing illness, including a cough and vomiting of blood. Over a period of eight months Hu sought treatment from various notable physicians all over, without avail. Finally, when he ran out of options, Hu reluctantly asked Wan for help.

Living by the principle of “saving lives as paramount,” Wan took off right away without a second thought to see Hu’s son. After making his diagnosis, Wan told Hu that he could treat his son’s illness, but it would take about a month’s time. After five doses of Wan’s prescribed medicine, the child’s symptoms noticeably improved.

However because of past discord, Hu was wary of Wan, and suspected that he might not wholeheartedly deliver the care that was needed. So Hu switched to another doctor, Wan Shao.

People advised Wan Quan, “Since Hu is not happy with you, why not just leave.” Wan Quan responded, “Hu has only this one son. No one else can treat his illness. If I leave, Hu will not come to me for help again. This would delay treatment for the child. If anything untoward should happen to the son, even though I may not be liable, I would still feel responsible.”

So he said, “I need to stay here to see how the other doctor manages. If he treats him correctly, I will leave; but if not or inappropriately, I will try my best to stop him. If I cannot stop him, it’s still not too late for me to leave then.”

When Wan Quan saw Wan Shao’s prescription, he knew it was not appropriate for the child, whose life could be put at risk if he took the medicine as prescribed, so he pointed this out in earnest. However, Wan Shao refused to listen and adhered stubbornly to his ways. Hu, who was there listening to the exchange, also did not accept it and sided with Wan Shao. Wan Quan told Wan Shao in all seriousness, “I am not jealous of you. I am just concerned for the boy.”

Seeing that nobody would take his advice, Wan Quan decided to leave. But he was still very concerned about the boy. Before departing, he touched the boy’s head softly and said to his father, “I would not give him the full dose of the new medicine right off the bat. I would start small. It would be a pity if his symptoms should return. What are you going to do then?”

After taking a small cup of the medicine, the boy’s symptoms returned with a vengeance, exactly as Mr. Wan Quan had predicted. The boy cried, “I would rather take Wan Quan’s medicine. The new doctor is trying to poison me.”

Hu Yuanxi was very regretful and uneasily went to ask Wan Quan for his help again. Wan Quan did not let what had transpired bother him. He told Hu, “If you had listened to me earlier, this would not have happened. Now if you really want me to treat your son, you need to trust me completely. Please give me a month and I will take care of him.”

Hu handed over his son to Mr. Wan Quan’s care. It took only 17 days for the boy to completely recover. Hu’s family was very grateful to Wan Quan.

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