TCM Series Intro Notes: The History of Chinese Medicine P1

(c) 2012, Chraeloos Resident
Welcome everyone to the Traditional Oriental Medicine series. Thank you for coming! Please tip if you feel so inclined. All tips are split between the venue and myself in order to keep these events going and to enable the growth of the sim. The tip jar is one of the candles on the table. If you’d like a copy of today’s notes you can find them in another candle on the table.

Thank you for visiting Peaceful Dragon Oriental Medicine Centre! The centre is currently under construction, but is intended to be an Oriental medicine learning centre. If you have a suggestion for an activity or an event here, please contact either Xandria Winterwolf or myself.

I just want to remind everyone that none of the information presented here is advice and therefore should not be put into practice without first consulting a professional.

Today we will focus on the history of Chinese medicine, with some added notes about things we’ve previously talked about..

The main sources used today are: “Essentials of Chinese Medicine, Vol. 1”, “Traditional Chinese Medicine” by Daniel Reid, “Natural Healing Wisdom and Know-how” compiled by Amy Rost


Chinese Medicine emerged in the ancient Shamanic systems of China, and grew with the beliefs of Taoism. The theoretical foundations emerged, as far as we have records, in the fourth the first centuries BC with “Huangdi’s Internal Classic”. This was followed by the “Classic on Medical Problems” in the First Century BC. This work elaborated on the medical theories of “Huangdi’s Internal Classic.” The clinical medicine model then emerged at the end of the second century AD with the “Treatise on Cold-Attack and Miscellaneous Diseases”, which gave diagnosis based on the Six Meridians Theory. Next was the earliest materia medica, “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic,” in the first to second centuries AD. This was a compilation and basic theory of 365 Chinese herbs and their properties, classification, and flavors.

Prior to the emergence of professional physicians in the Chou dynasty (1122-249 BC), Chinese medicine was the exlusive domain of tribal shamans (wu). These people practiced with herbs for healing from the mountains. They were the first to test and categorize the herbs.

“References to thirty-six different diseases and their herbal cures have been found inscribed on some of the 160,000 tortoise shells and oracle bones excavated during the twentieth century in the Central Plain region, dating mainly form the ancien Yin dynasty, circa 1500 BC. This proves that disease and medicine had already become a sytematic field of study in China, if not an actual profession, as long as thirty-five hundred years ago.”

“”Huangdi’s Internal Classic” conatins the popular thesis on the relationship between man and nature: “VItal qi is connected with nature.” It means that the vital activities of the human body are closely linked to activities in the universe. Firstly, the human body relies on the unceasing exchanges of both substance and energy with the natural environment to sustain life functions – ie. the digestion and absorption of foods, excretion and breathing. Secondly, the human body is capable of continual adaptation to the natural environment. When the days are hot, Qi and blood move toward the body surface, as manifested by profuse sweating and decreased urine, in order to regulate the body temperature, and when the days are cold, Qi and blood move away from the body surface, as manifested by increased urine and decreased sweating. Thirdly, the human body is not completely passive when adapting to changes in the natural environment. Indeed, once familiar with the regularities of the environment, the human body actively adjusts its activities as appropriate to the changes in the environment.”

Western scholars still refer to this period of Chinese history as mythical and refer to the founding emperor Huang Ti (the Yellow Emperor) as legendary. However, recent archaeological excavations have confirmed the existence of a major civilization that flourished in the Yellow River basin around 3000 BC, governed by an emperor named Huang Ti.

In 218 BC, the militant kingdom of Chin conquered all the warring kingdoms and principalities, uniting the empire under a single centralized government for the first time in Chinese history. In his ruthless drive to eradicate all vestiges of the past, the first Chin emperor ordered the infamous Fires of Chin, a mass book-durning campaign in which virtually all written records of ancient China’s classical heritage went up in flames.The only exceptions to this wholesale destruction of recorded knowledge were books on agriculture, divination (including the I-Ching), and medicine. Because of this, much of the knowledge and records that would help us in understanding these ancient times and the progression of ancient medicine are destroyed.


The body must adapt to changes in the seasons and in yin-yang. The entire environment has great influence over the human body and therefore all practitioners should take into consideration all possible external factors when diagnosing a patient.

The Chinese figured out the connection of microcosmic and macrocosmic because of necessity. The first signs of the TCM theories of qi, yin-yang, and the five elements all appeared in approx. fifth century BC (or earlier; according to some the theories go back as much as ten thousand years ago). Some feel that they are found to emerge here because of the major cultural shifts going on at the time. The period from the Warring States to the Qin and Han dynasties (fifth century BC to first century AD) showed the shift from a system of slavery to a feudal one. Many sciences and philosophies (biology, anthropology, calendar, mathematics, etc.) emerged here. During this time there emerged a medical classic – “Huangdi’s Internal Classic” which explained the laws of life and the unity of the body with the natural world. “It provided a systemic discussion of anatomy – the viscera and meridians – physiology, and pathology.” It also described the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases.

In ancient China, before Chinese medicine was established, ghosts and gods were believed to be responsible for illness. When patients were ill they would turn to a sorcerer or sorceress and devout prayer for help. CM counters this belief and argues that illness is a natural and avoidable phenomenon. The reason for this is that as the year has the various weather changes of the seasons so can the human body be in states of health or illness.

CM also rejects the notion of incurability and considers that if an illness is not cured it is because the physician’s knowledge of the illness is not correct, not clear or not adequate, or because an effective therapy has not yet been found.

“Because nature is the most obvious and enduring manifestation of Tao on earth, much of the traditional terminology of Chinese medicine is derived directly from natural phenomena (fire and water, wind and heat, dryness and dampness, etc.), and a traditional Chinese diagnosis often sounds more like a weather report than a medical analysis.”

“Because the microcosmic energy system of humans (ren) stands midway between the cosmic powers of Heaven (tien) and the natural forces of Earth (di), drawing power from both sources, human health depends not only on internal energy balance within the system, but also on harmony with the macrocosmic powers of Heaven (the cosmos) and Earth (nature).”


And for today we will leave it there. Any questions or comments?


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