We are a Part of Nature
Chinese medicines has been practiced in China for thousands of years. It is the main part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is called in China as zhong yao (中药), which should be translated as Chinese herbal medicines. The term Chinese medicine often cause confusion with zhongyi (中医) -- Chinese medicine, a system of diagnosis and treatment.
Clinical TCM theories about syndrome diagnosis and treatment are mostly from the practice of herbs.
When certain herbs were effective to certain condition, and ancient doctors could explain it with
philosophies, then they named the condition as a fixed pattern of syndrome. In this way, TCM system was expanding.
In the past decade, all universities simplified their English name as Chinese medicine university.
Interestingly the term traditional Chinese medicine remains by the regulatory body. So now Chinese medicine has two meanings. One refers to traditional Chinese medicine (in contrast with Western medicine), the other means Chinese herbal medicine or Chinese herbs.
In its long history in China, Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use herbs and acupuncture
to fight all kinds of diseases. They wrote down their successful experiences and found answers why they could cure diseases in theories of Chinese philosophies. The whole medical system -- physiology, pathology, etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment, all are organized in the philosophical system. It is not unwise to say that traditional Chinese medicine is an outcome from therapeutic experiment directly on our human body instead on white rats, so its safety had been proved far before the establishment of Western medicine system.
There are three sets of ancient Chinese philosophies applied into traditional Chinese medicine. They are Qi (气), Yin Yang (阴阳), and Five Elements (五行). They categorize the natural world and our human being body into one, two and five respectively.
Everything is qi, everything is consists of qi, life comes from qi, life disappears in forms of qi. The environment in sky is called Tian Qi (sky qi), that in the woods or at beach or above desert are called Di Qi (earth qi); When one gets angary, his liver qi will gush out, when one won lottery, his heart qi will become pleasant; when water in a pot above a stove gets bubbling, qi (steam) would get its way out. Qi isa daily word in Chinese people's life.
The forms of qi is countless, but can be group into two, yin qi and yang qi, simplified as yin and yang. Yin Yang philosophers believe that life comes from the movement or interaction of Yin and Yang. Yin represents cooling, quiet, downward, soft, hiding, female, etc, while Yang refers to warming, noisy, upward, hard, showing, male, etc. Yin and Yang are opposite to each other and also relies on each other. The colorful life in this dynamic world comes from interaction of Yin and Yang.
This seems very abstract and hard to be understood, but take computer language as example, things would become very straight forward. The basic computer calculating unit is 1 and 0. Lining up these two symbols in different order and length, could create everything as our modern desk top can do.
Qi or yin qi and yang qi could fall into five categories, metal, mood, water, fire and earth. There are five types of personalities, five yin internal organs, five yang internal organs, five tastes, five kinds of fluid in the body, and five seasons, five colors, five body orifices, five special acupoints below elbows and knees, etc.
So these three sets of ancient Chinese wisdom are mixed to understand body structure and function, herbs properties, acupoints relations, etc. In contrast with Western medicine which sits on modern science (chemistry, biology, physics, etc), traditional Chinese medicine, an empirical medicine, is submerged in Chinese ancient philosophies.
In traditional Chinese medicine "anatomy", the center of the body are the five zang (internal) organs. These five zang organs are the heart, lung, liver, spleen and kidney. They are superior to six fu organs(small intestine, large intestine, gall bladder, stomach, and urinary bladder) and governs five sense organs (tongue, nose, eyes, mouth, ears) respectively. These five zang organs also control five body parts (blood vessels, skin/pores, tendons/facias, muscles, bone) respectively.
The body has its essential substances to maintain its function. They are qi, blood, body fluid and essence. Five zang organs produce and store these substances. All body parts rely on these essentials. There arechannels and collaterals conduct these materials away from five zang organs. The word "Zang" means hiding or staying in deeper part of the body.
Take several elements as example. In wood category in our body, there are liver, gall bladder, tendons, nails, eyes; in earth group, there are spleen, stomach, four limb muscles, lips, mouth; in fire category, there heart, small intestine, blood vessels, face, tongue. So in this way, five element theory binds the body parts from the internal to the external highly efficiently.
Traditional Chinese medicine gives its priority to etiology, or understand what causes a illness. There arevarious kinds of pathological factors in traditional Chinese medicine. They are external and internal factorcausing different diseases. The external are six climatic factors (wind, cold, shu, heat, dryness,dampness). The internal are seven emotions (anger, joy, grief, worry, pensiveness, fear, fright). There areothers: imbalance of diet, mental and physical activity, trauma, insect/animal bite, etc. These factorscause yin yang imbalance, qi and blood disorder, and dysfunction of internal organs.
Syndrome (zheng, 证) is the soul in TCM system. TCM relies on syndrome differentiation to understand the underlying cause for a disease, to guide its treatment, and to avoid side effect from herbal treatment as well as from acupuncture treatment. Syndrome is a comprehensive concept of the cause of a disorder, heat type or cold type of a disease, excess type or deficiency type, and which area or site involved.
There are about seven or eight modules of syndrome differentiation in TCM diagnosis textbook. Each has its own clinical preference for certain kind of disorders. syndrome come from analyzing a group the relevant symptoms and signs. TCM collects these symptoms and signs through inspection (viewing, wang, 望), smelling and listening (wen, 闻), inquiry (wen, 问), and palpation (qie, 切)
In TCM treatment tool box, herbal medicine is the most popular tool which is used to treat majority of disorder in eastern countries. The second tool is acupuncture, it includes cupping, maxa, etc. The third include is tui na (massage). The rest tools are shi liao (diet therapy), qi gong (meditation), tai ji quang (tai ji marshal art), etc.
The goal of TCM treatment is to restore balance of yin and yang, restore harmony of qi, blood and body fluid. It emphases customized treatment to different individuals, and stresses disease prevention through avoiding xie qi (pathogen) and building up zheng qi (resistance).
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