The Story of Bian Que and his X-ray Vision

After the closure of Toronto’s Academy of Medicine, many of the artefacts they had accumulated were donated to the Museum of Health Care – over 4500 objects, in fact! One of these was the statue of Pien Ch’Oh (more commonly known as Bian Que) pictured here.⁠

Bian Que/Pien Ch’Oh

Bian Que (lived circa 400-200 BCE) is a figure around which many famous tales swirl. Said to be the earliest known physician in Chinese history, the legend goes that he was originally an inn attendant, and was given a secret medicine by an elderly guest. The medicine allowed him to see inside the human body like an x-ray, which meant that he could expertly diagnose and treat all manner of illnesses. The name Bian Que was bestowed upon him because of these incredible abilities, after a mythical doctor from the time of the Yellow Emperor.

Pien Ch’Oh Statue – Museum of Health Care 1963.1.2
Acupuncture Chart- Museum of Health Care 1969.502.4 a-b

In addition to his skill in diagnosis, he was an expert acupuncturist and pulsologist. In addition to mastering these fields, Bian Que was something of a jack of all trades– he could treat many different kinds of diseases, including those of women and children. Legends tell of how he raised a prince from a comatose state, foretold the death of a lord who refused treatment for an invisible illness, and even performed a double heart transplant using anaesthesia!⁠

The Bian Que Neijing, known as the first work of pulse theory, is attributed to him, as well as some other possible works. His method of looking at the patient’s tongue and appearance, listening to their breathing, asking about their symptoms, and taking their pulse sounds awfully similar to a check-up you might receive today! While he was clearly celebrated for his abilities and insights, it also seems that there were those who were jealous of Bian Que. Some say that he died of an assassination on the order of an envious physician.⁠

To learn about these artifacts and more, visit our online collection catalogue by clicking the button below.

Shaelyn Ryan <br>(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)
Shaelyn Ryan
(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)

Shaelyn Ryan is a recent graduate of Queen’s University, having completed her Bachelor’s degree in History in 2021, and is returning to Queen’s in the fall to pursue a Master’s degree in History. Either as a Summer Student or Work-Study Student through Queen’s University, Shaelyn has helped catalogue and research many of the museum’s collection of artefacts as a Collections Technician (since 2018). 

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