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Wisdom Story from Dr. Tan – Bian Que and the King


There once was a well-known Chinese physician who lived over 2300 years ago, named Bian Que. One day, the King called Bian Que to him and asked him: “I hear you have two brothers who are also physicians. Can you tell me–who is the best physician? Now, be honest!”

Bian Que answered, “My oldest brother is the best. My second brother is better than me. Actually, I am just average.”

The King was surprised. “But you are the one who is famous throughout China! Why do you say they are better than you?”

Bian Que said, “My oldest brother believes in a lot of prevention. He looks for the source of illness and treats problems before people even feel anything. So, his patients don’t even realize how much he has done for them, and they don’t talk about him much.

“My second brother treats people at the first sign of a disease. They are having some symptoms, so he treats them before they get any worse. Because of this, people notice that he has helped them, and he has become fairly well-known in our home town.

“But me? People come to see me as a last resort, when they are already very sick. I use the strongest herbs, the most powerful acupuncture treatments. I even perform surgeries! In fact, a lot of the time, I can’t do anything to help them because they are already too ill. But sometimes I am able to save someone’s life. That is the kind of thing people like to talk about, so I am the one who has become famous.”

So, the King understood his meaning: the best physician is the one who prevents his patients from becoming sick, not the one who tries to save them when they are already near death.

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