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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 53-56

Revisiting the Medical Work of George Soulié De Morant

Anti-Pain Center, Georges Pompidou European Hospital (HEGP), Paris, France

Date of Web Publication19-Jun-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Jean Claude Dubois
Georges Pompidou European Hospital Anti-Pain Center, 20 rue Leblanc 75015 Paris
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_14_19

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It is now time to revisit the medical work of George Soulié de Morant (1878–1955). Over the past 64 years, studies and research on acupuncture-moxibustion have undergone exceptional growth in China, and Western sinology has made remarkable progress. A careful rereading will bring a new light to this decisive work.

Keywords: Acupuncture, Chinese medicine, france, needles and moxas, sinology, Soulié de Morant

How to cite this article:
Dubois JC. Revisiting the Medical Work of George Soulié De Morant. Chin Med Cult 2019;2:53-6

How to cite this URL:
Dubois JC. Revisiting the Medical Work of George Soulié De Morant. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 Jan 19];2:53-6. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2019/2/2/53/260703

  The French Acupuncture at the End of the 19th Century Top

The story of the reception of Chinese acupuncture in France and then in the West is like a fire that would have smouldered for a long time. The medical work of George Soulié de Morant (苏里耶·德·莫兰, 1878–1955) came at the right time to present this therapy in all its richness after three centuries of trial and error. Indeed, it was only at the end of the 19th century that two books provided the French public with sufficiently documented theoretical and practical data on Chinese Acupuncture (《中医针灸》).[1]

The first, published in 1863, is Medicine among the Chinese (《中国人的医学》) by Philibert Dabry de Thiersant (梯尔桑, 1826–1898).[2] This naval officer had resided in China from 1857 to 1861. He describes for the first time, the pathways of the 14 meridians without confusing them with vascular paths, unlike what has been done since the 17th century. It connects these pathways with the internal organs and bowels as part of the traditional Chinese correspondence system. A large chapter is devoted to the therapeutic method using needles and moxas. However, this book still has many imperfections. The second book, Medicine and Pharmacy among the Chinese and Annamites (《中国人和越南人的中医药》) by Jules Regnault (玉尔·利牛, 1873–1962)dates from 1902.[3] Regnault, a naval doctor who arrived in Vietnam in 1898, began studying Chinese in particular to understand the links between ancient Chinese medicine and philosophy. His book was awarded the gold medal of the Colonial Institute of Bordeaux. He also unveiled this new therapeutic method, which was soon to be very successful: acupuncture-moxibustion. However, like Dabry de Thiersant's, it quickly fell into oblivion. In France, it was the “Belle Époque” (1875–1914), positivism and scientism triumphed, the spirits were hardly prepared for teachings from the Far East.

  The Essor of the 20th Century Top

The Great War (1914–1918) and the Krach of 1929 profoundly changed mentalities. At the end of the 1930s, Europe's economic, social, political, and cultural context had been completely renewed. The public was more open to new ideas. Remarkable studies and books were published on China, written by such prominent personalities as Marcel Granet and Henri Maspero. These advances in Western sinology were to be accompanied by a better understanding of Chinese medical science, particularly acupuncture and moxas.

Marcel Granet (葛兰言, 1884–1940) had been a disciple of Édouard Chavannes (沙畹, 1865–1918) “the master of Chinese studies throughout the Western world.”[4] He was also a sociologist, a member of the French school of Durkheim. He had stayed in Beijing from 1911 to 1913 and then in 1919. His project was to decrypt the foundations of ancient China's society and world system. In 1934, he published La Pensée Chinoise (《中国之思维》), which is still relevant today after 85 years.[5] This book devotes a long chapter–150 pages–to the science of Numbers in ancient China and the role it played in medicine. Several extracts from Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》) are used [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Marcel Granet, author of Chinese thought (葛兰言, 《中国之思维》)

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Henri Maspéro (马伯乐, 1883–1945) had been head of the Chinese teaching chair at the École française d'Extrême-Orient (法国远东学院) in Hanoi(河内) from 1911 to 1920. He then taught Chinese at the Collège de France (法兰西学院). In 1927, he published La Chine Antique (《古代中国》) in which he traces the political and institutional, religious, and intellectual history of the Middle Kingdom from its origins to the foundation of the Ts'in Empire in the 3rd century B.C. Maspero also worked on Taoism. His article on “the processes of nurturing the vital principle in the ancient Taoist religion,” especially the pages devoted to “embryonic breathing,” made a strong impression on doctors.[6]

The influence of these scientists was comparable to that exerted on the medical community three decades later by the British biochemist Joseph Needham (李约瑟, 1900–1995).[7] Though difficult to understand, notions of ancient Chinese thought, philosophy and science were becoming more familiar to a segment of the European public. Acupuncture-moxibustion no longer only appeared as an empirical practice from the Neolithic period. It was based on rational foundations, on a cosmology developed under the Han, itself dependent on much older discoveries dating back at least to the time of the Spring and Autumn and the Warring Kingdoms. Theories such as the “Covering Sky” theory(盖天说), the four celestial Asterisms (四象, Green Dragon, White Tiger, Black Warrior, and Vermilion Bird), Yin Yang(阴阳) or the five elements(五行) deserved special attention for the role they had played in the formation of the medical corpus. Experts in the history of science were even wondering about the possible anteriority of Chinese scientific discoveries over those of ancient Greece.[8]

It was in this context of emulation and multiple questions that George Soulié de Morant's medical work appeared.

  The Medical Work of George Soulié De Morant Top

Biographical information

Charles Georges Soulié, who became George Soulié de Morant in 1917, was born in Paris on December 2, 1878. At a very young age he had the opportunity to study Chinese, which would later prove so useful to him. As a teenager, he would have liked to study medicine, but fate decided otherwise. Appointed as an interpreter in China by the French government, he first stayed in Beijing from December 1901 to July 1902 and was appointed to the Shanghai Consulate in 1903, until March 1906. He finally resided in Kunming(昆明) from 1907 to 1909.

Following his stays in China, Soulié de Morant had an abundance of documentation at his disposal. Until 1934, he published ≥30 essays, translations of novels, Chinese poems, and a “History of China from antiquity to 1929”[9] [Figure 2].
Figure 2: George Soulié de Morant, articles and books from 1929 (苏里耶·德·莫兰)

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His first article on Acupuncture dates back to 1929.[10] In 1932, under his influence, the first acupuncture consultation was created in Paris at the Bichat Hospital(比沙医院). Other consultations in Parisian hospitals soon followed. In 1934, he published a short introductory book on Acupuncture, Précis d'acuponcture chinoise.[11] In 1939, the first volume of his great works appeared, followed by a second volume in 1941.[12] The complete opus in five volumes was only released after his death on May 10, 1955 at his home in Neuilly-sur-Seine(塞纳河畔讷伊), near Paris [13] [Figure 3].
Figure 3: George Soulié de Morant L' Acupuncture chinoise (1939, 1941, 1957, and 1972)

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Sources and originality of the work

We can not longer apprehend the medical work of George Soulié de Morant without considering his Chinese sources and the way he used them (here I turn to the Japanese sources, which appear secondary). The exceptional growth of studies and research carried out in China over the past three quarters of a century on acupuncture, as well as the progress made in France by medical sinology, allow for a much more refined approach than those proposed so far.[14]

Soulié de Morant himself lists these works in the Liminary of Volume I of his treatise (”L'Acupuncture Chinoise” 1939 p. 23). It is completed below with some details, using the pinyin transcription system.

  • Zhen Jiu Da Cheng (《针灸大成》Grand Compendium of Needles and Moxas) by Yang Jizhou(杨继洲), in ten volumes (1601). Soulié de Morant uses the Zeng Bu Zhen Jiu Da Cheng (《增补针灸大成》), the small edition completed in six volumes published in Shanghai in 1926. According to his phonetic transcription, Soulié de Morant calls him “Tchenn tsiou ta Tchreng,” in short Ta Tch.
  • Li Chan's (李梴) Yi Xue Ru Men (《医学入门》Gateway to Medical Studies)was published in 1575. A book of general medicine of which, two volumes are devoted to Acupuncture. Soulié de Morant uses the Jiao Zheng Zeng Tu Yi Xue Ru Men (《校正增图医学入门》) small edition in ten volumes, revised and accompanied by illustrations Shanghai, 1924. He named this book I Sio Jou menn, in short ISJM
  • Zhen Jiu Yi Xue (《针灸易学》Easy study of Needles and Moxas)by Li Shouxian(李守先), three volumes 1798. Soulié de Morant has in front of him the Hui Tu Zhen Jiu Yi Xue (《绘图针灸易学》Easy study of Needles and Moxas with Drawings), small edition of Shanghai 1918. He called it Tchenn tsiou i Sio, abbreviated to I Sio.
  • Zhen Jiu Yi Zhi (《针灸易知》Easy Knowledge of Needles and Moxas), a collective book published by a group of doctors, Shanghai 1919. Soulié de Morant writes Tchenn tsiou i tche, in short I Tche.
  • Ci Yuan(《辞源》Dictionary of the Chinese Language) 1916 edition. Soulié de Morant uses this dictionary for the names of diseases, their definitions, and technical terms from Chinese medicine. He calls it “Tsre-iuann” [Figure 4].
Figure 4: Main Chinese sources of George Soulié de Morant

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In his book, Soulié de Morant juxtaposes extracts from these classic texts with his own discoveries, the fruit of his clinical practice over a quarter of a century. As he always makes sure to distinguish these Chinese sources from his own interpretation. Each loan from these ancient texts is clearly referenced, volume, page, recto verso, etc. We must be grateful to him for the honesty of this process. Thanks to his talent as a translator, these texts appear to us today in all their strength and simplicity, in a concise and clear language.

However, Soulié de Morant adopted a new plan, different from that of the Chinese classics, to present to acupuncture-moxibustion. This seems preferable to him, keeping more in line with the European spirit. Certainly, as his work gains in originality, it is more attractive to a western audience. Nevertheless, it's at the cost of a loss of unity of the materials used, which are fragmented and distributed in new chapters, without any explanatory commentary. This defect remains the cause of many perplexities, too few of its readers having access to the original texts. Another disadvantage is the use of the Hua Ying Zi Dian (《华英字典》Dictionary of the Chinese Language)published in 1916 containing all definitions of medical technical terms and description of diseases. This reference is very interesting historically, but it has become insufficient in light of the encyclopedic data we have nowadays.

In short, the medical work of George Soulié de Morant is of great richness. It arouses the reader's admiration of and even amazement at the quality and scope of the work accomplished. Nowadays, it appears more as a springboard to go further, a precious tool for deepening the Chinese medical corpus than as a complete, definitive work, which would be sufficient on its own. It is both its size and its limit.

  Illustration Top

Let's illustrate this with a very simple example in the interest of this review of the work of George Soulié de Morant. In the 5th volume of L'Acuponcture Chinoise, devoted to therapeutics (pp. 661–989), published after his death, the author illustrates his speech with 343 quotations from the Zhen Jiu Da Cheng, each accompanied by his reference (volume II or III and page number) in the Small Shanghai 1926 edition. However, no further explanation is given, particularly as to the origin of the texts from which these quotations are extracted. All of them come from the group of ten Songs of Points that make up volume 2 of the original edition of Yang Jizhou's work. Here are the details:

  • Song of the body points(《周身经穴赋》) – 4 occurrences
  • Song of a hundred deseases (《百症赋》) – 32 occurrences
  • Song of unveiling the mystery (《标幽赋》) – 76 occurrences
  • Song of Xi Hong (《席弘赋》) – 19 occurrences
  • Song of the gold needle (《金针赋》) – 44 occurrences
  • Song of the jade dragon (《玉龙赋》) – 40 occurrences
  • Song of principles to communicate with the mystery (《通玄指要赋》) –87 occurrences
  • Song of immaterial light (《灵光赋》) – 29 occurrences
  • Song of the orchid river (《兰江赋》)– 7 occurrences
  • Song of the energetic circulations, or of the method midi-minuit (《流注指微赋》) – 5 occurrences [Figure 5].
Figure 5: Zhen Jiu Da Cheng(《针灸大成》Grand Compendium of Needles and Moxas) summary of volume 2, edition1880

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It is clear that the context of each of these quotations is important. These famous songs have their own history, their own distinctiveness, they provide a concise way for such transmission, such or such aspect of the science of needles and moxas. We can therefore report on this and thus complete George Soulié de Morant's text with an appropriate commentary.

  Conclusion Top

The careful review of George Soulié de Morant's medical writings invites a real deepening of the Chinese medical tradition. Soulié de Morant advocated a dialogue between modern science from the West and China's 1000-year-old tradition. In the introductory part of his major book, he proposes to scientifically expose the ancient tradition. Certainly, only he drafted this project. However, the perspective remains valid, joining that of Tang Zonghai (唐宗海), the leader of the Comparative School of Chinese and Western Medicine at the end of the 19th century – Zhong Xi Yi Hui Tong Pai(中西医汇通派 Comparative School of Chinese and Western Medicine)[15] [Figure 6].
Figure 6: Tang Zong Hai(唐宗海) and the Comparative School of Chinese and Western Medicine(中西医汇通派)

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George Soulié de Morant revered “Truth,” “Ancients,” and “Tradition.” From China, the country he deeply admired, he wrote in 1928: “The real China is the one whose past is still alive through the continuity of its traditions, the one whose immediate and more distant future weighs heavily on Europe's destiny.”[16] Here, we are!.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Baptist R. Acupuncture and its History. Paris: Librairie Maloine S.A.; 1962.  Back to cited text no. 1
Dabry de Thiersant P. Chinese Medicine. Paris; 1863.  Back to cited text no. 2
Regnault J. Medicine and Pharmacy in China and at the Annamites. Paris; 1902.  Back to cited text no. 3
Demiéville P, Leclerc G. Cultural Globalization: The Civilizations to the test. Paris: French University Press ; 2000.  Back to cited text no. 4
Granet M, Chinese Thought. Paris: Albin Michel; 1999.  Back to cited text no. 5
Maspero H. The processes of “nourishing the vital principle” in religion ancient Taoist. J Asian (Paris) 1937. p. 353-430. Taoism and Chinese religions. Paris: Gallimard; 1971. p. 177-252.  Back to cited text no. 6
Needham J. Chinese Science: Explorations of an Ancient Tradition. Cambridge: MIT Presse; 1973.  Back to cited text no. 7
Rey A. Science in Antiquity. Paris: Albin Michel; 1946.  Back to cited text no. 8
Soulié de Morant G. History of China from Antiquity to 1929. Paris: Payot; 1929.  Back to cited text no. 9
Soulié de Morant G. Acupuncture (Communications 1929 - 1951). Paris: Guy Trédaniel; 1979.  Back to cited text no. 10
Soulié de Morant G. Precise of the true Chinese Acupuncture. Paris: Mercury of France; 1934.  Back to cited text no. 11
Soulié de Morant G. Chinese acupuncture. I. Energy (Points, Meridians, Circulation). Chinese Acupuncture II. The handling of Energy. Paris: Mercure de France; 1939, 1941.  Back to cited text no. 12
Soulié de Morant G. Chinese Acupuncture. Vol. 5. Paris: Jacques Lafitte, Maloine; 1957, 1972.  Back to cited text no. 13
Great Ricci Dictionary of the Chinese Language. Vol. 6. Paris: Association Ricci, Desclée de Brouwer; 2001.  Back to cited text no. 14
Hai TZ. Treaty of Blood Diseases. 1884, 1935; Conformity of Medicine and the Book of Mutations; 1892, 1909, 1917.  Back to cited text no. 15
Way Tim WT. George Soulié de Morant or the epic of modern acupuncture. Meridiens No.79, 1987. p. 88.  Back to cited text no. 16


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]


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