Here is my translation of a story about a famous, ancient Chinese doctor. The original Chinese text is in my old textbook from the NTNU Mandarin Training Center in Taipei: Stories from Chinese History, Volume I.
The Legend of Bian Que
Bian Que was a famous doctor during the Spring and Autumn Period. At the time, everyone believed that he could immediately heal any difficult illness. But Bian Que did not agree with such praise. He said, “I am not a miraculous doctor, who is able to resurrect the dead; I can only heal those whose lives should not yet end.”
He traveled around healing people, and eventually he came to the State of Qi. Marquis Huan of the State of Qi wanted to see this world-famous doctor, and he sent people to Bian Que to invite him to the Marquis’s home as a guest. When Bian Que saw the Marquis, he discovered that the coloring of the Marquis’s face was somewhat abnormal. After observing him for awhile, Bian Que earnestly said to Marquis Huan of the State of Qi: “I will not lie to you. You are ill now, but fortunately, the illness is not yet serious. The poison is only in your skin. Please allow me to heal you!”
When Marquis Huan heard Bian Que say that he was ill, he became very angry, and he thought that Bian Que was cursing him. Hence, he rudely said to Bian Que: “I am not ill.” Bian Que had wanted to be helpful, but instead, he had been rebuffed. He felt forced to leave quickly. After Bian Que was gone, Marquis Huan proudly told his retainers: “Doctors are all like that. You are not really sick, but they pretend to heal you, so that you will give them money and feel grateful to them.”
After Bian Que had gone home, he worried about Marquis Huan’s illness. Five days later, he went without invitation to visit the Marquis. As soon as he saw Marquis Huan, Bian Que knew that things were not good. He said to the Marquis: “The illness has spread from your skin to your blood vessels. If you do not get treatment, I am afraid it will get worse.” The Marquis thought, “This fellow has come to play that same trick on me.” He impatiently said to Bian Que: “I already told you that I am not ill!”
After another five days, Bian Que could not resist going to see the Marquis again. The Marquis’s illness was visibly worse than it had been previously. Bian Que begged the Marquis: “Get treatment soon! The poison has entered your inner organs, but you still can be healed with great difficulty.” Marquis Huan completely ignored Bian Que; with a flourish of his sleeves he went into his chamber. Bian Que had to leave the place.
Because of his sense of responsibility, Bian Que still felt forced to visit the Marquis after yet another five days. As soon as he walked through the door, he saw Marquis Huan and was astonished. He turned around and walked out. Marquis Huan felt that this time there was something strange, and so he sent a messenger to ask Bian Que. Bian Que said to the messenger: “When an illness is in the skin or blood vessels, it can be healed with medicine or acupuncture. Even when the illness has progressed to the inner organs, I can still think of ways to heal it. But now the illness has entered the bones and marrow; there is no way to cure it. Therefore, I have nothing to say to Marquis Huan. It was best for me to leave immediately.”
Five days after this, Marquis Huan of the State of Qi felt very ill. He sent people to invite Bian Que to examine him, but Bian Que had secretly departed many days previously. Soon after this, Marquis Huan died, as expected.