Traditional Chinese Medicine
The Chinese have a unique system of categorizing illnesses very different from Western medicine. The Chinese believe man lives between heaven and earth, and comprises a miniature universe in himself. The material of which living things are made is considered to belong to the yin, or female, passive, receding aspect of nature. The life functions of living things, on the other hand, are considered to belong to yang, or masculine, active, advancing aspect.
The functions of living beings are described in terms of the five centers of the body:
- ‘heart’ or ‘mind’ (hsin) which refers to the ‘command center’ of the body, manifest as consciousness and intelligence;
- ‘lungs’ or ‘respiratory system’ (fei) which regulates various intrinsic functions of the body and maintains communication and control of the organism;
- ‘liver’ (kan) which includes the limbs and trunk, the mechanism for emotional response to life and the action of organs;
- ‘spleen’ (pi) which regulates the distribution of nutrition throughout the body, and also regulates metabolism bringing vitality to the physical body;
- ‘kidneys’ (shen) which refers to the system for regulating the storage of nutrition and the use of energy
This paradigm is used to describe the system of body functions and as a whole is referred to as the ‘latent phenomena’ (tsang hsiang). The passage of the seasons and changes in the weather can influence the human body. Excessive changes in weather harm the body, and are referred to as the ‘six external disease-causing factors’ (liu yin).
|wind (feng)||external heat (shu)||dryness (tsao)|
|cold (han)||internal heat (huo)||moisture (shih)|
On the other hand, if mood changes within the individual, such as happiness, anger, worry, pensiveness, grief, fear, and surprise are too extreme, they will also harm good health. These emotions are called the seven emotions and are believed to interact with the six external disease- causing factors to cause disease. These theoretical models, coupled with the ‘theory of latent phenomena,’ are used to analyze the patient’s constitution and illness, and diagnose the nature of his overall physical and psychological loss of balance. Based on this analysis, the doctor prescribes a method to correct the imbalance. The object of Chinese medicine is the whole person, not just the illness. In Chinese medical thinking, illness is only one manifestation of an imbalance that exists in the entire person.
By tradition, one Shen Nung, the leader of an ancient clan and father of agriculture, took it upon himself to test, one by one, hundreds of different plants to discover their nutritional and medicinal properties, and thus began the development of herbal medicine. Over the millennia, Chinese have experimented in this same way to test plants for their properties of inducing cold, heat, warmth, and coolness. They classify the medicinal effects of plants on parts of the body, then test them to determine their toxicity, lethal dose, etc.
This accumulation of experience strengthened the Chinese understanding of natural phenomena, and increased the applications of natural principles in Chinese medicine. The same principles described above are applied to assess the patient’s living environment, life rhythms, the foods he prefers or avoids, his personal relationships, language and gestures, as a tool to understand his illness, and suggest improvements in various areas. Attainment of equilibrium in the body’s flow of energy is the ultimate guiding principle of Chinese medical treatment.
In addition to the prescription of medicines, acupuncture is another frequently used tool of treatment in Chinese medicine. Its history antedates written Chinese language, but acupuncture was not fully developed until after the Han dynasty. Its theoretical base is the adjustment of chi, or the flow of life energy. Chi flows through the body via the system of ‘main and collateral channels’ of the body. At certain points along these channels, acupuncture needles may be inserted, or Chinese mugwort burned, to adjust imbalances in the flow of chi, and concentrate the body’s self-healing powers at the points most needed.