| 2019-04-18 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

This character has the general concept of medicine. This is an ideographic character composed of two parts. The inner part represents an arrow and the outer part serves as a container. Both together symbolize the removal of arrows from the human body. Since arrows were often used in ancient wars, the ones removing arrows from wounded soldiers were doctors.


xuán hú xíng yī

Xuan refers to hanging and hu is a bottle or a container. Xing yi means practicing medicine. This proverb is particularly used for doctors and praising them for their medical assistance.

In this proverb, hu refers to a gourd, and this proverb is derived from a story about a gourd. According to the Book of the Later Han, which covers the history of the Han Dynasty from 6 to 189 CE, a Chinese Buddhist monk named Fei Changfang sees an old man selling medicine in a market, with a gourd hanging at his stall. When the market is closed, the old man packs all his stuff and stealthily slides into the gourd. Fei is shocked by the old man and believes that he has some magic power. So he takes some gifts to visit the old man and is invited into the gourd. Fei is amazed by the fairy world inside the gourd, where there are grand palaces and fine gardens. Then Fei stays in the gourd for ten days and learns medicine from the old man. After he returns home, all his family members are surprised as they tell Fei that he has been missing for more than ten years. After that, Fei practices medicine and saves countless lives.

There is also a legend about the old man living in the gourd, in which he is named Hu Gong (Master Gourd). It is said that Hu Gong sells medicine in a market and all his medicine is stored in a gourd. His medicine cures every patient and he earns a lot everyday. Hu Gong doesn’t take the money but gives it to the poor and homeless people instead. Because of this story, hanging a gourd at the entrance became a tradition followed by Chinese drugstores.

Today, although fewer drugstores follow the tradition of hanging gourds, the significance of the gourd as a symbol of a doctors’ healing spirit is still deeply rooted in Chinese culture. The proverb is frequently used when praising doctors for what they have done.


(edited by REN GUANHONG)