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Chinese Traditional Medicine

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Theoretical Framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine is an important part of the nation's cultural heritage. Developed over the course of more than five thousand years, this system is unique due to its complete dialectical theoretical framework, diagnostic methods, pharmacology, and special methods of treatment including acupuncture and moxibustion, deep breathing and medical massage.

Chinese medicine is based on the theories of yin (negative) and yang (positive), and of the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. The yin and yang theory holds that everything, or every phenomenon in the universe, consists of two forces, yin and yang, that oppose each other and at the same time complement one another. According to this theory, the human body is also made up of yin and yang elements. When there is a balance between the two, there is no disease. If the balance in a person is disturbed, he is sure to become ill. The theory of the five elements assumes that the material world is basically made up of five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Among these elements there exists an interdependence and inter-restraint that determines their state of constant changes. The human body is regarded in five parts: liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidney. These five parts correspond with the five elements in the universe. For instance, the liver is considered to have the quality of wood, which can be lit up by fire. Thus, a person with a liver disorder can easily get angry. In this way, the developments and changes of the physiological and pathological phenomena in humans can be explained in terms of the developments and changes in nature.

Guided by these two theories, doctors of traditional Chinese medicine emphasize not only local treatment but also the treatment of the whole body, with its aim on the readjusting of the balance within the body. Attention is also paid to the seasons of the year, the environment, and living conditions of the patient. It is usually the case that even when two patients have the same symptoms and are diagnosed as having the same disease, doctors of Chinese medicine will prescribe different drugs for them because of the differences in the patients' internal and external conditions.

Another important theory in traditional Chinese medicine is the theory of jing and luo, the basis of such therapeutic treatments like acupuncture and moxibustion. According to this theory, the internal organs and the limbs of the human body are related and linked by channels through which blood and qi (vital energy) circulate. The main channels that run longitudinally are called jing while the branches that run latitudinally are called luo. If there is a blockage in either jing or luo, the blood and vital energy will not be able to pass through. In time it affects a person's health. To clear the blockage and ensure the free flow of blood and vital energy is the first and fundamental step in curing a disease.

Books on traditional Chinese medicine and pharmacology have played an important role in developing the science. Some medical books have enjoyed great influence. The Yellow Emperor's Canon of Medicine, written by unknown medical scholars during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), was the first complete summary of ancient Chinese medicine. It explains human anatomy, physiology, pulse, diagnosis, and treatment. Shen Nong's Canon of Herbs, written in the first and second centuries, is the earliest extant book on Chinese pharmacology. It summarizes the experience of ancient Chinese in using medicinal substances. Golden Prescriptions for Emergencies and Supplementary Golden Prescriptions, by Sun Simiao (581-682), contain the medical contributions made by Sun as well as those achievements made before him. The Compendim of Materia Medica, written by the world famous pharmacologist and physician Li Shizhen (1518-1593), was a major pharmacopoeia of the sixteenth century. It details more than eighteen hundred drugs and includes eleven hundred illustrations and eleven thousand prescriptions. These and many other medical books have helped to both enrich and develop traditional Chinese medicine.

Revised June 2, 2011