Introduction to Zang Fu organ theory

In Chinese medicine, the body is understood as consisting of twelve main organs. Each organ has a specific role to play in the body, and they must work together harmoniously to ensure peace and wellness within the terrain of the body.

The concept of each organ extends beyond the anatomical organ as in Western medicine. In Chinese Medicine, they involve a broad realm of functional influence. This includes the physical, emotional and mental aspects of our existence.

Each organ also has its own channel, which contains the points used in acupuncture treatment. Each organ also is associated with one of the Five Elements.

The organs are first introduced in the Han Dynasty (around 200BC-220AD) text, the Nei Jing Su Wen. This text is the oldest classic of Chinese medicine, introducing the theories of health and disease and the terrain of the body.

In Chapter eight of this text, the organs are likened to officials within a government. Each holds a specific role to ensure the running of the country, a metaphor for our body.

The Zang Fu Organs


The Lungs regulate rhythms

The Lung holds the office of minister and chancellor. The regulation of all rhythms stems from it.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Lung is the official in charge of receiving heavenly Qi (air). It allows our connection and receptiveness to pure and spiritual influences. It empowers physical and mental inspiration, reminding us that there is more to life than our direct experience.

It is the minister issuing directives from the Heart, exerting power but not control. This relationship is the influence of the rhythm of breath on the rate of the heartbeat or the infusing of oxygen into the blood.

The Lung governs Qi & respiration and regulates the water passages. Through this, it infuses Qi throughout the body in its capacity of ‘ruling the hundred vessels’. This is reflected in the exchange of oxygen/carbon dioxide at a cellular level.

It houses the Po, which reflects our awareness of the physical strength of the body.

Large Intestine 

The Large Intestine releases the mundane

The Large Intestine is responsible for transit. The residue from transformation stems from it.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Large Intestine empowers us with the ability to retain our essence while letting go of the mundane in our lives.

It transforms and transports waste, providing a final separation before letting go. It creates a clear inner space, to allow us to receive quality and inspiration, through letting go of impurities, beliefs, emotions and attachments.


Stomach receives grains

The Stomach and Spleen are responsible for the storehouses and granaries. The five tastes stem from them.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Stomach is responsible for rotting and ripening, the first step of fermentation in our body.

Through this, it empowers the integration of our life experiences in a way that creates integrity in our persona.

It nourishes and mothers us, controlling the transportation of the essences of food.

It is the place that receives grains and all that we take in – whether emotional, physical or mental. It holds a central place in ensuring we have the resource to survive and grow.


The Spleen is responsible for transformation and transportation

The Spleen handles transformation and transportation

The Spleen provides the nutrition to power the Qi in its movement, and nourish the muscles and four limbs.

It controls the blood by empowering it with acquired essence and regulating re-uptake at the capillaries. It houses the Yi – our thoughts, intellect and intent.


The Heart is the emperor (penguin)

The Heart holds the office of lord and sovereign. The radiance of the spirits stems from it.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Heart in its role as the supreme controller coordinates the functions of the twelve officials. Its presence reassures the rest that all is in its place. Without this, there is anarchy, confusion and chaos in the realm of the body.

It empowers the recognition of one’s true self. This enables it to initiate actions and control stemming from congruence with this awareness.

The Heart governs the Blood and controls the blood vessels. It circulates Blood and with it our consciousness and Shen (awareness).

Small Intestine 

The Small Intestine is the organiser

The Small Intestine is responsible for receiving and making things thrive. Transformed substances stem from it.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Small Intestine controls receiving and transforming. It sorts pure from impure to determine what is important and essential for our life and survival.

It is the organiser, filtering our intake to extract nutrition from food, fluids, information and emotion.

It then sends the waste onwards for removal. Through this process it allows us to remove the mundane and thus empowers our transformation.


Like a dam, the Bladder stores fluids to supply power

The Bladder is responsible for regions and cities. It stores the body fluids. The transformations of the Qi then give out their power.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Bladder is the official in charge of the storage and expulsion of water.

Through the power derived from the Ming Men, it transforms the fluids into useful forms, managing our reserves of energy.


Kidney house our inner power

The Kidneys are responsible for the arousing of power. Skill and ability stem from them.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Kidneys store Jing and are the house of the gate of vitality (Ming Men). This holds the fundamental spark for life and empowers our potency.

They govern our growth and development, unfolding our destiny and allowing our life’s purpose to flow into the world. Here our will power (Zhi) manifests, providing us with the perseverance to see things through.


Pericardium is the protector

The Pericardium as the charge of resident as well as envoy. Elation and joy stem from it.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Pericardium is the protector of the Heart. A protective soldier (bodyguard) who manages our affairs and is weak (overworked) when we fatigue.

It determines what can move inward and outward to / from the Heart. It discerns the internal and external cues that signify a safe environment in which the Heart can thrive.

This is the gate to our vulnerability, related to our intimacy and is the home of our hurt.
It governs circulation and the influence of fire in our sexuality, empowering our virtue of openness.

It governs the blood through the material aspects of the Heart muscle and vessels.

Triple Burner 

Triple Heater regulates water movement
Image: Applied Channel Theory

The Triple Burner is responsible for the opening up of passages and irrigation. The regulation of waterways stems from it.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Triple Burner, or San Jiao, regulates the three burning spaces, and with it our bodily and emotional temperature.

It controls the water passages to allow communication throughout our being and into the external world. It thus regulates our external social relationships and connection with the environment around us.

Within the Triple Burner is the pathway for the Yuan (Source) Qi. This provides the primary stimulus for all transformations of Qi and empowers our Wei (Defensive) Qi.

Gall Bladder

Gall Bladder makes judgements

The Gallbladder is responsible for what is just and exact. Determination and decision stem from it.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Gall Bladder empowers our vision into the world, directing the manifestation of the Liver’s plans into the world.

It stores and secretes bile to control judgement. It empowers our decisiveness and perspective over what we wish to integrate into ourselves and project into the world.


The Liver is the General

The Liver holds the office of the general of the armed forces. Assessment of circumstances and conception of plans stem from it.

Nei Jing Su Wen Chapter 8

The Liver is our general that creates plans and strategies, commanding from a place of stillness within.

It is the source of our creativity and houses the Hun, which provides us with the courage and self-esteem to pursue our ideas.

It opens into the eyes, allowing us to have a vision of our depths and the horizons.

It stores the Blood in reserve, sending it out into action to where it needs to be. The Liver keeps the Qi pathways clear to allow these supply lines to move freely.

What else would you like to know?

Thanks for reading this far. Have I missed your question? Was something unclear? Let me know in the comments below, I read and respond to every one!

Photo of author

Dr Jason Chong (Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioner)

Acupuncturist. Herbalist. Educator.

Jason is the owner and principal practitioner at Dantian Health. A nationally registered Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist, qualified shiatsu and tuina therapist and the director and educator in Shiatsu and Oriental Medicine at the Australian Shiatsu College.

Jason's qualifications include:

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