Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) refers to a wide range of philosophical frameworks, modalities and treatment protocols, many of which have morphed and modernized over the last 2000+ years to adapt to the standards and thinking of the time. Although very different today; acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, moxibustion, massage, bleeding and cupping have ancient foundations rooted in classical Chinese medical history.
Shamanistic Shang Dynasty
The origin of Chinese medicine emerged in the shamanistic era of the Shang Dynasty Period (1766-1122 BC). During this time the religious deity was called Shang Di who was believed to live in heaven in an imperial court accompanied by dead ancestors. Shang Di believed that illness was caused by either; upsetting an ancestor and consequently being cursed or that a demon or evil entered the body and caused illness.
Shamans would act as mediators between the people and the ancestors and Shang Di. A technique named scapulimancy involved writing on ‘oracle bones’ (usually scapular bones or tortoise shells), which were then heated and pierced with rods until cracks formed in the shell or bone. The cracks would be interpreted by the shaman to answer the question at hand. The answer interpreted by the shaman was said to reveal the will of the ancestors.
Warring States and Zhou Dynasty Period
Traditional Chinese Medicine theory emerged at a time after this when philosophy and science began to overlap around the time of the Warring States in the Zhou Dynasty Period (475-221 BCE). This period would mark the beginning of intellectual reform and is referred to as Zhuzi Baijia (Various Teachers, One Hundred Schools). This period and the work of it’s revolutionary writers was the catalyst that began a shift of ideas that changed explanations of observable phenomenon away from shamanist viewpoints to a systematic and comprehensive medical framework.
Following the downfall of the Qin Dynasty, Han scholars attempted to collect and organise medical texts from the Warring States period. Scholars examined and collated numerous texts to put together a coherent Chinese Medical philosophy. Many of the foundations of current day practices are rooted in these texts, most notably the Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic) which has served as the guiding principle text for Chinese Medicine through time and still does today.
Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic)
The Huangdi Neijing consists of conversations between the Yellow Emperor and his physician, outlining core concepts and medical knowledge of Chinese Medicine including acupuncture and moxibustion as the main tools for correcting imbalances and treating illness. Although the Huangdi Neijing is seen to be the foundation of acupuncture, the origins of acupuncture have been observed by archaeologists dating back to 6000 BCE. Rather than metal needles, primitive acupuncture consisted of sharpened stones and long sharp bones, which would have more likely been used for surgery and lancing abscesses. Thanks to technology advances, you’re in for a much more enjoyable experience with acupuncture today.
Broadly, the Hunagdi Neijing, along with other ancient Chinese medical texts, explained the concepts of disease and that good health was closely linked to the movement of ‘qi’ and ‘blood’. Illness was attributed to stagnation, deficiency, excess or improper movement of qi or blood, causing imbalances of yin and yang. These concepts were used to help explain physiology and disease in a time well before we could observe physiological processes through microscopes and lab testing, and went on to form the theoretical framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Modern Era
Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture gradually developed over the next few centuries becoming a standard medical therapy in China along with massage, diet, herbal medicine, bleeding and moxibustion. In 17th century China, there was a decline in interest in traditional practices and ancient medicines were thought to be riddled with superstition. With the rise of Western Medicine in the 20th century, acupuncture fell further out of favour and was eventually outlawed in China in 1929.
In 1949 the new government revived acupuncture and other traditional medicines and in the 1950’s research facilities started to open in China. Acupuncture continued to grow and started to gain popularity in other neighbouring countries. In the 1970’s a New York Times journalist was treated with Chinese Medicine after having an emergency surgery while in China. He was so impressed with his treatment and recovery that he wrote an article about his experience which brought much popularity and speculation of acupuncture to the west.
Today in China most hospitals offer Western and Chinese medicine completely integrated. For example patients will receive western medical surgeries and be given Chinese herbal medicine to aid them with their recovery or will be treated with acupuncture and/or massage to relieve their pain. This integration of Western and Chinese medicine displays the incredible growth of medicine in China.
An interesting difference between Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine is that when a new framework or group of ideas is formed in Chinese medicine, the old way of thinking or framework is not thrown out like in Western Medicine, it is rather combined with all the other concepts so that a practitioner can have multiple ways of treating a problem and if a particular approach doesn’t help the patient, the practitioner is able to approach it in a different manner until they achieve a positive result.
Chinese Medicine - Sydney
Chinese Medicine in Sydney now looks a little different to how it would have 2000 years ago, yet the core is still the same. Your practitioner will use numerous modalities and theoretical frameworks so that they are able to get the best outcome for your overall health. Safety and hygiene is now paramount with all acupuncture needles, lancets and cups, etc. all being sterile and single use. We too work in conjunction with Western medicine and although we are not integrated in hospitals here, we have direct connections with physiotherapists, general practitioners and other doctors.