Posts Tagged ‘Chinese medicine history’
Nov 29, 2011
“And when you do find one, observe with care…they almost always have crystals in their hearts.”
From Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
To understand Chinese medicine better, we also have to think about how acupuncture and Chinese medicine conceptualize and describe the body.
The Language of Acupuncture and Chinese medicine
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine is a comprehensive medical system with it own diagnosis and treatment. The terminology and language is also unique.
Sometimes, acupuncture language may sound a little magical. We may say that a headache is caused by liver qi stagnation in one person but in another person it may be from heat. Similarly, anxiety can come from heart blood vacuity but it also can be related to heat irritating the heart.
It is very important that the language and theory is consistent throughout the acupuncture diagnosis and treatment. In fact, if the wrong diagnosis is made, say heat instead of liver qi stagnation, the incorrect treatment will be used which can make the condition worse.
I like to think of these imbalances as metaphors describing the symptoms of your illness.
A Scholarly History
The causes and treatment of disease have been debated, discussed, and experimented with by clinicians and scholars throughout the more than 2500 years of Chinese medicine history.
They have evolved, as historian Paul Unschuld has written, into a system of medical correspondences. These debates still continue today about the best methods to approach and treat different diseases.
Health in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine view health as a state of balance in the body, as well as balance within the enviornment.
Some of the most common imbalances pertain to the body’s energy, or qi. The qi can be too little, what we call qi vacuity, or it may not circulate as it should, called qi stagnation.
Other imbalances coorespond to the enviornment. Cold, heat, dryness, and wind can all cause diseases.
The Body Acupuncture
Acupuncture visualizes the body as a complex interconnected web. Meridians travelling throughout the body, connecting the surface to the interior, the upper body with the lower body.
The body’s energy circulates freely. If there is too little energy or if the energy gets stuck, imbalances occur. A build up of any imbalance, heat, cold, stagnation, or others leads to developing into an illness.
To correct the imbalance, we use acupuncture points and treatment methods specific to your imbalance.
For example, a headache from liver qi stagnation, we could use the acupuncture points LI 4, Liver 3, and Liver 14. But if it is from heat, we may choose Liver 2, Gallbladder 34, and San Jiao 5.
Mar 26, 2009
The birth of the Chinese medicine tradition, which has carried on till today, occurred when the Chinese developed the viewpoint that disease is caused by forces in the natural world rather than spiritual forces. And through the healthy choices, we can influence our own health. This post is based upon ideas from Paul Unschuld’s fabulous book, Medicine in China.
Originally, disease theory in China was based upon a shamanistic view that illness was caused by evil spirits. The first record we have of healers in China dates back to the Shang dynasty. The religion of the day was ancestor worship. They believed the living and the dead lived side by side. The living worked hard to worship and please their ancestors. If not, one’s dead relatives will seek revenge, causing every tragedy known to man, including illnesses.
In order to pacify their ancestor’s wrath, people would follow extensive rituals of praise and sacrifice. If someone became sick, they would hire a Shaman who interpreted oracles and communicated with the dead in order to appease one’s ancestors. During later tumultuous political times, these benevolent ancestors transformed into demons, who were only controlled through the Shamen.
Personal responsibility, nor any means of physical treatment, were not considered factors for good health.
Later, in the Qin and Han dynasties, we see a change in the dominant Chinese world view. During this time, the Chinese were gaining control of their surroundings, the feudal wars were concluded, and a united Chinese government emerged. Many naturalistic philosophies developed based upon the balance of the universe, such as the yin-yang and five phase theory.
Confucianism also developed during this period which strongly espoused a code of ethics based on propriety, ritual, and hierarchy. Each individual within society, from the peasant farmer to the king, has a specific role to fulfill, and if everybody fulfilled these roles, society would function well.
Much of Chinese medicine which is still used today developed during this time period. Instead of demons or ancestors causing illness, the pathogenic influences from the natural world (wind, dampness, heat, dryness) or imbalances within the individuals result in disease. Health was maintained by a proper balance of yin and yang and the five phases within the body.
These ideas lead to the use of preventative medicine. Measures such as staying out of the cold and wind and practicing moderation were utilized. In cases of illness, physicians developed treatments using herbs, acupuncture, and massage.
In certain ways, we are seeing a similar pattern happening in modern medicine. The idea that good habits and preventative medicine can help you live longer and better are becoming popular. The old ideas that you have no control over your own health are dying.
Now we are turning back towards ideas that Chinese Medicine developed over 2000 years ago. Physicians and patients are looking towards holistic techniques in healing and now believe you can actively improve your own health.
Photo: Library of Congress