Law of Husband and Wife in Traditional Chinese Acupuncture—– A Commentary by J. R. Worsley

The Book: Talking About Acupuncture in New York

Five Element AcupunctureProfessor J.R. Worsley is widely acknowledged as the person who first brought Chinese medicine to the West. Worsley taught classical acupuncture based on ancient five-element theory throughout Europe and the United States until his death in 2003.  In 1980, he presented a day-long seminar in New York City, which was transcribed and published as Talking About Acupuncture in New York (Worsley, Inc., Churchill Farm, England 2004, 109 pp.)

J.R. and Judy Worsley

J.R. & Judy Worsley

In 1999, Professor Worsley and his second wife, Judy, a former acupuncture student, founded the Worsley Institute of Five-Element Acupuncture.  Judith Becker Worsley now manages the Institute.

Law of Husband and Wife

Near the middle of the seminar [book], Professor Worsley described the Law of Husband and Wife. “In traditional Chinese medicine, when we make a correct diagnosis, in many cases we will find within a patient a husband/wife imbalance…We have the wife part trying to violate the law of Nature by taking the male role, and there is destruction.”

Putting the Law of Husband and Wife in the context of ancient times, he said, “In those days thousands of years ago, of course, the man went out to do the hunting, the shooting, and the fishing to provide for the family. The wife stayed at home to play her natural role—to bring up the child and give strength to the husband, to give him support and love. Without him  she would collapse; he would collapse.”

Cultural Anthropological Perspective

Cultural anthropologists describe primitive heterosexual partnerships quite differently. The notion that a wife’s natural role is to give strength, love and support to a husband reflects a romantic Western view of marriage (and not even a current one), not the reality of life in primitive societies.  A failed or lost husband-wife partnership did not have the same personal consequences thousands of years ago, when mortality was high at all ages. The woman deprived of a partner continued to depend on her female network and the community. She was not prey to the social isolation experienced by many contemporary Western women suffering from failed or lost relationships. In fact, women in primitive societies who had passed the menarche were often called “crones,” implying a state of increased independence and power. Men, too, were probably not susceptible to “collapse” after relationship losses  A man still in his vigorous years could find another woman.

Professor Worsley on “Women’s Lib”

J.R. Worsley

Professor Worsley

Professor Worsley’s comments on male-female energy included: “Why the hell they have to have a woman’s lib I do not know! Everybody knows that the man is the head of the family, and that’s that! The woman is the neck, and she turns the head whichever direction she wants to…Everybody knows that the women are very cunning. They allow the men to put up the fronts and the masculinity and the strength, but it’s really they who’ve got it! …So why women’s lib I don’t know. We need a men’s lib!”

Unbalanced Male and Female Energy

How the dynamic of husband/wife imbalance translates to the clinical acupuncture setting according to the model used by Professor Worsley is unclear.  In the real world, suppressed female energy and unchecked male energy in a society appear to result in excessive aggression and violence. Anthropologically, psychologically, and perhaps biologically, women have a low propensity for physical aggression, preferring indirect strategies for managing conflict. In highly patriarchal societies, their mitigating influence is weakened.

Does Professor Worsley believe that a female emasculates a male when she doesn’t relinquish control to him? Is she in violation of natural law when she is straightforward instead of manipulative (turning the husband’s head “whichever direction she wants to”). According to Worsley,”…with the grace of God, we are able to correct that imbalance and give back the superior energy to the husband, put the wife back in her role, and that patient will then live for their normal life expectancy.”

Physical and Clinical Aspects

Worsley is not specific about what aspect of the husband’s energy is “superior” as he alluded only to men’s physical strength–specifically, the male’s ability to run faster and jump higher. Does that still matter in a society where physical strength is seldom required?  Worsley’s reference to putting the wife “back in her role” is unclear, although the words seem to imply that she has overstepped her bounds.  Lacking sufficient knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine, readers like me are unenlightened about the clinical consequences of a patient having too much “husband” energy or too much “wife” energy.

Translation Problems

Perhaps many practitioners of Chinese medicine think of “husband/wife” imbalance more in terms of male/female imbalance—a state in which male energy lacks adequate female counterbalancing or vice versa.  This would be easier to understand, as the roles of ‘husband” and “wife” are sociocultural arrangements, not anthropological or biological.  Or perhaps the concepts of yin and yang would better explain the Law of Husband and Wife to those newly acquainted with acupuncture theory. Maybe the translation of Chinese terms and concepts into English is part of the problem.  Some Chinese teachers of five-element acupuncture warn that accurate translation from Chinese to other languages is impossible.


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