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Chinese Traditional Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine, sometimes known by the acronym TCM, is a system of healing that, according to the National Institutes of Health dates, in written form, back to 200 B.C. Similarly, in the surrounding areas such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam there are also forms of healing that have been developed that include their own unique traditions, philosophies and practices, however in general they are all understood to have derived from those practices and philosophies that were developed in China. In traditional chinese medicine the overruling metaphor for health and illness is that of a balance between two forces commonly represented in the black and white symbol representing yin and yang. In this conception, Yin is a representation of a passive principle that is generally thought of as being cold or slow. In opposition to this, Yang is an active principle that one might think of as symbolic of that which is hot or excited. Part of this metaphor of balance is that it describes a state that is descriptive of the healthy individual. As such, disease is then due to some form of imbalance between the yin and yang. A comparable example from the history of Western medicine would be Galen’s conception of the body having four humours that must be kept in balance in order to ensure a healthy body and mind, but that when a disease or disorder struck its cause could be, from the symptoms, traced back to a particular imbalance. Another important concept in Ancient Chinese Medicine is that these imbalances can result in a blockage of some form either in the blood or in the flow of the vital energy, known as qi (pronounced “kee” or “chee”), which were thought to travel along invisible passageways called meridians. The different forms of this type of Chinese Medicine include acupuncture and the use of chinese herbs, among others, are used as a means to restore the lost balance in the body. In chinese medicine of these traditional varieties, there are specific treatment regimens that are specifically adapted to the individual’s specific imbalance or symptoms of the condition or disease that they happen to be suffering from. The main forms of medicine used include massage or manual manipulation, Chinese herbal treatments, known as the Chinese Materia Medica, and finally Chinese Acupuncture.


Acupuncture, in general, involves the stimulation of the body through the penetration of the skin using extremely thin acupuncture needles of varying lengths. There is no set condition that acupuncture is thought to treat or cure, rather it has a wide ranging number of uses and forms of use. These needles stimulate Acupuncture Points (sometimes known as “acupoints”) which are thought to be specific spots that are located along invisible passageways known as meridians. There are a number of forms of acupuncture that go beyond the traditional form used with needles. Other forms such as electroacupuncture, needles may or may not be used, but what is essential is the stimulation of the Acupuncture Points, in this method through small electric charges. In addition, there is also sonopuncture that stimulates the Acupuncture Points through the use of sound waves. Finally, there is also moxibustion that stimulates the acupoints by burning particular Chinese herbs. All forms of acupuncture are painless when performed by a trained professional and as a treatment they are thought to help to alleviate pain or nausea amongst any number of other additional applications. Currently, within the Western medical establishment, the effects of these forms of acupuncture have yet to be fully understood or described despite a number of scientific clinical trials and studies that have sought to answer the questions of both practitioners and critics alike. In general, it has been thought that the type of stimulation involved in acupuncture may result in the release of any number of hormones and other bodily chemicals that may result in the stimulation of the immune system or may result in a series of beneficial effects as a result of the stimulation of the central nervous system.

Chinese Materia Medica

The Materia Medica, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a standard reference book that includes a variety of information on a large number of substances that are used in herbal medicine in China. In considering the difficulties with understanding herbal treatments this resource is the starting point, but by no means answers the many questions that still surround Chinese herbal treatments. These include not only the bioactive compounds that may be found in any number of the herbs used in Chinese herbal medicine, but their composition, how they are formed within the plants in question, and how they function within the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, any number of herbs may be used in a tailored treatment of a specific or a combination of diseases, disorders, symptoms and conditions. It is also unclear whether or not certain outside factors such as harvesting, processing and potentially storage could directly or indirectly impact the functioning of herbal treatments. In general, this area will continue to be a fruitful area of research for the Western medical establishment in its attempts to incorporate the beneficial aspects of Chinese herbal treatments into common practice.

Chinese Massage

In general massage, known technically as manipulative and body-based practices, work on the bones, joints, soft tissues and systems of the body including the circulatory and lymphatic, among others. Although there are a variety of types of manipulative and body-based practices available, the Chinese variety is notable for the influence that it has had on later massage practitioners. Like other forms of body-based practices that include manipulation, Chinese massage involves a conception of the interrelation of the different parts of the human body as a self-regulating system that may fall out of balance at times.


All of these forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine have had their impact on the Western medical establishment. Although they continue to provide a number of challenges to our current conceptions surrounding medicine and wellness, their popularity will ensure their longevity in the discourses surrounding health and well-being.
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