The Origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine
exact origins of traditional Chinese medicine are vague as much of its development
occurred before written history. Human activity in China began over 1.7 million
years ago. The use of plants as medicine can be dated back to origin of mankind.
As early man experimented with new plants in search of food, he also began to
discover the effects these plants had on the human body. The exact origin of acupuncture
is not known, but the use of medical tools dates back well into the Stone Age.
As written history began, much was written about Chinese medicine. The words
doctor (yi) and medicine (yao) appeared in written Chinese language at about 2500
BC. Many medical texts were written in ancient history, but most did not survive
the test of time. We are not sure how much was really known about acupuncture
and herbal medicine in very early times. The first medical books to appear were
quite advanced and indicate that there was probably a great deal of medical development
Although the use of herbal medicine and acupuncture tools began
much earlier, the origin of the Chinese medical system is probably about 2,500
years old. The Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing) was written
in about 200-300 BC and it included the first explanations of the pathological
concept, diagnostic method, and treatment strategy. The theories described in
this book and others to follow make up the system known as traditional Chinese
The History of Chinese Herbal Medicine
The use of plants as
medicine is certainly as old as man itself, but the emperor Shen Nong (3494 BC)
is accredited as being the first herbal doctor. He spent his entire lifetime in
the pursuit of discovering new uses for plants. Unfortunately, his discoveries
pre-date written record and his legacy were carried only through oral history.
By 1500 BC, references to herbal medicine were inscribed onto bone. In the 3rd
century BC, silk medical texts described the use of over 250 natural substances
as medicine. The Chinese word for herbal medicine, 'ben cao', appeared in the
Chinese language at about 500 BC. Very early in the Western Han Dynasty, the Pharmacopoeia
of Sheng Nong (Sheng Nong Ben Cao Jing) was written, detailing all the known herbal
medicine of the time. In the 2nd century AD, Hua Tou was using herbal anesthesia
to conduct surgery. Li Shizhen (AD 1517 - 1593) wrote the General Outlines and
Divisions of Herbal Medicine (Ben Cao Gang Mu) which is the greatest contribution
to Chinese herbal medicine in history. The original work contained nearly 12,000
recipes including 1,900 medicinal substances. The modern Chinese pharmacopoeia
now includes nearly 6,000 medicinal substances.
Modern Development of Traditional
The Revolution of 1911 marked the end of the Qing dynasty,
and the beginning of the People's Republic of China. At this time of change, tradition
was thrown to the wayside and Westernisation occurred heavily in China. Traditional
medicine came to be viewed as crude and ineffectual compared to modern Western
medicine. The instituted government demanded that traditional medicine be banned
and took measures to stop its development and use. In rural communities, traditional
medicine was still utilized to meet the demand for medical care.
movement began in 1921 with Mao Zedong being an influential leader. During the
Long March of 1934-35, he and his army were separated from medical care. They
were forced to rely on traditional medicine, which was illegal at the time, to
care for their many health problems. Mao Zedong was so impressed with the results
of this medicine, he later made great strides to revitalize medical tradition
in China. In the 1940's and 1950's, Chairman Mao and his comrades directed the
medical community to study and incorporate traditional Chinese medicine. A vast
amounts of scientific research was conducted at this time and the use of acupuncture
and herbal medicine became standard medicine in many hospitals.
embraces traditional Chinese medicine and it is practiced throughout the country.
Most Chinese hospitals are fully integrated and provide traditional and modern
medicine together. Major medical universities provide two tracks of study. Students
may choose to study traditional or conventional medicine. Regardless of the course
of study, doctors in China receive training in both forms of medicine. The only
difference is that one form is stressed over the other. Medical research facilities
continue to study traditional Chinese medicine and are creating strong evidence
to support its use for both old and new medical problems.