What is Chinese Medicine?
Chinese Medicine is also commonly referred to as "Traditional
Chinese Medicine" or TCM; it is so called because it originated in
Chinese Medicine refers to the ethnic medicine that has been
practised in China since prehistory. Chinese Medicine has also
been a major influence on the traditional medicines of Korea
and Japan. Chinese Medicine is a complete system of treatments
that has been used traditionally in the past and is still the
mainstream medicine in China today. There are many types of
treatment associated with Chinese Medicine; those most commonly
used and therefore usually associated with Chinese Medicine in the
West however, are Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine.
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Other common approaches are: Moxibustion, cupping, massage, press
point therapy, manipulation and hydrotherapy.
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How Old is Chinese Medicine?
As we have seen, Chinese Medicine consists of many treatment
approaches; these treatment approaches did not all develop at the
same time and at the same place in China, but all have their own
history. Some form of Herbal Medicine was probably practised by
all early humans, including the first humans in China, evidence
for which dates back more than 1.5 million years. The first
evidence of the type of medicine that led to the Chinese Medicine
in use today however, dates back to about 3000 BC, which was
during the neolithic (new stone age) period. Stone tools from this
period called "Bian Shi" have been found that were specially
shaped for making small incisions in the skin, which was the early
form of acupuncture. It is also believed that moxibustion
developed around this time. It was not until the Shang Dynasty (c.
1600 - 1100 BC) that bronze casting technology developed, which
enabled the manufacture of lancets and other piercing instruments
that to a some extent replaced the Bian Shi stone and bone tools
previously used. Metal acupuncture needles which could, like
modern needles, be inserted in the skin and left in place, did
however not appear until the Han Dynasty (c. 2nd. Century BC).
The first known medical treatise called the "Huang Di Nei Jing"
(The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine), was compiled
between 475 and 221 BC. This volume records the medical philosophy
and methods of treatments that are still a part of Chinese
Medicine today. As Chinese written symbols or ideograms have
changed little over the centuries, this has provided a
continuity of knowledge and tradition that has not been
parallelled by any other culture.
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Chinese Medicine, which embodies a complete and holistic
treatment system, is still an integral and most important part of
everyday life in China and is actively supported by the Chinese
Government through research and education, and in its hospitals.
This stands in sharp contrast to the ethnic medical traditions of
the West, which have been persecuted and suppressed since the
Renaissance, to be replaced by a relative newcomer: Allopathic
Medicine. And although neither Chinese Medicine nor the ethnic
medical traditions of the West are based upon scientific
principles, the likely reason as to why Chinese Medicine has
survived over the ages and the ethnic Western medical traditions
have not, is most likely due to Chinese Medicine being based upon
Taoism, which is a mainstream Chinese belief system .
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What are the Taoist Principles of
Athough the Taoist philosophy, which represents the foundation of
Chinese Medicine, is very ancient, its principles were only first
set down around 400 BC. by Lao Tzu in his book the "Tao Te Jing",
or "Classic of The Law". This book expounds a natural and
ecological philosophical system which promotes the concept of
health and prosperity through the awareness and observance of the
immutable cosmic law, the "Tao". It states that there are two
opposing and equal forces in the universe, the dark, static and
negative force "Yin" and the radiant, active and positive force
"Yang". It explains that there is a natural interaction between
the opposing potentials of these two forces, which manifests as a
flow of energy called "Qi".
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Chinese Medicine philosophy considers there to be a number of
different forms of Qi in the body, but the most important type of
Qi as far as treatments are concerned, is the Qi which is
perceived to flow along the 12 "Meridians", or energy lines.
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These Meridians are associated with certain major organs of the
body as follows:
- Lung Meridian
- Colon Meridian
- Stomach Meridian
- Spleen Meridian
- Heart Meridian
- Small Intestine Meridian
- Bladder Meridian
- Kidney Meridian
- Pericardium Meridian
- Triple Warmer Meridian
- Gallbladder Meridian
- Liver Meridian
The flow of Qi is governed by the time of the day, the seasons of
the year, the traditional 5 elements, cold, heat, dampness,
dryness, etc.; and by internal factors such as the emotions and
the indiscriminate use of food
Chinese Medicine therefore, sees health as a balance in the body
of the two opposing forces Yin and Yang, which provides a
harmonious and correct flow of Qi. It considers that an unbalanced
diet, lifestyle or environment will disrupt this balance and thus
the flow of Qi; this in turn manifests as the symptoms of disease.
The aim of the practitioner of Chinese Medicine is to restore
health by removing the cause, correcting abnormal function,
opposing the imbalance and normalising the flow of Qi.
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What Treatment Methods are used in Chinese Medicine
Chinese Medicine uses a number of modalities:
- Herbal Medicine - this is the oldest form of Chinese
This treatment originally required the patient to boil up
medicinal plants and other medicinal substances, and drink the
resultant liquid. These days Chinese Herbal Medicine is more
commonly administered in the convenient form of powders that can
be dissolved in water, or in the form of pills. Herbal Medicine
is usually used to counteract the effects from excessive cold,
heat, dampness, dryness, etc., and to restore normal function of
- Acupuncture (from the Latin:
Acu = fine needle + punctura) refers to the insertion of very
fine needles into specific points on the body which are
traditionally known to regulate the flow of Qi. Acupuncture when
done by an expert Chinese Medicine practitioner is rarely
painful, but is relaxing and provides a sense of renewed energy
and well-being. The aim of Acupuncture is to restore the normal
the flow of Qi in the Meridians. As such it is used to relieve
pain and restore normal homeostasis.
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- Moxibustion is the application of heat to specific
points or areas on the body. A smouldering roll or small cone of
dried and compacted herbs usually provides the heat source.
Moxibustion may be used by itself, but is most commonly used as
an ancillary to acupuncture for "cold", that is, chronic
- Cupping. In this modality glass or acrylic suction cups
are applied to specific areas of the body. It is mainly used for
conditions that are associated with "stagnation" which often
manifests as chronic pain.
- Massage (Tui-Na). Chinese Massage uses a number of
techniques, which are designed to release tightness in tissues,
stimulate specific points or areas, and facilitate the flow of
Qi. Chinese massages are usually very relaxing, highly
invigorating or both.
- Surgery (this was always regarded as a last resort,
although effective anaesthesia which used a combination of
Acupuncture and Palina wine or Acupuncture and opium, has been
available for over 2000 years. This was because Confucian ethics
frowned on surgery as it regarded the human body sacred and
- Other therapeutic methods:
- Diet therapy.
- Breathing exercises (Qi-Gong).
- Exercise therapy (Tai-Qi).
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Where can I get further Information ?
To enquire about a qualified practitioner in your area, contact:
Traditional Medicine Network.
P.O. Box 432,
Elizabeth, South Australia 5112.
Phone/Fax: (08) 8254 8602
Int'l. phone/fax: + 61 8 8254 8602