History of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Much of the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine derived from Taoist philosophy, and reflects the classical Chinese belief that individual human experiences express causative principles effective in the environment at all scales. These causative principles, whether material, essential, or spiritual, correlate as the expression of the fates decreed by heaven.
During the golden age of his reign from 2696 to 2598 B.C, as a result of a dialogue with his minister Ch'i Pai, the Yellow Emperor is supposed by Chinese tradition to have composed his Neijing Suwen ((內經 素問) or Basic Questions of Internal Medicine, also known as the Huangdi Neijing. Modern scholarly opinion holds that the extant text of this title was compiled by an eponymous scholar between the Chou and Han dynasties more than two thousand years later than tradition reports, although some parts of the extant work may have originated as early as 1000 B.C.
During the Han dynasty, Chang Chung-Ching, who was mayor of Chang-sha near the end of the second century A.D., wrote a Treatise on Typhoid Fever, which contains the earliest known reference to Neijing Suwen. The Chin dynasty practitioner and advocate of acupuncture and moxibustion, Huang-fu Mi (215-282 A.D), also quotes the Yellow Emperor in his Chia I Ching, ca. 265 A.D. During the Tang dynasty, Wang Ping claimed to have located a copy of the originals of the Neijing Suwen, which he expanded and edited substantially. This work was revisited by an imperial commission during the eleventh century A.D., and the result is our best extant representation of the foundational tradition of TCM.
Contact with Western culture and medicine did not displace TCM. While there may be many sociological and anthropological factors involved in the persistent practice and, in recent decades, the westward spread of TCM, two reasons are most obvious. Firstly, TCM practices are often very effective, sometimes offering palliative efficacy where the best practices of Western medicine fail, especially for routine ailments such as flu and allergies, and manage to avoid the toxicity of chemically composed medicines. Secondly, TCM provides the only available care when resources are inadequate to import Western medical technologies.

Traditional Chinese medicine formed part of the barefoot doctor program in the People's Republic of China, which extended public health into rural areas. A large motivation behind the interest in traditional Chinese medicine by both individuals in China and the PRC government is that the cost of training a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and staffing a TCM hospital is considerably less than that of a practitioner of Western medicine, hence TCM has been seen as an integral part of extending health services in China.
Attitudes toward traditional Chinese medicine in China have been strongly influenced by Marxism and the May Fourth Movement. The notion of supernatural forces runs counter to the Marxist belief in dialectical materialism and strikes many Chinese as feudalistic and superstitious. At the same time, there is the notion of learning from the masses, and traditional Chinese medicine is seen as the distillation of thousands of years of experiences which should be respected and understood. Modern Chinese descriptions of traditional Chinese medicine tend to deemphasize the cosmological aspects of TCM and emphasize its compatibility with modern science and technology.

This article is part of NCCAM documentation in public domain...