In the western world, medicine is regarded as a specific set of scientific structures that dictate how we take care of the human body. These structures descended from ancient Greece and Egypt in a very specific style that is still visible today. Chinese medicine, considered an alternative medicine in the west, comes from a completely different history and has very different philosophies when it comes to the human body. Here are a few very interesting facts about Chinese medicine, its history, and its practices today.
1. Chinese medicine is over 3,000 years old
As early as 1400 BC, there are documents of medical illnesses and their various treatments. Many of them were attributed to ancestral curses, and their treatments were equally based on mysticism and religion. Treatments based on mysticism and religious beliefs would carry on until around 200 BC, when a book would be written that changed everything about Chinese medicine.
2. Chinese doctors use a 2,000 year old book as a reference
The first recorded treatments recognizable as modern Chinese medicine can be found in The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, a book dating to around 100-200 BC. It contains a series of dialogues between the Yellow Emperor and his ministers regarding the human body and its care. It rejects the idea of spirits causing illnesses and treating these illnesses with magic, instead embracing ideas of diagnoses based on evidence and practices of maintaining balance in the human body. It is the most important single document in establishing modern Chinese medicine.
Chinese scholars, priests, and physicians would continue to refer directly to the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon for hundreds of years. There were also many books written to help interpret and categorize the information in this book for practical use and treatment of patients, including an “authoritative version” produced around the year 1053 AD. This version of the Inner Cannon is still in use today by Chinese doctors. Its practices and theories are still relatively unchanged from the book written 2,000 years ago.
3. Yin and yang isn’t just a religious philosophy
Traditional Chinese medicine focuses very much the idea of tin and yang. Yin and yang are, according to Chinese philosophy, two balancing forces in the universe that are opposed, but also interconnected and interdependent. This philosophy is applied to traditional medicine by attempting to diagnose imbalances of yin or yang in the human body. For instance, symptoms such as night sweats, insomnia, dry mouth, and fevers are attributed to a lack of Yin, and conversely a lack of Yang is said to cause sensations of cold, diarrhea, or a slow pulse. This is a major facet of Chinese medicine, and physicians seek to correct this imbalance with a combination of many methods.
4. According to traditional Chinese medicine, everything is made up of five elements
The other major theory impacting Chinese medicine is the Five Phases theory. The five phases theory is comparatively more complex than yin and yang. In short, the philosophy states that everything can be broken down into one of the five elements, represented by wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. This is applicable to the human body, and different functions and parts of the body are associated with each element. For instance, the eye is broken down into the iris (wood), the corner of the eye (fire), the eyelids (earth), the white of the eye (metal), and the pupil (water). A problem with one area may mean an imbalance in one of the five elements, and is to be corrected with a specific treatment.
5. Acupuncture is very, very old
Acupuncture, which is the practice of using small needles to correct imbalances by placing them in the body at certain meridians, existed as early as the Shang dynasty, 1600-1100 BC. It may have been more related to bloodletting than the modern idea of acupuncture, but by 200 BC, it had been codified into a more recognizable version still in use today all over the world.
6. There are over 13,000 medicinal herbs used in China today…
…and over 100,000 recorded recipes in ancient literature. A typical “prescription” consists of a batch of 9-18 medicinal herbs specifically chosen for the ailment presented. These can range from extracts of Chinese cucumbers to ginseng to licorice. Selecting these specific combinations takes years of training and study.
Chinese medicine is one of the most storied and widely used set of medical practices in the world today. Although it is regarded as alternative medicine in the west, it is widely practiced in China in private clinics and people’s homes. Hopefully you now have a better idea of what traditional Chinese medicine entails.
Author Bio: Lauren Hill is a wife, mom and freelance writer with a constant craving for healthier living. She is a contributing author for Solstice Medicine Company, a traditional Chinese medicine company offering remedies for allergies, immune support and joint relief.