The truth about conflicts in Chinese medicine



“Conflicts are the root to problems in the world. If we learn to understand how people create conflicts, help them to avoid conflicts and to solve conflicts we will find us living in a better world.  This topic are a must for all practitioners of Chinese medicine. So, enjoy.”

Nils Volden




Looking at 冲突 Chōngtū or conflicts, we can with certainty say that Chongtu (conflicts) are the strongest stressor or tension giver to a person. Chongtu often occur when you lack proper 脉络 Màiluò. Mailuo are directly translated the web of arteries and veins, a fabric, overall context or a social fabric. Often we find Mailuo used as a description of social structures.


交流 Jiāoliú are another word that sometimes are used to describe communication flow or social interaction.


In chinese psychology we find the word Jiaoliu less used than Mailuo to describe the social web; and yes it exist many words. It is very important to understand how Chongtu (conflict) solution are done to regain our mental health. Leading us to understand the importance of Mailuo (Social structures). A social structure are a pattern of social arrangements that comes from and is an determinant of the way people act. To search for solution within conflicts Chinese psychology is emphasizing Ben; the roots. Ben are often founded in or located in a persons interests, values and actions. One founding therapeutical concept are to reduce stress triggering aspects or stressors for then change it for another; 改变 Gǎibiàn (alter or transform). The supreme goal are to Ganbian (change) the foco in Chongtu (conflict). Sometimes the foco is stagnant; like qi might be stagnant, the foco might be stagnant. The person is thinking or problematizing the same aspect over and over again, and thereby causing the qi to stagnate and as a result emerges a problem. To make the stagnated qi to move on the person needs to be “pushed”/ motivated to see other aspects; in other words Ganbian. To change the motivating stimulus for a conflict, or readjustment is not that easy, but in many cases it is the only way to get out of the negative destructive circle. If the focus is on Yin Ganbian for Yang, If the focus is on Yang Ganbian for Yin. Create a movement in the stagnated Qi. Remember that the actual movement of Qi are more essential than where it moves. This Ganbian (change) are only a temporary solution. A solution to eliminate Chongtu (conflict) are to refocus. When the qi circulation are in process it will start to autoregulate towards normal. The temporarily focus on Yin or Yang does not have any other purpose than to initiate a Ganbian.


Do not forget that transformations are often related to the etherical soul – Hun. Through stimulating Hun aspects we find Ganbian initiates faster. If it is possible to “manipulate” both sides in Chongtu (conflict), everything becomes easier. If two sides, each one have to give a little to make the qi start circulating, because in the other case one alone have to give a lot. To make a person give a lot might demand a lot of persuasion, or 服软 Fúruǎn (dress weak); meaning acknowledge a mistake and admit defeat. By the way, do not forget that people within Chingtu most likely do not really know why they are in this conflictive situation. When you do not know why, it is difficult to understand the need of change and even less (if possible) what change is needed; because you are blind. The classical chinese word is applicable: 渺渺茫茫 Miǎo miǎo Máng máng; meaning directly translated Endlessly long, endlessly long, boundless, boundless, or uncertain and fuzzy.



Chinese psychology explains the solving of Chongtu (conflict) through the concept of  媾和 Gòuhé (marry harmony). Gouhe divides into five basic techniques. The first technique is 调节 Tiao jie. Tiao jie is a type of accommodation or adjustment toward the other persons. Conflict solving comes hand in hand with the Confucianist thoughts. You simply put your own wishes to the side for a moment just to let pass a conflict. Another aspect in this situation is to let go of 臆 Yi when you practice Tiao jie (accommodation). Yi is a combination of your feelings about doing it, your opinion about it and your thoughts connected to the situation. The essence is to close your eyes, adjust, and never look back. In this way, you will overcome the conflict without hard confrontations, but it requires personal flexibility.


The second technique is 避 Bi. Bi is simply to avoid Chongtu (conflict). Flee away from the actual conflict area. Of course, this does not actually mean to turn around and run away from problems. Bi is a more temporary way to create a distance, some space in time, before you start processing the problem. The respiration time Bi (avoid) creates often calm down a some what heated situation before it gets out of hand. The concept of leaving, hiding or keeping oneself from a problem arena creates more peace and builds ground for problem solving. Bi can be used as a momentary solution where the person leaves when a situation starts to heat up or as a preventative measure. Preventative means that the person does not go to places or enters topics where conflicts exist or easily flames up. Another way to use Bi is to ignore the conflict that exist or try to change the situation in a way that creates a conflict free space. This way of coping can only be seen as being a temporary solution or a way to gain time. In its extreme Bi includes the possibility for a person to leave the group or kind he belongs temporary or permanent.


合作 He zuo is the third Chongtu (conflict) technique within Chinese psychology. The base for He zuo is cooperation. When we have a conflict it is important that the involved parts have the possibility to get together and discuss different solutions. Only through mutual collaboration the best tolerated solution can be found. Standing in two different camps and throwing stones will never lead to any common ground. He zuo (cooperation) focuses on breaking the conflictive front, and to create a room for conversation. The goal is to find a solution to the conflict, and cooperation through for example dialogue might be a good solution. He zuo is seen as a supreme solution, but in a heated situation it is very hard to sit down to speak peacefully.


际 Ji is the concept of between. Ji (between) builds on the understanding that Ben, the root, to the conflict has to be found. When Ben is identified the involved in the conflict need to find a solution between. Ji is closely connected to He zuo (cooperation), but with a little twist. In Ji it is preferred to have a neutral third person to find the actual solution in He zuo the entities involved in the conflict themselves search for the solution. The third person in Ji searches for a solution that is the best for both sides in the conflict. It is not important that the solution is agreed. The founding idea are that it is in the best interest of both parties of a conflict to find a fair solution than continuing a static destructive conflict.


赛 Sai is the concept of Chongtu (conflict) solving connected to competition between the different sides. Different arguments is put forward and a type of discussion is leading the participants toward the strongest solution. In this type of conflict solving it is important to not encourage competition, but rather a type neutral between. The purpose is to find something between both sides, but closer to the strongest argument; Sai (better than). The stronger argument pulls the between toward Sai. Liking it or not, it will be a type of winner and loser feeling after the Sai process. The person with the weakest argument have to give more than the other. Sai might solve the immediate problem, but the true conflict is not over. If Chongtu is connected to a passing problem we might use Sai with great success, but if it is a long lasting diffuse dispute we might consider other techniques than Sai.


Chongtu (conflict) solving within Chinese psychology is divided into five basic techniques: Tiao jie, Bi, He suo, Ji and Sai. It is interesting to see that Thomas and Kilman in 1976 also listed five ways to master conflicts; seen as the golden five in the after time: Competition, Accommodation, Avoidance, Compromise and Collaboration. Where accommodation and collaboration were seen as the best solutions for the conflicting parts (win-win) and avoidance and compromise as the worse (lose-lose). For our amusement the Chinese conflicting strategies are comparable to Thomas and Kilmans. The biggest difference is that within Chinese psychology it does not exist a best – or worse method of conflict management. All of the five need to be administrated at the proper moment and in a correct manner. Indicating that before administrating a conflict technique, you need to analyze the essence of the conflict and then, NEVER BEFORE, carefully select a proper technique. All techniques have its plus and minuses, and only with a correct administration you can select the correct way to manage conflicts.


The cost of conflicts is often high. That is why we need operate with the concept “Cost of conflicts” as a collective term for the prize of an interhuman conflict. Costs include aspects like economy, loss of life, environment, social and ecological. Chinese psychology has a holistic view on people; meaning that the focus is not only on the mind. We live as an integrated part of everything. We are a part of everything. Any conflict will afflict us and our surroundings; no matter frequency, intensity and profundity. To analyze conflicts we need to look wide to understand the complete context. Externally we often find that conflict have its roots placed within economy, power, sociopolitical issues, environmental, psychological and diplomatical issues. This is one of the reasons why the chinese doctor look wide or after 围绕 Wéirào; revolve around issues. It is not sufficient to only analyse the core conflict or Ben in Chongtu (conflict). The focus have to evolve around Ben in Weirao (issues) that causes Chongtu.  Direct consequences or implications on the involved and others before, during and after Chongtu have to be considered. The holistic “all including” approach has to be used in any analysis of Chongtu and similar. Chinese psychology does not give one single reason or a single model to analyze, but gives an angle of multispectrum and a instrument to start searching for a solution.


Chongtu management is important for everybody living within conflicts. With a dysfunctioning Chongtu management, the conflict become more difficult to live with. The actual selection of coping technique depends on everything from personality and his qualifications, the nature of the conflict, the coping technique of the opponent and his actions. Chinese psychology separates between Yang: the management – and Yin: the solution to the problem. The normal way to solve Chongtu are to make the persons involved explain why they responded how they did in a distinct conflict. In most cases we will find Weirao (issues) or a complex web of reasons and interconnections that ultimately resulted in the conflict. It normally does not exist a single triggering reason. Perhaps more often than we want to admit we will find guilt, power game and jealousy as a major ingredients. As we understand the focus within Chinese psychology on holism or “the inclusion of it all” (IIA) plays an important role when analyzing the patient. A conflict occur when someone of some reason do not want to interact properly with somebodyelse.


Chinese psychology uses the concept of 心 Xīn as an important aspect in the understanding of the Chinese mentality. Xin are most known as the chinese word for heart, but here we will focus on the aspect of putting on a happy face or focused. The two commonly used chinese words for face are 脸 liǎn and 面 miàn, but here we focus on reading facial expressions; Xin. This activity are practiced ever since early childhood as one of the most important sources to information of the person we are communicating with. The Chinese way to use face is not exactly as the Western way o use face. In China face is not used to express emotions; this goes for internal – as well as for external expressions. Xin describes that a person can be both Wai Yang: Vital and smiling external, but Nei Yin: Sad and depressed inside. ”What you see is not necessarily what there is”. Ben for this behavior is the wish for living in peace and harmony with others; Nei (inner) do not need to correlate with Wai (external), but the relative Nei-Wai balance can never exist in the extremes. Through giving face to others you will create a better environment between you and other people.


You can not transmit a face that is not harmonised with the person you are interacting with. Some kind of confirmation or rapport of the relation need to be established before interaction; this is inevitable, like it or not! In short, this indicate that the dominating persons face are the one to be copied. Some might like to frase this as the face of the alpha person need to be pleased before further interaction. Through using a face without expression Chinese people get into fewer problems; they do not project emotions to – or provoke others. Through being neutral, you become invincible for the Alpha person. If you support the Alpha, he will lift you up on to his white horse. If  you go against the Alpha, he will crush you. Neutral invisible might be a good solution for many. Remember that there are many Alphas out there. Today we find this neutral aspect as one of the dominating features within the personality of the Chinese. It is also one of the biggest problems in the interaction between Westerners and Chinese; The Westerners as rude; and the Chinese as insensitive.

alpha male


Incoherent mimic and expression patterns have to be understood to reduce communication failure. A face need to be read for what it indicates; cultural clues might easily become misinterpreted. Sometimes the person you communicate with will copy your facial – and corporal expressions to create rapport with you. He might show an animated and happy self, just to make you understand that he follows you, and not because he feel like that. Indians are famous for shaking their heads to indicate that they are into your conversation. A Chinese will not show you that he is ecstatic to listen to you, but he will listen. Conflicts will be avoided through neutral face work in China.

Close-up of two businesswomen and a businessman wearing masks

Never forget that everything that creates an activity in Shen that can not be solved will be sent back to Hun for rethinking. That will increase the probability for a high activity in Hun that will mirror itself in Po. In the very moment the activity in Po increases due to Hun we see an increased probability for physical problems and – manifestations. When analyzing face sometimes we do not grasp the essence of the information that quick. Making some information take the lap Hun-Shen and then back to Hun for adjustment.



Game theory gives us an insight in how to read conflicts like Chinese psychology. It can be compared, but is different. Game theory is a special branch within social science. The main focus is to analyse behavior in different situations where ones choice depends on others choices. In a way  similar to the information processing that is described in the classical mental model. Game theory is a way to rationalize different choices and results within social science. The goal is to find the balance between different factors – a sort of momentary homeostasis or equilibrium. Game theory gives a situation that describes the process that leads the persons towards their choice and a description of the persons involved. Exactly as the Chinese personalities and the mental model emerges. Game theory can be used as a tool in making predictions about future outcomes. Chinese psychology is a fabulous tool to make predictions about people and their future choice of prefered behavior.


The definition of what that has to be defined as normal is the first step in a game theory. The method will formalize a type of game,that actually is a formalization of the complex matter of interactions that exist. Just as Chinese psychology emphasizes the interaction of everything under the influence of everything.


According to what the other players select you have to do adjusted choices based on theirs. Perhaps you have to stay with the one you have taken or change for another, everything depends. As a result the opponent (the other player) will have to face the same dilemma when you choose something. Chinese psychology got the concept of 燮理 Xie li. Xie li indicates that we have to adapt according to others. Meaning exactly what game theory explains us to do; read others and then make our adjustment. One of the central factors within Xie li are the aspect of adaptation to others. We have to adapt to others, others are not supposed to adapt to us. At the same time others will automatically adapt to us, but that is out of our regimen of control. If you want to be correct others should not be forced to adjust to you. You are the adapting person. If others want to adapt to you, it should be only up to them.

Adapt Change Crossword

A game has two possible forms: Players act simultaneous or without information about the other players. The form depends on the information. Here it is interesting to see at the mental model explains how the Yi aspect collect information from the external and puts it into the way of thought or 思维 Si wei. The act that will follow depends on the Qi inside Si wei; a subtype of the psychic qi. The more Qi in Si wei the better functioning or processing of information. Meaning that the Shen related mental processes function better. At the same time we have to remember that  the less Qi in Si wei the more problems will occur. The functioning of Yi on one side depends on the qi quantity and quality within Si wei for spreading the information to Hun for processing. Malfunctioning channels and collaterals will give slower transmission of information and slower processing in the mental aspects like Hun, Shen, Zhi and Po. Bad circulation of psychic qi might give the same symptoms as a psychic qi xu. Of the simple reason in many ways it is the exact same thing. Central in the game theory is the function of form. The form is the mental model and the function is related to the connecting in Si wei and its circulation of Si wei qi, or the circulation of psychic qi in the mental model.


Normally within game theory the form is generalized to games as a type of functional settings. Then commonly without the assumption of transferable utility as it nicely is called. In short, this indicates a general ignorance for  the formation of external coalitions. Here we see a diversion from the classical Chinese thoughts where it is impossible to think of a whole without considering the external and perhaps more important, the coalitions. Never underestimate the power of coalitions or 联盟 Lian meng. At the same time it is important to remember that a coalition depends on both its own members AND the rest of the players; meaning everybody in the game. Exactly as the Chinese Lian meng (coalition) indicates the web of connections a person have at any give time; including both active – and dormant connections. Game theory is not only a description of a game, but a tool to describe anything that has different actors and who include interactions.


One of the best known situations within game theory is the Nash equilibrium (NA). NA is in short a situation in a game where a person does his best in response to the actions of the other players. In other words, NA is a type of solution concept who is used to describe situations between players. One of the important aspects is that every player know the balance of the strategies of the other players, and that it is not any extra benefit for him in changing his own strategy alone. In a two person scenario whom exist in equilibrium.  We see that persons do their best decision taking in account the other persons decisions and reverse. The equilibrium is not necessary the best for each individual persons involved, but for the group in general. This is normally called the Nash equilibrium. Chinese psychology is very into equilibrium, respect of others and their face. Meaning that it is seen as correct to not fulfill the complete individual potential. As the most important in any interaction is the balance between yin and yang. You have to give to receive. To give includes aspects like respect, face, help, equilibrium and love. This strategy might be considered as a yin strategy compared to another important strategy to consider is the Prisoners dilemma (if strategy is the correct word in this context). Here the player is working for his best self interest in a way where the other players possible would have it worse than needed. Meaning this is a self centered strategy where cold calculations for benefit are the guiding line, and not the cost for others. This strategy are to be considered as a yang strategy.


In Chinese psychology it is important to find the balance between the two ways to manage. It exist times for Yin 平衡 Pínghéng,  total balance and harmony (Nash equilibrium) and times for Yang  私欲 Sīyù,  hardness and egoism (Prisoners dilemma). In normal daily life, harmony and flexibility are to be expected, but is times of harshness and difficulties the opposite is better. The job is to find the balance between yin and yang aspects and to execute them correctly; the golden path.


It exists many ways to plan and effectuate a game. Within real life we often regard strategies that focus on evolution as the maintaining force in the game plan or 进化 Jìnhuà (make progress, change; evolution). Homeostasis within Jinhua (evolution) is maintained by the Evolutionary Stable Strategy (ESS). ESS is the way of nature to balance its Jinhua. The most fitted will survive and the less fit will with time go away. Remember this is the most FIT, not the STRONGEST or the BEST. Sometimes it indicates that it is beneficial for a person to act 无私 Wúsī or altruistic. Through doing acts that directly benefit you or that benefit distinct others that later will benefit you in some way; delayed benefit. Perhaps you will not be benefited directly as a player, but other players that belong to your kind might be benefited. One example here are a person going to war to protect others. Remember that in the end the increase of survival in your kind is more important than the survival of an individual player, you. This is often in the west called an evolutionary game theory. The more related two players are, the more likely are the practice of altruism. Chinese psychology regard 舍己救人 She ji jiu ren (An idiom about abandon self for others) as one of the highest sacrifices possible, but also a sacrifice that is expected in some cases. Chinese literature often writes about children that sacrifices himself for their parents in the context of  孝 Xiao, filial piety, total respect for parents and ancestors. This concept is the supreme in the Chinese society.


Filial Piety is one of the Confucian ideals. In the book 孝經 Xiao jing is regarded to be the supreme book about this topic. The Classic of filial piety is thought to be written around 470 BC. Essentially the book builds on a conversation between 孔子 Confucius and his student 曾參 Zeng Shen. This is based on the tradition of writing in China in this time period; questions and answers about how to make a good society through practicing Xiao. Xiao treats how to behave correctly towards a senior person. A senior person can be your father, older brother, your grandfather or simply your boss. By understanding this book you will have a quick insight in the essence of Chinese mind. For many Xiao jing is one of the classics ranged side by side with the famous 易經 I ching, the book of changes.






The writer of this article gives seminars in Chinese medicine and Chinese psychology all over the world! Go to this page to find out how.

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