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Essay/Term paper: Chinese medicine

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World History

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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
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
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 by reducing what it
consumed to ashes, is said to engender earth, etc.(14)
Yin and yang constitute a binary system of correspondence that is
logically matching to the five phases. All yin phenomena are the same in nature
and relate to their yang opposites in like fashion. Examples of this would be
day is to night as heat is to cold, as summer is to winter, as high is to low,
as activity is to rest.(15)
The ideas of yin and yang became universally applicable categories of
quality and relationship. Cold and dark has something qualitative in common,
and their relationship is counterpart to yin and yang. Each pole of a yin-yang
pair is dependent on the other and each complements the other. There is no
light without darkness; cold cannot be known without heat. When cold increases,
heat lowers, and when dawn breaks, darkness fades.(16)
In medicine, yin and yang are used to explain relationships between
parts of the body, organs, and disease patterns.(17) Making a correspondence
between dark-light and interior-exterior, medical theoreticians were able to see
that the interior of the body corresponds to dark as the exterior corresponds to
light; so, interior would be yin and the exterior is yang. By the principle of
divisibility, they determined that within the interior of the body, some aspects
were yin, while others were yang. The organs having greatest contact with the
outside (the digestive tract, for example) are seen to be yang within yin,
whereas the organs that dealt with things produced by the body (blood, qi, and
essence) were seen as yin within yang.(18)
There are four major treatments within these two key elements of
Chinese medicine. The first that will be covered is Tui Na or massage. It
contains elements and techniques that are very different from the common
(western) ideas of massage. In these massage techniques the practitioner tries
to affect the physiology and energetics of the body and the mind of the
Tui Na is practiced slowly with an emphasis on the practitioner and the
client being in a meditative state. Stretching and extending the range of
motion of the body is an important part of Chinese massage. (19)
A central part of Chinese medicine is the importance of the abdominal
region. According to Chinese medicine, all the major energy pathways of the
body have their origin around the navel. The abdominal massage is crucial to
the healing benefit of this medicine.(19)
The second treatment is Herbology or minerals and animal parts. Herbs
are a variety of naturally found products that have medicinal properties.
Herbal formulas can be taken in many ways. A doctor of Chinese herbal medicine
could prescribe raw herbs which would be taken home and made into a "tea". It
is believed that certain animal parts, when ingested, will contribute to the
health of the same part in the patient. Many practitioners offer herbs in pill
or capsule form. Herbal treatments are created for specific patients and their
specific disharmony.(20)
The third treatment is nutrition therapy. The only difference between
nutrition and herbal therapy is that nutrition tends to be more appetizing than
the herbal tea formulas.(21)
The fourth treatment is Acupuncture. It is the gentle insertion of
hair-fine needles into specific points on the body to stimulate the flow of Qi
or the natural healing energy.(22)
Chinese medicine views human health and disease in terms of functional
entities and disease-causing influences that are observed with just the senses.
Its sophistication lies in its observation of correspondences between whole
phenomena, and its organization of these observations through the holistic
systems of yin-yang and five phases.(23)
In view of the somewhat barbaric treatments in western medicine - cancer
therapy, for example - many people in western society are becoming interested in
Chinese medicine as an alternative form of treatment for certain ailments. This
is an encouraging trend.


1 Nigel Boss,The Introduction To Chinese Medicine (Brookline, 1988)., p2-15.

2 Ibid., p17.

3 Ibid., p18.

4 Ibid., p37.

5 Ibid., p38.

6 Ibid., p40.

7 Ibid., p56.

8 (Class lecture on Chinese Medicine)

9 Nigel Boss,The Introduction To Chinese Medicine.(Brookline,1988).,p57.

10 Ibid., p58.

11 Ibid., p58.

12 Ibid., p102.

13 Ibid., p103.

14 Ibid., p105.

15 Ibid., p150.

16 Ibid., p151.

17 Ibid., p159.

18 Ibid., p160.

19 John J. Chan,Conditions Successfully Treated with Oriental Medicine. (Chicago,
1984)., p20. (Class notes)

20 Ibid., p27. (Class notes)

21 Ibid., p34. (Class notes)

22 Ibid., p42. (Class notes)

23 Nigel Boss,The Introduction to Chinese Medicine.(Brookline, 1988)., p92.


Boss, Nigel. The Introduction To Chinese Medicine. Brookline,
Massachusetts:Paradigm Publications, 1988.

Chan, John J. Conditions Successfully Treated with Oriental Medicine. Chicago,
Illinois: Lynne Reiner Publishers,1984.


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