Bao Gu: The Immortal Lady Bao
Bao Gu lived during the 晉朝 Jin Dynasty (266 – 420 A.D.) and is celebrated as one of the four most influential female physicians of ancient China. Bao Gu’s name is among giants such as Yi Shuo, who was the first female Imperial Physician for the Empress of the 漢朝 Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – 220 A.D.), Zhang Xiao Niang Zi of the宋朝 Song Dynasty (960–1279 A.D.) and Tan Yunxian of the大明 Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 A.D.).
At a time when women learned embroidery and painting, and child bearing was their primary role, these extraordinary females rose above the societal norms and expectations, insisting on building names for themselves which still echo globally today. They served their communities with expertise, talent and unique vision.
Bao Gu gained popularity quickly amongst locals and became known by the people in her community as: Mugwort Lady Bao, Immortal Lady Bao and even Goddess of Acupuncture. Sometimes, however, she was just Aunt Bao.
She was married to the legendary physician Ge Hong, who was himself along with her father, a high-ranking Daoist magistrate and senior court official.
Bao Gu's Origin Story
Lady Bao grew up in a Daoist monastery where she learned alchemy and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Bao Gu hiked mountains with her father in search of medicinal herbs. Her father taught her everything he knew about alchemy, astronomy, geography and medicine while also infusing in her the art of healing, which she devoted her entire life to.
As a result of rigorous and devoted studies, Bao Gu became a highly skilled moxibustion practitioner. In fact, she is one of the first recorded female moxibustion practitioners in Chinese history. This allowed her to successfully treat severe cases of tumors and warts.
Bao Gu & The Crying Girl
One day Bao Gu was returning home after a routine foraging trip in the mountains to collect medicinal herbs. On her path, she noticed a young girl studying her face reflection in the river and quietly crying. Upon approaching the young girl, Bao Gu observed numerous black and brown spots on her face.
After a quick chat with the her, Bao Gu learned how the pigmentation on the girl’s face were making her feel insecure about her appearance. Hurtful remarks were often made by people in the community. The young girl feared that no one would want to marry her. She had even sought medical help, however, nothing worked. Without hesitation Lady Bao decided to help, and used the red-root mugwort herb for moxibustion treatments which were successful in clearing the girl’s face. The young girl was overjoyed and grateful.
Having grown up in the mountains, Bao Gu was a highly knowledgeable and experienced medicinal herb forager. People believe that she discovered Mugwort Floss from the Red-rooted Mugwort family on the Yuexiou Mountain and successfully used it in her moxibustion treatments. Bao Gu’s moxibustion therapy has been titled “Bao Gu Moxibustion”or “Highly Skillful Moxibustion”, expressing people’s love and respect for her work.
After scores of locals experienced miraculous cures, they started calling their physician Mugwort Lady Bao, Goddess of Acupuncture and even Immortal Lady Bao. Since it was highly unusual for a female of the time to treat patients, her name was known far and wide and even recorded in local county annals and on herbal formulations.
Together with her husband, the legendary physician Ge Hong, they traveled the local mountains healing the sick and continuously studying and perfecting the art of medicine, alchemy, and Daoism.
The Legend of Bao Gu
On a routine hike up the sacred 罗浮山 Mount Luofu in search of medicinal herbs, Bao Gu came across a village where all the people appeared weak and their skin was a dark yellow color. She inquired from the villagers on the details of their ailment but did not get her questions answered the way she would have liked. In her diagnostics of the condition which was expressing itself in the villagers, she turned to 伤寒杂病论Shang Han Za Bing Lun (Treatise on Cold Damage and Miscellaneous Diseases) by 張仲景 Zhang Zhongjing. Without hesitation Lady Bao stayed in the village to look for a cure.
Being a master of acupuncture and moxibustion, she used the two modalities to treat the villagers alongside a traditional herbal formula, which consisted of such ingredients as peach kernels, mulberry tree leaves and hawthorns to name a few. It took her a couple of weeks to cure the villagers. Before going on her way, Lady Bao shared the medicinal herbal formula she used to heal the villagers with them.
Bao Gu’s mastery of alchemy was so sophisticated that according to the Chinese folklore she never died. Instead she transformed into an Immortal. After Lady Bao transitioned, the locals constructed an Ancestral Hall at the base of the Yuexiou Mountains out of love and in tribute to her medical contributions.
For many centuries now Bao Gu has been a role model to all physicians aspiring to reach for the stars and become the best versions of themselves while in humble service to others.