The Yellow Monkey Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine (YME for short from here forward) is different than most of the graphic medicine titles you’ll find in a few ways. For one, it is not a memoir, rather, it is closer to a textbook, but driven by a humorous narrative about the Yellow Monkey Emperor seeking out the wise sage, Bee Bo, to learn more about the world and the ways of Chinese medicine.
YME is also not structured much like a traditional comic, where things flow from panel-to-panel, page-to-page, as one continuous narrative. Again, like a textbook, YME is a series of illustrations and comics about specific topics in Chinese medicine. For example, in the panels below, you see a humorous, rhyming interaction between a sick patient and a practitioner. In this case, YME is providing an illustration of diagnosing Liver Qi Stagnation (earlier panels make the process more robust) in a way that sticks with you. I found myself thinking about rhyming and my liver – in often far from humorous ways, as I tend toward “dad-jokes” – but that is the genius of this style of learning material: you can say so much with so little.
Many of these short comic stories have little relationship to our main, driving narrative of the Yellow Monkey Emperor learning from the wise sage Bee Bo. While we revisit our student and master pair at the beginning of each section (six in total), the lack of their constant presence can feel odd if you are reading through the book for long sessions. However, if you are using YME as a reference text, perhaps while you are learning the basics of Chinese medicine, then the lack of a confining, constant narrative would be beneficial. You can then consider each of these shorter stories as individual moments, as tools for memory and comprehension. The many characters – from snakes to pigs to boars and more – all feel purposeful for the type of unbalance being discussed. Each comic feels at once light, amusing, and perhaps random, yet also deep in meaning and purposeful. That balancing act felt like a sort of “meta-balancing” lesson on the part of the authors and added a great deal to my experience reading this.
As someone whose knowledge of Chinese medicine has primarily been limited to the negative cultural stereotypes that exist in the United States for such practices, YME was a perfect place to begin. By pairing words and images with stories, it became more plausible as an outsider to understand the methods, the reasoning, and the potential treatments for these ailments than I believe would have been possible otherwise. That said, I do wish there had been suggestions for further reading at the end, but I suspect from my now slightly-better understanding of Chinese medicine, that may be purposeful – as there is more to understanding than simply reading and that must come from a Master.
All-in-all, The Yellow Monkey Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine is a fun, beautifully colored comic introduction to Chinese medicine that I recommend to anyone with a passing curiosity. It won’t leave you ready to practice – so PLEASE DON’T – but it might just provide a strong enough foundation that a teacher won’t sting you quite as often as Bee Bo does the Emperor!
*I received a review copy of this book from Jessica King Publishing, the parent company of the Singing Dragon imprint.