What is Chinese medicine? Chinese medicine is the practice of treatment with traditional Chinese herbs (herbalism), acupuncture, and other therapies that are based on an amalgam of concepts of qi, the body’s vital life force; yin and yang; five elements; and the cycle of time. Those who practice Chinese medicine use these concepts in therapeutic massage to balance opposing forces, called “du” (elements) or “sheng” (characteristics).
Although the use of Chinese remedies has existed for millennia, it was not until 1040 AD when Shen Nong appeared in China’s history. He was a son who would go on to be identified as a god by Emperor Renzong. Shen Nong was the first person to record Chinese medicine after he discovered over 400 herbs. Shen Nong’s findings were compiled in a book called “Shennong Herbal”, which was said to have been lost for centuries after his death.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), traditional Chinese medicine rose in prominence. The use of Chinese herbal remedies became widespread, and various emperors issued edicts that promoted their use. During this time, many famous doctors wrote books that could be found in every literate household.
In the early 1980s, a group of students from Nanjing Agricultural University in China traveled to the United States. These students brought with them a gift from their ancestors, a gift that would help others understand Chinese medicine. The gift was a book called “The Essential Book of Traditional Chinese Medicine,” which was meant to be a compilation of all previous traditional Chinese medical knowledge.
Beginning in the 1990s, China began to cultivate and harvest its own herbs for export to the United States and other countries. In the late 1990s, China’s government made an important change toward promoting traditional medicine. The government established the Beijing College of Traditional Medicine and the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both schools were set up to improve education standards for Chinese medical professionals and to push the government to use more alternative medicine in its health care system.
Modern traditional Chinese practitioners tend to take a holistic approach to treatment, such as looking at a person’s surroundings and lifestyle, in addition to his or her physical symptoms. They believe that a person’s qi (or vital energy) is essential for good health. If a person’s qi becomes imbalanced or depleted, ill health will result (Asian Studies: Pushing Forward the Boundaries: The History of Asian Studies). This is not to be confused with the Western notion of “life energy,” although some of the concepts are similar.
The early Chinese did make attempts at using astrology to understand how the illness affected their patients (Asian Studies: Pushing Forward the Boundaries: The History of Asian Studies). For example, they might not treat a patient until the appropriate astrological time had passed. If that did not work, they would try to cure him or her with herbs. They also used astrology in conjunction with the five elements to explain how a person’s qi was depleted or imbalanced.
In the past, Chinese herbalists had a prescriptive role. That is, they would make a diagnosis and decide on a treatment of their own accord. In the modern era, however, the government has been encouraging doctors to more frequently consult with Chinese herbalists and other traditional practitioners (Asian Studies: Pushing Forward the Boundaries: The History of Asian Studies). This process may be more of a public relations exercise than anything else. Chinese herbalists are widely respected in China, but are treated with some suspicion elsewhere. This is because they are not seen as being regulated or monitored appropriately by the government (Asian Studies: Pushing Forward the Boundaries: The History of Asian Studies).
Chinese medicine is growing in popularity in the United States. Although it is often practiced by Chinese immigrants, many doctors have abandoned their medical practices to engage exclusively in traditional Chinese medicine. This has made it difficult for people without medical experience to find a practitioner with expertise in this field. The government has begun an effort to promote Chinese medicine with programs that will improve the quality of Chinese medical treatments available to U.S. consumers.
In the past, the use of Chinese herbs was common. In fact, most herbal products on store shelves come from China, as many U.S. companies rely on their supply of Chinese herbs as the main ingredient in their products (Asian Studies: Pushing Forward the Boundaries: The History of Asian Studies). Today, the sale and use of Chinese herbs have been greatly reduced because of fears that they may be tainted or contaminated by pesticides. This is a legitimate concern because China has a long history of poor environmental standards and agricultural practices (Asian Studies: Pushing Forward the Boundaries: The History of Asian Studies).
It is important to remember that traditional Chinese medicine is not just for pain relief or mental disorders. Some Chinese herbalists and doctors practice traditional Chinese medicine as a tool for maintaining one’s mental and physical well-being. For example, they may promote the use of herbs that promote good health and prevent disease. They also use herbs for physical ailments such as headaches, sore throats, or upset stomachs.
Chinese medicine is also believed to have a spiritual dimension. Specifically, traditional Chinese medicine is said to have an element of qi (or vital energy) in it. Because it is believed that the qi is the source of all life, Chinese doctors often treat patients using concepts derived from psycho-spiritual theory. These ideas are closely linked with traditional religious beliefs in China because they are based on the idea that the natural world has connections to human consciousness and behavior.