Home » China Travel Guide » Chinese Culture » Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese Traditional medicines

TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) refers to the study of human physiology, pathology, disease diagnosis and the prevention and control of diseases. For thousands of years, the Chinese people have accumulated rich experience in fighting against all sorts of diseases, therefore forming their own unique medical theory under the guidance of ancient Chinese philosophies. In terms of the research approaches, TCM regards each individual as a whole entity with the focus on zangfu (the organs inside a human body) and jingluo (the primary channels and meridians that crisscross the body). It has its own basic principles of diagnosis and treatment, which constitutes the foundation of a systematic theory.

TCM is often referred to the medical science developed by the Han Chinese. This is why it is also called Han Medicine. Besides, there are many other branches of medicine in China, such as Tibetan medicine, Mongolian medicine and Miao medicine, which can be called the ethnic medicine.

Currently, acupuncture has aroused the interest of the international medical science circle. According to the WHO, acupuncture has been proved to help ease post-surgery pains, nausea induced by pregnancy, nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy and toothache with minimum side effects. However, its effects in easing chronic pain, back pain and headache are still being debated. According to the WHO, the effectiveness of acupuncture and herbs is well proved by scientific evidence, but its traditional therapies are yet to be studied. Besides, the potential risks of the traditional therapies should not be neglected. On May 26, 2002, the WHO issued a document that called on more than 180 countries to adopt TCM as an alternative in their medical policies.

The Concept of Entity and the Principle of Diagnosis and Treatment

1. The concept of entity

(1) In traditional Chinese medicine, an individual is considered as an organic entity consisting of organs and tissues. Each organ and tissue has its own functions that combine to serve the operation of the human body.

(2) Man is an integral part of nature. Human survival relies on nature, and the changes in nature will directly or indirectly exert influence on human body. As a result, the human body spontaneously responds to these changes. In this sense, the treatment should also take into account the natural factors.

2. The principle of diagnosis and treatment

(1) Concept: Diagnosis involves the observation of symptoms of an entity, including the location, causes and features of the symptoms. This kind of diagnosis can reflect the nature of a disease at certain phase, therefore offering more comprehensive and profound insight into the developmental process of a disease.

Diagnosis in TCM incorporates four ways of diagnosis, namely look, listen, question and feel the pulse, and then conducts a comprehensive analysis of the symptoms and physical signs. In this way, the causes, location and features of the disease can be identified.

Treatment in TCM means that principles and therapies are tailored to the symptoms and signs identified in the previous step of diagnosis. Diagnosis lays the foundation for further treatment while treatment consists of the methods for cure. From diagnosis to further treatment, the doctor has to know the disease first and then carries out therapies accordingly.

(2) The relationship between diagnosis and treatment

A disease can be identified through its symptoms and signs. So the doctor needs to have an understanding of these symptoms and signs before adopting any therapies. It can be seen from this that diagnosis and treatment are inseparable and mutually reinforcing.

TCM Therapies

In TCM, there are five diagnostic methods: inspection, auscultation, olfaction, inquiry, and palpation. Inspection focuses on the face and particularly on the tongue, including analysis of the tongue size, shape, tension, color and coating, and the absence or presence of teeth marks around the edge. Auscultation refers to listening for particular sounds (such as wheezing). Olfaction refers to attending to body odor. Inquiry focuses on the “seven inquiries”, which involve asking the person about the regularity, severity, or other characteristics of chills, fever, perspiration, appetite, thirst, taste, defecation, urination, pain, sleep, menses, leukorrhea, and palpation which includes feeling the body for tender A-shi points, and the palpation of the wrist pulses as well as various other pulses, and palpation of the abdomen. The therapies include herbal therapy, acupuncture, cupping, Gua Sha, Die-da, etc.

TCM in America

With the legalization of TCM in America, TCM enjoys a sound momentum of development. According to incomplete statistics, the total number of registered acupuncture therapists has surmounted 2500 by the year 1987 and the number of people working in this field has amounted to 20,000 in 1989.

Currently, in California alone, the number of registered acupuncture therapists has reached 8600 (64% of them are undergraduate students), and registered clinics over 800. There are more than 20 acupuncture centers across America dedicated to the study of acupuncture, involving over 200 projects. The diseases under study include coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, allergic disease and cardiac insufficiency. In particular, the application of herbal and acupuncture therapy to AIDS has made a good start and is well-received. Now there are over 20 large-scale TCM and acupuncture schools, over 40 related associations and funds and nearly 10 related magazines established in America. Related seminars are also held on a regular basis for the exchange of research finding.

The popularity of herbal medicines comes with the development of TCM and acupuncture in America. According to statistics, the Americans would spend as much as 6 billion dollars purchasing health products and this market is expanding rapidly at a rate of 20%. Five percent of the American patients resort to all-natural medicines, while 80% of them turn to herbal medicines.

TCM in Canada

In Canada, acupuncture therapies are mainly offered in the private clinics. Currently, there are roughly 2000 registered acupuncture therapists and TCM clinics across Canada. These clinics are mostly run by overseas Chinese with pharmacies attached.

Each clinic, staffed with five to six doctors and nurses, operates quite efficiently. Each of the staffs is versatile, assuming the roles of a doctor and a pharmacist. The clinic owner is not only a doctor but also a businessman who can procure sand sells the herbal medicines at the same time. The meticulous services and effectiveness of the therapies of the clinics are well acclaimed by the patients. In most cases, the TCM and acupuncture clinics in Canada are quite profitable. As for the employed therapists working for the clinics, their salary depends on the number of patients they receive. If they receive 20 patients per day, they can still have a comfortable income. This also shows that TCM enjoys great popularity in Canada.

Currently, if a patient seeks TCM and acupuncture therapies, the incurred fees, not covered in insurance, would have to come from their own pockets. Despite this, many patients still choose TCM therapies.

Acupuncture and Moxibustion

Chinese Traditional medicines

Acupuncture means insertion of needles into superficial structures of the body (skin, subcutaneous tissue, muscles) – usually at acupuncture points (acupoints) – and their subsequent manipulation; this aims at influencing the flow of qi. According to TCM it relieves pain and treats (and prevents) various diseases. Acupuncture is often accompanied by moxibustion, which involves burning mugwort on or near the skin at an acupuncture point. Acupuncture and moxibustion is regarded as a precious Chinese legacy.

Tui-na (Chinese Massage)

Chinese Traditional medicines

Tui-na is a form of massage akin to acupressure (from which shiatsu evolved). Oriental massage is typically administered with the person fully clothed, without the application of grease or oils. Choreography often involves thumb presses, rubbing, percussion, and stretches. Massage has many benefits from general relaxation, feeling of well-being, enhancing mood, improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, improving muscle function, improving lymphatic flow, boosting immunity, improving nervous system function, removing acid and other cellular wastes. It also detoxifies the body, relieves pain, enhances flexibility, relieves stress, lubricates joints, and relieves fatigue.


Chinese Traditional medicines

Cupping is a type of Chinese massage, consisting of placing several glass “cups” (open spheres) on the body. A match is lit and placed inside the cup and then removed before placing the cup against the skin. As the air in the cup is heated, it expands, and after placing on the skin, cools, creating lower pressure inside the cup that allows the cup to stick to the skin via suction. When combined with massage oil, the cups can be slid around the back, offering “reverse-pressure massage”. Since the founding of the P.R.C., new development has been made in cupping therapy, and this kind of therapy is therefore applied to more areas. It is considered as an important therapy in TCM.

During your stay in China, you can try some of the TCM therapies whether in Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai or Guilin. Acupuncture and massage therapies will simply drive away your fatigue especially after a tiring trip to the Great Wall and Longji.