Chinese medicine is one of the oldest forms of medicine known to humankind. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, the Chinese Medicine “bible,” is over 2000 years old and was itself a compilation of much earlier texts. Even though we talk about “Chinese” medicine, the word “Oriental” is probably more accurate and you might find it in different contexts as most Far Eastern countries (Korea, Japan, Vietnam etc.) practice it under one form or another with some variations.
What makes Chinese medicine very special is that it offers a very unique tradition of faithful medical records kept over centuries, making it the single best and oldest documented medical practice. Scholars were held in high esteem in old China and high positions were granted to those who could pass exams with high standards of knowledge in all various fields such as medicine, philosophy, science and astronomy.
Most folk medicines rely on oral tradition. Chinese medicine does too but, fortunately, the high respect for scholarship and intellectual knowledge led generation after generation of doctors to keep careful records of their herbal formulas, acupuncture treatments and case histories, comparing them with those of other practitioners in sometimes very heated debates and discussions. There are many famous texts written by physicians to which modern practitioners still refer today.
The highly respected tradition of “Kampo” or herbal medicine in Japan, for example, is mostly based upon the formulas found in the Shang Han Lun -- known as Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders or the Treatise on Cold Injury, a Chinese medical treatise that was compiled by Zhang Zhongjing sometime before the year 220, at the end of the Han dynasty. It is amongst the oldest complete clinical textbooks in the world, and one of the four canonical works that students must still study today in traditional Chinese medical education.
Still routinely practiced today in Far Eastern countries Chinese medicine has become increasingly popular in the West since the 1970’s and has been acknowledged by the WHO (World Health Organization) as a legitimate form of medicine. The Chinese Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization made numerous recommendations of herbal combinations and formulas that were distributed through the mass media to respond to the Avian flu and to SARS for example and proved very effective. Anti-viral herbs and formulas together with case studies are easy to find and refer to. Chinese medicine and its well-tested tradition of herbs is actually becoming even more important today as resistance to antibiotics and severe side effects or allergies to medications are increasingly problematic.
Although Chinese medicine is often associated with acupuncture, it includes many other modalities, acupuncture being only one of them. Dietary and lifestyle recommendations based on a very practical philosophical system are a cornerstone of Oriental philosophy. Traditional medicine is rooted in Daoism and its ancient wisdom of self-cultivation. Of course, our Western medicine was also rooted in lifestyle and dietary recommendations, an aspect unfortunately forgotten by our modern medical profession. Didn’t Hippocrates, the “grandfather” of Western medicine, declare “Let Food Be Thy Medicine and They Medicine be Thy Food”.
In Chinese Medicine, food therapy and the use of simple Qi Gong exercises to re-balance energy were actually considered the highest forms of medicine in the Yellow Emperor’s treatise because they require wisdom, self-knowledge and self-discipline. Traditional treatment modalities include acupuncture, acupressure, herbal therapy, food therapy, medical Qi Gong, massage (Tui Na), cupping and moxibustion as well as many other folk techniques that developed in specific areas. Korea, for example, developed a very sophisticated system of hand acupuncture while Dr Nogier developed ear acupuncture in France in 1950. Modern techniques have enabled various companies all over the world, including in the US, to create a high quality of herbal products in new forms such as concentrated extracts, thus bringing the practice of Chinese Medicine herbology to another level of excellence and availability.
Oriental medicine is indeed alive and well, constantly changing, evolving and responding to new needs from our environments, in a unqiue blend of tradition and modernism.