Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is one of the oldest medical systems in the world. It has more than 5000 years of continuous, uninterrupted written history (in the same language). Chinese medicine has a unique, sophisticated and complex theoretical medical system, including yin yang theory, five elements theory, meridian theory, etc., to understand diseases from a holistic perspective and guide doctors in their diagnosis and treatment.
Chinese medicine is an extensive, complicated system including herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, tui na, qigong, tai chi, gua sha, bone-setting, food therapy, etc. There are nearly 50 kinds of natural therapies. Herbal medicine is the major component of traditional Chinese medicine - it encompasses more than 3000 types of herbs and millions of formulae. Chinese medicine protects intellectual property; traditionally, the valuable knowledge was only passed down within the family, from one generation to the next.
Traditional Chinese medicine is more like art than scientific technology – herbal medicine and acupuncture to the TCM doctor is very much like pen and paint to the artist. The tools are the same, but the final works are very different and of varying value. Chinese medicine is not standardised like Western medicine. TCM doctor training in the medical school is basic training, mainly academic and principle-based; clinical treatment depends upon the individual doctor’s understanding, skills and experience. TCM is highly flexible and is dependent upon the doctor’s own design.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complex and mysterious component of Chinese traditional culture. Through acquiring knowledge about Chinese medicine, one can also improve one’s understanding of Chinese culture to some extent.
Firstly, to understand TCM, it is helpful to start from an overview on China. China, for thousands of years until the 16th Century, was one of the most highly civilised countries in the world. This is evidenced in accounts about China from Western scholars and visitors during the 16th Century. In addition to the well-known four great ancient Chinese inventions: compass, gunpowder, papermaking and printing, the ancient Chinese achieved a high level in farming, iron and copper metallurgy, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, porcelain, silk, wine making, etc.
China is a country which has used the same language, continuously recording its history, culture and medicine, from the beginning of the nation’s history. Thus, even today, ancient transcripts can still be read, researched and republished.
In the old days, China had extensive communications and trade with neighbouring countries. Chinese culture therefore contained and preserved some content of the cultures of those countries. For example, China has still well-preserved the most comprehensive Buddhist scrolls, which were brought to China over a thousand years ago. Some herbal medicines originate from other countries: saffron was originally from Iran and senna was from India.
China is a vast country, with various climates and environments; it is also one of the countries which has the most wild plants and animal species.
The preservation of cultural heritage had become an important tradition in Chinese history. Almost all dynasties had specialised government departments responsible for the national collection of books. For example, the Siku Quanshu (Imperial Collection of Four), commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty, was even larger than the Ming Dynasty’s Yongle Encyclopaedia (published in 1403), which was the world's largest encyclopaedia at the time. The compilation took ten years (1773-1782) and involved around 4000 scholars and workers. Over 10,000 manuscripts from the imperial collections were bound in 36,381 volumes with more than 79,000 chapters, comprising about 2.3 million pages and approximately 800 million Chinese characters.
Numerous individual intellectuals also contributed their efforts to the inheritance of knowledge. One of particular relevance to TCM is Li Shizhen, who wrote the Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica), which records 1,892 natural medicines systematically and comprehensively, 11,096 formulae and contains 1,160 illustrations. To write Bencao Gangmu (published in 1596), Li Shizhen referenced over 800 medical books and spent 30 years on writing and field study. Bencao Gangmu is considered a summary work of all Chinese medicine before the 16th century; it is the largest traditional Chinese medicine book and has been translated into over 20 languages.
The above factors reflect the foundations and conditions of TCM’s formation and development.
Every nation, through battles with diseases, accumulated specific knowledge, techniques and remedies, forming their traditional medicine. Due to the above reasons, TCM stands out in particular as an extensive, developed medical system. It has survived, despite the widespread influence of modern Western medicine, whereas traditional medicines in other societies may have gradually become extinct. From this perspective, TCM can be considered a world heritage treasure.
TCM is an extensive, complicated, vast system, with the following features:
1) It has a set of unique, sophisticated medical theories, including yin yang theory, five elements theory, zhang fu theory, meridian theory, qi xue theory, etc.
2) It has more than 50 different treatment therapies, including: herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, tai chi, qigong, tui na, gua sha, etc.
3) Chinese medicine has been developed into different departments: including, TCM internal medicine, TCM surgery, TCM paediatrics, TCM Gynecology, TCM ENT, TCM Ophthalmology, TCM rehabilitation, etc. Recently, TCM and Western medicine combined department has also emerged.
4) TCM diagnosis techniques include: wang, wen, wen, que, meaning: watching, smelling/hearing, asking questions and feeling the pulse.
5) The major body of TCM is natural medicine. According to a Chinese medical dictionary published in 2010, TCM has 12,807 natural medicines, including herbs (11,146), animal products (1,581) and mineral products (80).
6) Another characteristic of Chinese medicine is combined usage of herbal medicine, called herbal formulae, to increase the therapeutic effect and avoid possible side effects. In Chinese medical history, the biggest formulae book, called Pu Ji Fang, published in 1406, was divided into 168 volumes and recorded 61,739 formulae. Over 90,000 formulae have been recorded recently.
现代生命科学的研究，划分为整体水平，器官与组织水平及细胞与分子水平等。由于研究环境及条件的变化和限制，现代西医整体水平的研究远逊于传统中医。 又由于各种水平的研究，从医学的角度最终都是为整体服务的，所以， 作为世界最高水平的整体水平的医学，中华医学在当今显得极为难能可贵。有人攻击中医不科学或伪科学， 不是出于无知就是别有用心。 许多中医生技能不足， 看不好什麽病， 不等于中医药无效。 针和药对于中医生而言只是工具而已，正如笔和墨只是画家的工具一样。画家出不了好作品， 不能责怪笔墨。
· 当今世界绝大多数西医认为不可治愈的疾患， 其实均可用中医的药物和疗法所治愈。 其成功的例子， 随时随处可见。
· 中药的疗效与西药一样迅速， 认为中药疗效慢的观点是错误的。 因为中西药物的成分本质上都是化合物， 只不过中药来自天然生成，西药主要为人工合成。
· 中药的成分远比西药复杂丰富， 功效全面。人工怎能比天工。
· 中医的针灸，推拿，气功，药物及健康养身理念和防病治病经验均具有保密性， 唯一性，恒久性，难以竞争性及不可超越性。
· 中华医药学是中国传统文化中最神秘最奥妙的部分，正是由于它的神秘和奥妙，使得它在近代国内沧桑巨变的条件下及国际复杂纷纭的环境中得以生存和发展。它们的功效目前在包括中国在内的全球范围内连1%都未应用到。当它的神秘面纱被揭开时， 世界将会为之震动。