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Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine developed over thousands of years, almost without any outside influence from other medical systems. As with most of Chinese culture—with the notable exceptions of printing and gunpowder—Traditional Chinese Medicine was largely ignored by Westerners until very recently.

The exceptional stability of Chinese culture is credited to its profound reverence for the past, spiritual beliefs based on ancestor veneration, and a system of writing.

The Yellow EmperorYellow Emperor Huang Ti is generally credited with being the founder of Traditional Chinese Medicine over four thousand years ago. The 'Nei Ching' is the Classic Book of Internal Medicine, and is written in the form of a dialogue. The classic components are a belief in the unity of nature, a medical practice based on the theory of systematic correspondences, the theory of five phases and yin-yang dualism. Consequently theNei Ching five methods of treatment advised by the Nei Ching were living in harmony with nature; treatment of bowels, viscera, blood & breath; control of diet; drugs; and acupuncture/moxibustion.

Under 'living in harmony with nature' would come the ancient technologies of meditation, Tai Chi, Chi Gong and other martial arts. The aim is to balance Chi and prevent dis-ease. The use of tea, for example, has been an important component in a good diet for over 6,000 years. Chinese tea is rich in physiologically active alkaloids, and it is important to vigorously boil the water to gain maximum benefit from the tea.

The five basic elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or phases, are earth, water, fire, wood and metal. Humans are considered to be made up of two different types of energy—yin and yang. Yin is viewed as being dark, moist, female, whilst Yang is light, dry, masculine. Illness is seen as being due to an imbalance of these two forces, which would manifest itself as a disorder of one of the five phases. Taken along with the blood they constituted the vital substance which circulated the body.

Central to all of the above is the concept of 'Chi'. Chi is the life-force of shamanism, the 'prana' of Ayurveda and the bio-electric energy of modern scientists. It is said that 'Blood is the mother of Chi, and Chi rules the Blood'. TCM diagnoses and acts upon this Chi energy that animates the body.

Two of the most important diagnostic tools in Traditional Chinese Medicine are the pulse and the tongue. Chinese practitioners identified thirty different shades of colour of the tongue. In addition they performed a complicated examination of the pulse. They could recognise more than 200 different variations of pulse based on volume, strength, and regularity. They believed that by the study of yin in the blood they could reveal the problems of yang in the tracts.

Chinese scholars understood the relationship between the pulse, heart, and blood circulation long before Modern Western Science rediscovered it through William Harvey in the 17th Century. In addition they rejected the concept of bloodletting.

Herbal remedies were very important to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Ginseng was considered 'queen ofThe Queen medicinal herbs'. This Indian wonder drug was credited with opening the heart, stilling fears, improving understanding and invigorating and prolonging life. Acupuncture, which is more than 4500 years old, seeks to control the flow of energy in the body through applying needles to any of 365 acu points on the body; whilst Moxibustion—where a cone of moxa, powdered leaves of the mugwort plant, is placed on a particular acupuncture point and set alight—aims to increase the amount of yang in the body.

It is important to remember that human dissection was forbidden in ancient China, as in Indian medicine. Both systems are based on observing function, rather than the Modern Western Medical preference of analysing structure. The focus was on prevention, rather than cure. Indeed the great Chinese doctors would not treat those that were already ill. They gave the benefit of their understanding to the healthy. Or put another way, "seeking remedies after diseases had already developed was as foolish as waiting until war broke out to cast weapons."

Traditional Chinese Medicine also invented vaccination. They took someone who had smallpox, and extracted a small amount of pus from the smallpox sore. The small amount was then injected into a healthy person to stimulate a very mild form of the disease. This in turn increased the immunity of the healthy person to the disease. It took the Europeans until 1796 to rediscover vaccination through Edward Jenner, and then it was via discovery of the traditional Turkish practice of inoculation.