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Traditional Chinese Medicine

Illustration showing acupuncture points on the head and neck, China, c. 1621-1627.

Illustration showing acupuncture points on the head and neck, China, c. 1621-1627.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated in China well over 2000 years ago, but has since spread to almost every corner of the world. Today, nearly a quarter of the world’s population use TCM as a first resort. Based on treatments that attempt to restore balance and harmony to the body, TCM has become increasingly popular in the West in recent years.

Central to TCM is a belief in the energy force known as qi (chi). In a healthy body, this life force flows smoothly and strongly through the body. Should this force become weakened or even blocked, illness is likely to result. Qi is composed of opposing elements - yin and yang - which also need to be kept in balance for good health.

Preventing health problems before they arise is as important as treating them in TCM. Knowledge of a person’s lifestyle is an important consideration for a doctor of TCM. Diet, exercise, sleep and the surrounding environment are all important factors when assessing a patient. If treatment is prescribed, TCM offers a range of therapies including acupuncturemoxibustion - the burning of a herb on or near the skin - and numerous combinations of herbal medicines.

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Related links

External links:


J Farquar, Knowing Practice, The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine (Bolder CO: Westview Press, 1994)

D Hoizey and M J Hoizey, A History of Chinese Medicine (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988)

T J Kaptchuk, The Web That Has No Weaver (Chicago: Contemporary Books, revised edition, 2000)

S Kuriyama, The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine (New York: Zone Books, 2002)

J Needham, Science and Civilisation in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

V Scheid, Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2002)

P U Unshuld, Medicine in China. Historical Artifacts and Images (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2000)

P U Unshuld, Medicine in China. A History of Ideas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)

P U Unschuld, 'Traditional Chinese Medicine: Some Historical and Epistemological Reflections', Social Science and Medicine, 24 (1987), pp 1023-1029