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Table of Contents
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 194-196

Shared wisdom about health preservation in traditional maltese and Chinese proverbs

1 Foreign Languages Teaching Center, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai 201203, China
2 Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine, University of Malta, Msida MSD 2080, Malta, China
3 Admission Office, International Education College, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai 201203, China

Date of Submission28-Mar-2021
Date of Acceptance06-Jul-2021
Date of Web Publication30-Sep-2021

Correspondence Address:
Mr. Jing- Bo Lu
International Education College, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai 201203
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_29_21

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How to cite this article:
Zhang KW, Savona-Ventura C, Lu JB. Shared wisdom about health preservation in traditional maltese and Chinese proverbs. Chin Med Cult 2021;4:194-6

How to cite this URL:
Zhang KW, Savona-Ventura C, Lu JB. Shared wisdom about health preservation in traditional maltese and Chinese proverbs. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 26];4:194-6. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2021/4/3/194/327156

  Introduction Top

Health preservation plays a vital role in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and it is dealt with several times in the TCM classic Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》 Huangdi's Internal Classic) compiled thousands of years ago. For example, the chapter Discourse on the True Qi Endowed by Heaven in High Antiquity contains the following description:

The sages in ancient times who knew the tenets for cultivating health followed the rules of yin and yang and adjusted the ways to cultivate health. They were moderate in eating and drinking, regular in working and restraint, and avoiding any overstrain. That is why they could maintain a desirable harmony between the mind and the body, enjoy good health, and sustain a long life.[1]

Many other well-famed doctors and thinkers throughout the history have contributed inspirational sayings aiming at preserving health. The great physician Zhu Zhenheng (朱震亨) in the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) observed in his book Dan Xi Xin Fa (《丹溪心法》Danxi's Experiential Therapy) that: “It is better to take preventive measures ahead of the disease rather than treat the disease after it occurs (与其救疗于有疾之后, 不若摄养于无疾之先),”[2] with the emphasis of this observation being on the significance of disease prevention. However, these classical intellectual sayings are not well known to most Chinese people as classical form of the Chinese language is no longer in the current use.

In contrast to the intellectual teachings of scholars, there are proverbs concerning health preservation, which are often passed down from one generation to the next. They are simple and concise, making it easy for them to be understood and memorized. These proverbs summarize Chinese people's practical experience and are guided mainly by TCM theories. Bearing truths about life and profound life enlightenment, they are the crystallization of national wisdom, and an indispensable part of the extensive TCM culture.

The Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta' Malta) is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the center of the Mediterranean. The Maltese also have their unique traditional methods and principles for preserving health and well-being, and these principles are also passed down by oral tradition in the form of proverbs. In comparison, both in China and Malta, proverbs about health preservation are effective representation of medical culture. These proverbs represent concepts relating to survival and longevity in the two geographically separated countries. They advise us to change our inappropriate habits and develop a healthy lifestyle, thus making an important contribution to maintaining and restoring health. China and Malta, located on two different continents over 9000 km apart, share many common ideas about traditional health preservation, and many of the Maltese medical proverbs find echoes in the sayings of China. In terms of diet, both populations advocate against binge eating. For lifestyle, both groups of proverbs emphasize maintaining a peaceful mind and having a regular daily timetable with sufficient time for rest. Both cultures highlight the importance of disease prevention.

  Comparison of Maltese and Chinese Proverbs Top

Moderation in eating and drinking

Food is essential for maintaining health and well-being, but most proverbs concerning diet advise moderation in eating and drinking. The two cultures of Malta and China have near-identical proverbs advising a balanced diet and avoiding excessive eating [Table 1].
Table 1: Maltese and Chinese proverbs relating to moderation in food intake

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According to the TCM classical work Qian Jin Yao Fang (《千金要方》Essential Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold Pieces), overeating may cause stagnation, and drinking too much can cause phlegm-turbidity (饮食过多则聚积, 渴饮过多则成痰),[4] which indicates that moderate eating is of significance for health. In TCM, the spleen and stomach are the acquired foundation governing the transportation and transformation of water and food. They convert food into nutrients and distribute the nutrients to the entire body, thus giving the body sufficient qi and blood. Binge eating is thought to create an extra burden for the spleen and stomach so that food cannot be digested in time. This can affect the absorption and distribution of nutrients. Furthermore, spleen and stomach function can be damaged by binge eating, which in turn impairs the production and transformation of qi and blood.

  Keeping a Peaceful Mind and Regularity in Rising and Resting Top

When it comes to lifestyle, we follow the rules of Yin and Yang and avoid emotional disturbances. The Huangdi's Internal Classic explains the circadian rhythm as follows: “When Yang-qi is exhausted and Yin-qi is abound, one falls asleep. When yin-qi is exhausted and yang-qi is abound, one wakes up (阳气尽, 阴气盛, 则目暝, 阴气尽而阳气盛, 则寤矣).”[5] In the process of physical exertion, dissipation of yang-qi within the body leads to fatigue. Gradually, the brain goes into a state of inhibition, and one will enter the sleep stage. After sufficient sleep, fatigue has been eliminated. The brain moves from a state of inhibition to excitement, and one will wake up and start a new day. Working as much as possible during the day is conducive to sufficient inhibition of the brain at night, thus improving the quality of sleep and ensuring plentiful energy for the next day. Therefore, many proverbs in both Chinese and Maltese languages advise that rising and resting should have a regular pattern [Table 2]. Essentially, they advise against staying up late and not hitting the “snooze” button when it is time to rise.
Table 2: Maltese and Chinese proverbs relating to maintaining a peaceful and regular way of life

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Emotional disturbance is also associated with medical conditions. The chapter Comprehensive Discourse on Phenomena Corresponding to Yin and Yang in Huangdi's Internal Classic advises that:

Too much anger damages the liver; overjoy damages the heart; excessive thinking damages the spleen; extreme grief damages the lung; and extreme fear damages the kidney (怒伤肝, 喜伤心, 思伤脾, 悲伤肺, 恐伤肾).[6]

To maintain health, we should keep a peaceful mind. With quiet peacefulness and absolute emptiness, the true qi follows. When essence and spirit are guarded internally, where would disease arise from?

  Preventive Treatment/Disease Prevention Top

The chapter titled Comprehensive Discourse on Regulating the Spirit in accordance with the Qi of the Four Seasons in the Huangdi's Internal Classic, observes:

The sages did not treat those already ill but treat those not yet ill. They did not put in order what was already in disorder, but put in order what was not yet in disorder. Drugs are employed for therapy only after a disease has become fully developed and attempts at restoring order are initiated only after disorder has fully developed. Doing so is just like digging a well when one is thirsty and casting weapons when the fight is already on. Would this not be too late?[1]

In reviewing the popular proverbs of the Maltese and Chinese cultures [Table 3], we can see that people have considered disease prevention a priority since ancient times. Disease prevention aims to strengthen the immune system and to avoid contracting pathogenic factors. TCM has long promulgated the notion of early intervention or “nipping diseases at their budding.”
Table 3: Maltese and Chinese proverbs relating to preventive medicine

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  Conclusions Top

Proverbs are simple, concrete, and traditional sayings that express a truth based on common sense or experience. They are often metaphorical and use formulaic language. Collectively, they form a genre of folklore that reflects the communal accumulation of knowledge throughout the ages and cover a wide range of topics including healthy living and lifestyle. The practical experience and wisdom of a nation are captured in enlightening proverbs, especially those about preserving health. These proverbs have played, and will continue to play, an irreplaceable role in warning us about the importance of preserving our health. The similarity between the concepts conveyed in Chinese and Maltese proverbs, despite the significant geographical distance between the countries, suggests that cultures tend to reach similar conclusions regarding healthy living principles. Unquestionably, the ideas common to Chinese and Maltese cultures can benefit communication in TCM in relevance to lifestyle patterns.


This study was financially supported by the International Standard Terminologies on Traditional Chinese Medicine of China (No. E2-ED19012).

Authors' contributions

Jing-Bo Lu conceived of the study and designed the study. All authors were involved in writing the manuscript.

Ethical approval

The authors have no ethical conflicts to disclose.

Conflicts of interest

Charles Savona-Ventura is an editorial board member of Chinese Medicine and Culture. The article was subject to the journal's standard procedures, with peer review handled independently of this editorial board member and his research groups.

  References Top

Unschuld P. An annotated translation of Huang Di's Inner Classic. California: California University Press; 2011. p. 1,5.  Back to cited text no. 1
Zhu ZH. Danxi's experiential therapy. Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House; 2005. p. 13. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 2
Aquilina J. A comparative dictionary of Maltese proverbs. Malta: University Press; 1986.  Back to cited text no. 3
Sun SM. Essential prescriptions worth a thousand gold pieces. Chengdu: Sichuan University Press; 2014. p. 52. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 4
 Huangdi's internal classic: The spiritual pivot. Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House; 2012. p.64. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 5
People's Medical Publishing House. Huangdi's internal classic: Basic questions. Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House; 2012. p. 25-8. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 6


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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