shànggōng zhì wèibìng 上工治未病
Great Physicians Treat Before the Outbreak of an Illness.
The best physicians start treatment before the outbreak of an illness. Shanggong (上工) means skillful, first-rate doctors; weibing (未病) is when the slightest symptoms appear but before the actual onset of an illness. This important principle of Chinese medicine requires a doctor to have a thorough command of pathology and medicine, as well as an exceptional ability to anticipate, judge and manage the signs, nature and course of a disease. This enables early discovery, early prevention and early treatment, the essence of which is prevention – preventing the outbreak, metastasis, development and transmission of a disease. This is a fundamental concept of Chinese health and medicine, an example of Chinese wisdom in “preparing for rain before a storm” and “guarding against disaster before it occurs.”
Thus the wise begin treatment before the outbreak of a disease, rather than after; they do not quell disorder after it erupts, but take preventative measures before it emerges. (Yellow Emperor’s Internal Canon of Medicine)
The greatest physicians apply acupuncture before an illness begins; lesser ones do so before the illness gets serious; still lesser ones do so after the illness begins to subside… That is what we mean when we say that the best physicians start treatment before the disease rather than after. (Yellow Emperor’s Internal Canon of Medicine)
A skillful practitioner of medicine knows that a disease will spread once it becomes serious and takes preventative measures ahead of time; this prevents pathogens from growing and spreading, and prevents the simultaneous emergence of several diseases. This is why we say a great physician treats before an illness. (Xu Dachun: The Origin and Development of Illnesses)