Some of the Ma-wang-tui texts refer to various vessels thought to pervade the body without intercon nection. Specific irregularities in the contents and movements of each of 11 such vessels revealed specific illnesses. The Huang-ti nei-ching, however, described 12 vessels, or conduits, which were interconnected. This text advocated the feeling of pulses at various locations of the body to examine movement in the individual sections of the vessel circuit and to diagnose the condition of the functional units associated with these sections. Finally, the Nan-ching proposed the feeling of the pulses at the wrists only and developed complicated methods for extracting detailed information on the origin, present location, and possible future courses of an illness. In addition, the Huang-ti nei-ching and the Nan-ching provided ample data on the meaning of changing colors in a person's complexion, of changes in a person's voice or mouth odor, and of changes in longing for a specific flavor. Furthermore, the Nan-ching recommended investigations of the condition of the skin of the lower arms and of abdominal palpitations.

These diagnostic methods were described in the literature so that an illness could be discovered and categorized from a theoretical (mainly functional) point of view. Prescription literature, by contrast, did not depend on theory. Rather, it contained listings of very simple and more or less obvious symptoms, such as headache and diarrhea. These were paired with drug prescriptions for their cures.

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