Chinese Medicine

Traditional medicine is an ancient system of health and wellness that’s been used in China for thousands of years, which is based on balance, harmony, and energy. Often referred to as “TCM,” practitioners use herbs, diet, acupuncture, cupping, and qigong to prevent or treat health problems. More and more, people use practices like these from traditional Chinese medicine to not only fight disease, but also prevent it. 

History of Development

Traditional Chinese medicine originated in primitive society and the traces of therapeutic activities in China date from the Shang dynasty (14th–11th centuries BCE). Their oracularinscriptions on bones and tortoise shells refer to illnesses that affected the Shang royal family: eye disorders, toothaches, bloated abdomen, etc. 

The theory of traditional Chinese medicine in the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period has basically taken shape, with the emergence of anatomical and medical branches. Four diagnostic methods in TCM(including inspection, listening and smelling, inquiry, pulse-taking) were adopted and therapies includes stone needle, acupuncture, decoction, moxibustion, etc.

Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon is the most important ancient text in Chinese medicine as well as a major book of Daoist theory and lifestyle. According to the text, the universe is composed of various forces and principles, such as Yin and yang, Qi and the Five Elements (or phases). The Eastern Han dynasty saw the emergence of the famous medical scientist Zhang Zhongjing, who had developed an understanding of the “eight cardinal principles” (Yin and Yang; ) and summarized it. Hua Tuo was famous for his mastery of surgery and anesthesia and also for his creation of the “five-animal boxing”. Sun Simiao summarized the theories and experience of the predecessors in the tang dynasty, collected more than 5,000 prescriptions, and adopted the treatment based on syndrome differentiation, who was honored as the “king of medicine” due to his medical ethics.

After the Jin and Yuan dynasties, traditional Chinese medicine began to decline. Since the end of the qing dynasty, an influx of western medicine has seriously impacted the development of traditional Chinese medicine. During the cultural revolution, TCM developed as a medical example of “putting the past to the present” with the policy support of the communist party of China. Nowadays, traditional Chinese medicine is still one of the commonly used methods to treat diseases in China.

Medical Theories of Chinese Medicine

TCM theory comes from the summary of medical experience and the ancient Chinese thought of yin-yang and five elements. Its contents include the theory of vital Qi, the theory of Yin and Yang and the five elements, viscera, channels and collaterals, constitution, etiology, pathogenesis, treatment and so on. As early as 2000 years ago, the Chinese medicine monograph Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon was published, which laid the foundation of Chinese medicine. Today, the theory, diagnosis and treatment of traditional Chinese medicine can be found in this book.

The theoretical system of TCM has been gradually formed under the guidance of materialism and dialectics through long-term clinical practice. It comes from practice and in turn guides practice. Explore its internal mechanism through the analysis of the phenomenon. Therefore, the unique theoretical system of traditional Chinese medicine has two basic characteristics: one is the overall concept, and the other is the treatment based on syndrome differentiation.

Features of Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine has a complete theoretical system, and its unique is the overall view of the “unity of heaven and man”, “corresponding to heaven and man”  and treatment based on syndrome differentiation.

The main features are: It is believed that man is a component part of nature, which is composed of two kinds of materials: Yin and Yang. In normal physiological state, the two are in a dynamic balance, once the dynamic balance is destroyed, it will be shown as a pathological state. In the treatment of diseases and the correction of the imbalance between Yin and Yang, instead of adopting an isolated and static approach to problems, we should start from a dynamic perspective, that is, emphasize the “view of constant movement”.

The laws of human life activities and the occurrence of diseases are closely related to various changes in nature (such as seasonal climate, regional regions, day and night twilight, etc.). People are exposed to different natural environments and have different degrees of adaptation to the natural environment, and their physical characteristics and incidence laws are also different. Because this is diagnosed, when treating same kind of disease, pay more attention to the time, place, and person, not be cookie-cutter. It is believed that the various tissues and organs of the human body are all in a unity, which are interrelated and influenced each other both physiologically and pathologically. Therefore, it never looks at a physiological or pathological phenomenon in isolation, and treats and prevents the diseases from a holistic perspective.

Treatment Methods of Chinese Medicine

There are many different therapeutic methods used in traditional Chinese medicine, the most popular being acupuncture. Since traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes individualized treatment, healing methods vary widely from patient to patient. These methods often include:

  • Acupuncture: Though acupuncture’s roots lie in TCM, it is used as a western treatment for a variety of health concerns.
  • Acupressure: Finger pressure is applied over acupuncture points and meridians.
  • Cupping therapy
  • Diet and nutrition: Foods are thought to have warming/cooling properties and are said to have specific healing properties.
  • Herbal medicine: Herbs and herbal tea may be suggested. 
  • Moxibustion: A practice that involves burning an herb near the skin to warm the area over acupuncture points.
  • Tuina: a type of bodywork that combines massage and acupressure.
  • Exercises such as tai chi and qi gong

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Plant elements are by far the most commonly used substances in TCM, other, non-botanic substances are used as well: animal, human, and mineral products are also utilized. Typically, one batch of medicinals is prepared as a decoction of about 9 to 18 substances. Some of these are considered as main herbs, some as ancillary herbs; within the ancillary herbs, up to three categories can be distinguished. There are roughly 13,000 medicinals used in China and over 100,000 medicinal recipes recorded in the ancient literature. 

Some animal parts used as medicinals can be considered rather strange such as cows’ gallstones, hornet’s nests, leeches, and scorpion. Other examples of animal parts include horn of the antelope or buffalo, deer antlers, testicles and penis bone of the dog, and snake bile. 

Famous Doctors of Chinese Medicine

Through the thousands of years, a large number of famous doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine have made significant contributions to the development of TCM.

  • The Yellow Emperor is said to be the common leader of all the nationalities in the central plains. The extant Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon is a collection of works on medicine discussed by Yellow Emperor, Qi Bo and Lei Gong. In this book, acupuncture is widely used as a treatment method, so the records and discussions of acupuncture are also particularly detailed.
  • Bian Que originally named Qin Yueren, is one of the most famous doctors in ancient China. He was good at diagnosis and treatment, especially skilled in feeling pulse and acupuncture. It was believed that the TCM classic work NanJing (Classic on Disorders, ) was compiled by Bian Que.
  • Hua Tuo was the first person in China to use anesthesia during surgery. He developed a kind of anesthetic called mafeisan, which is a mixture of wine and herbal medicines. He also created the Wuqinxi or “Five Animals Play” from imitating movements of the five animals  – tiger, deer, bear, ape, and crane.
  • Zhangzhongjing summed up previous medicinal experience and established therapeutic principles in TCM. His medical book “Shānghán Zábìng Lùn”  or known as “Treatise on Cold Pathogenic and Miscellaneous Diseases” made great contribution to traditional Chinese medicine and he is often regarded as the sage of Chinese medicine.
  • Ge Hong was a physician, naturalist and pharmaceutical chemist and Daoist in Jin Dynasty. He is the author of “Shi Hou Fang”, the first book to record some infectious diseases such as smallpox, scrub typhus diseases and their diagnosis and treatment. 
  • Sun Simiao is regarded as China’s King of Medicine. He wrote over eighty medical monographs in his whole life, with the most famous being Qian Jin Yao Fang and Qian Jin Yi Fang. Sun Simiao’s ethic of being a doctor was highly praised by other doctors and civilians.
  • Qian Yi was a famous pediatric doctor whose work “The Key to Therapeutics of Children’s Diseases” was the first pediatric book in China, which sums up treatment methods for different pediatric syndromes. The book was regarded as a classic pediatric work and he was honored as “the Sage of Pediatrics” by later generations.
  • Li Shizhen was a great herbalist and acupuncturist in Chinese medicine history. His major contribution to medicine was his masterpiece Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu), which was the most complete and comprehensive medical book ever written in Chinese TCM history.

Chinese Medical Classics

Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon

It is the earliest medical classic in China, and it’s one of the great four traditional medical classics in China. The Classic lays the foundation for the theoretical systems of traditional Chinese medicine, which has long guided the clinical practice of Chinese medicine and played an important role in China’s medical history. It has great significance both inside and outside China. Parts of the book have been translated into Japanese, English, German and French. Many treatises on Internal Classic have been published in Japan.

Nanjing(Canon on Eighty-One Difficult Issues)

This book was written in conversation. The 81 questions asked in Nan Jing (Canon on Eighty-One Difficult Issues) concern with pulses, Channels, zangfu-organs, diseases, Acupoints, acupuncture and moxibustion. It studied medicine by combining the theories of yuan qi (primordial-qi), yin-yang and Wu Xing and, by applying pulse diagnosis, Channels, zangfu-organs, manifestations of diseases, Acupoints, acupuncture and moxibustion, establishing a system of theory without making direct use of empirical knowledge.

Treatise on Cold Pathogenic and Miscellaneous Diseases

It is amongst the oldest complete clinical textbooks in the world, and one of the four canonical works that students must study in Traditional Chinese Medicine education nowadays. The Shanghan Lun has 398 sections with 113 herbal prescriptions, organised into the Six Divisions corresponding to the six stages of disease. 

Compendium of Materia Medica (Ben Cao Gang Mu)

Compendium of Materia Medica is more than a masterpiece of pharmaceutics, as it has also contributed to the human knowledge of biology, mineralogy and chemistry. Recorded in the 1.9-milions-words, 52-chapters, and 16-volumes are 1.897 varieties of medicines grouped under 60 categories. All the recorded medicines were in actual application and have proved effective by the author’s time. Besides Chinese herbal medicine, they include animals and minerals for medication. In addition, the book contains 11,096 prescriptions and 1,160 illustrations.

Top Chinese Medicine Museums in China

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