China has a long history of Traditional Medicine that spanned back about 2000 years ago and their unique system to diagnose and cure illness have until today been used to cure people in and out of China.
Their approach has been fundamentally different from that of Western medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine or TCM, the understanding of the human body is based on the holistic understanding of the universe as described in Daoism, and the treatment of illness is based primarily on the diagnosis and differentiation of syndromes.
TCM has formed a unique system to diagnose and cure illness. The TCM approach is fundamentally different from that of Western medicine. This approach treats zang-fu organs as the core of the human body. Tissue and organs are connected through a network of channels and blood vessels inside human body. Qi acts as some kind of carrier of information that is expressed externally through jingluo system.
Although well accepted in the mainstream of medical care throughout East Asia, it is considered an alternative medical system in much of the western world.
TCM practices include such treatments as herbal medicine, acupuncture, dietary therapy, and both Tui na and Shiatsu massage. Qigong and Taijiquan are also closely associated with it.
TCM claims to be rooted in meticulous observation of nature, the cosmos, and the human body, and to be thousands of years old. Major theories include those of Yin-yang, the Five Phases, the human body Channel system, Zang Fu organ theory, six confirmations, four layers, etc. Modern TCM was modernized in the 1950s under the People’s Republic of China and Mao Zedong.
Much of the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine derives from the same philosophy that inform Taoist and Buddhist thought, and reflects the classical Chinese belief that the life and activity of individual human beings have an intimate relationship with the environment on all levels.
Pathologically, a dysfunction of the zang-fu organs may be reflected on the body surface through the network, and meanwhile, diseases of body surface tissues may also affect their related zang or fu organs. Affected zang or fu organs may also influence each other through internal connections. Traditional Chinese medicine treatment starts with the analysis of the entire system, and then focuses on the correction of pathological changes through readjusting the functions of the zang-fu organs.
Evaluation of a syndrome not only includes the cause, mechanism, location, and nature of the disease, but also the confrontation between the pathogenic factor and body resistance. Treatment is not based only on the symptoms, but differentiation of syndromes. Therefore, those with an identical disease may be treated in different ways, and on the other hand, different diseases may result in the same syndrome and are treated in similar ways.
There were noted advances in Chinese medicine during the Middle Ages. Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty commissioned the scholarly compilation of a materia medica in 657 that documented 833 medicinal substances taken from stones, minerals, metals, plants, herbs, animals, vegetables, fruits, and cereal crops.
In his Bencao Tujing, the scholar-official Su Song around 1020 not only systematically categorized herbs and minerals according to their pharmaceutical uses, but he also took an interest in zoology. For example, Su made systematic descriptions of animal species and the environmental regions they could be found, such as the freshwater crab Eriocher sinensis found in the Huai River running through Anhui, in waterways near the capital city, as well as reservoirs and marshes of Hebei.
The clinical diagnosis and treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine are mainly based on the yin-yang and five elements theories. These theories apply the phenomena and laws of nature to the study of the physiological activities and pathological changes of the human body and its interrelationships. The typical TCM therapies include acupuncture, herbal medicine, and qigong exercises. With acupuncture, treatment is accomplished by stimulating certain areas of the external body.
Herbal medicine acts on zang-fu organs internally, while qigong tries to restore the orderly information flow inside the network through the regulation of Qi. These therapies appear very different in approach yet they all share the same underlying sets of assumptions and insights in the nature of the human body and its place in the universe. Some scientists describe the treatment of diseases through herbal medication, acupuncture, and qigong as an “information therapy”.
Contact with Western culture and medicine has not displaced TCM. While there may be traditional factors involved in the persistent practice, two reasons are most obvious in the westward spread of TCM in recent decades. Firstly, TCM practices are believed by many to be very effective, sometimes offering palliative efficacy where the practices of Western medicine fail or unable to provide treatment, especially for routine ailments such as flu and allergies, or when Western medicine fails to relieve patients suffering from chronic ailments.
TCM has been shown to be effective in the treatment of chronic, functional disorders, such as migraines and osteoarthritis, and is traditionally used for a wide range of functional disorders. Secondly, TCM provides an alternative to otherwise costly procedures that many cannot afford, or which is not covered by insurance. There are also many who turn to TCM to avoid the side effects of pharmaceuticals.
TCM of the last few centuries is seen by at least some sinologists as part of the evolution of a culture, from shamans blaming illnesses on evil spirits to ‘proto-scientific’ systems of correspondence; any reference to supernatural forces is usually the result of romantic translations or poor understanding and will not be found in the Taoist-inspired classics of acupuncture such as the Huang Di Nei Jing.
The system’s development has, over its history, been analysed both skeptically and extensively, and the practice and development of it has waxed and waned over the centuries and cultures through which it has traveled – yet the system has still survived thus far. It is true that the focus from the beginning has been on pragmatism, not necessarily understanding of the mechanisms of the actions – and that this has hindered its modern acceptance in the West. This, despite that there were times such as the early 18th century when ‘acupuncture and moxa were a matter of course in polite European society’
Chinese medicine, like many other Chinese sciences, defines data on the basis of the inductive and synthetic mode of cognition. Inductivity corresponds to a logical link between two effective positions existing at the same time in different places in space. Conversely, causality is the logical link between two effective positions given at different times at the same place in space. In other words, effects based on positions that are separate in space yet simultaneous in time are mutually inductive and thus are called inductive effects.
In Western science prior to the development of electrodynamics and nuclear physics which are founded essentially on inductivity, the inductive nexus was limited to subordinate uses in protosciences such as astrology. Now Western man, as a consequence of two thousand years of intellectual tradition, persists in the habit of making causal connections first and inductive links, if at all, only as an afterthought. This habit must still be considered the biggest obstacle to an adequate appreciation of Chinese science in general and Chinese medicine in particular. Given such different cognitive bases, many of the apparent similarities between traditional Chinese and European science which attract the attention of positivists turn out to be spurious.
Traditional Chinese medicine is largely based on the philosophical concept that the human body is a small universe with a set of complete and sophisticated interconnected systems, and that those systems usually work in balance to maintain the healthy function of the human body.
Much of the scientific research on TCM has focused on acupuncture. The effectiveness of acupuncture remains controversial in the scientific community, and a review by Edzard Ernst and colleagues in 2007 found that the body of evidence was growing, research is active, and that the ’emerging clinical evidence seems to imply that acupuncture is effective for some but not all conditions’.
By Austin Thomas