Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine


Traditional medicine of China has a long historical and cultural background dating back about 2500 years. The ancient Chinese people were able to reach a level of social stability that included the ability to treat disease of emotional, physical, and spiritual origins. Although a belief in spirits as the cause of disease has remained in China even to the present day, the view that the body obeyed a natural order struck a chord in the intellectual elite of ancient China. It was this elite class that refined and developed these ideas over many centuries.(1)
The ideas that the ancient Chinese had about the organs of the body, and their functions, as well as the causes and development of disease, show large differences when compared with Western medicine.(2)
The Chinese do not think of theory, as we do in the West, as needing to be proven to reach the highest degree of truth. A Chinese doctor can look at the kidney as a machine and think of it as a reflection of universe.(2) He can apply two different disease classification systems, cold damage or warm damage where he feels it is appropriate, without being deterred by contradictions between the two.(3)
One (Western) method of gaining knowledge is analysis. It is the method of breaking things into component parts to understand the whole. This method has been applied in China, but not to the same level as in the West. Analysis is one of the important features of all western modern science and technology. In fact, the analytical approach is the basis of western medicine, and it is part of the Western mindset.(4)
Analysis is not as important to Chinese medicine as in the West. The ancient Chinese did use analysis in their investigation of the human body, but to a lesser degree. Analysis provided some important insights into the workings of the human body. The ancient Chinese knew, for example, that the stomach and intestines were organs of digestion, and that the lung drew air from the environment.(5)
The origins of China\'s medical knowledge is not certain. They observed phenomenon, and identified relationships and patterns. They compared whole phenomena in the body, and watched how they related to each other.(6)
This is shown by "qi,\'\' an entity that Westerners find hard to conceptualize, since it does not fit any known scientific category.(7) Qi is thought to be the universal energy that runs everything, right down to the smallest molecule. Pain is often thought of as blocked Qi.(8) An example of qi would be that the ancient Chinese could see that when we are healthy, food is carried down the alimentary canal. They also saw that throwing up involves a rising movement that ejects food from the stomach along with heaving.(9) They saw this activity in terms of two movements: a normal descending force and an abnormal ascending force. What we call a movement, the Chinese call qi.(10) Stomach qi goes down, carrying food in the digestive tract to the small intestine. The concept of stomach qi was inferred directly from visible events.
Qi does not coincide with the Western notion of energy. Western medicine explains the normal downward movement of qi in terms of peristalsis (wave like contractions that pass along the alimentary canal, pushing the contents downward). Energy is consumed in the contraction of the muscles. It is not ascending or descending energy. (11)
The Chinese developed a medicine of systematic correspondences in which yin-yang and five-phase theory provided a good foundation for understanding the body. These have been the key elements of Chinese medicine to the present day.(12)
The five phases: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water are the main factors in human life: wood for construction; fire for warmth; metal for tools; the earth that produces the crops necessary to our survival; and water on which all life depends.(13) The ancient Chinese observed that these entities, all-important for the support of human life, reflected important aspects of nature as a whole. Wood has the qualities of plants; fire has heat qualities and so so on. The five phases also correspond to organs in the body. These five entities also relate to each other in specific ways such as anything that burns is derived from plants, wood was said to engender fire; fire