China is a country thousands of years old. The history of traditional Chinese medicine is equally as old and steeped in effective pragmatism.
History of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine had its earliest beginning over five thousand years ago. This date is most likely in error as the true origins began even before this as the very first humans to live in the area of what is now China began to discover herbal cures for ailments. The accumulated knowledge of centuries was handed down from generation to generation in a verbal form. It was during the reign of the famous Yellow Emperor between 2698 B.C. and 2596 B.C. that the first written record was made.
This document was called the Neijing Suwen, or “Basic Questions of Internal Medicine.” The Neijing Suwen was lost for centuries after this time. From time to time, as the dynasties of China changed, a reference was made to this lost ancient work. Eventually, copies of it were claimed to have been discovered. This edited version may or may not have been actual copies of the original, but regardless, the traditional methods continued to be passed on in a verbal manner as had always been happening in China.
This body of knowledge and philosophy was known as Classical Chinese Medicine or CCM. It was a very complete and organized system that differed very much from traditional Western Medicine. It was much more grounded in a spiritual and philosophical base. The use of acupuncture, massage, and herbal folk medicines all became established methods of treatment and prevention of disease. The final revised version of the Neijing Suwen appeared around the 11th century AD.
When the Nationalist Government took over China at the end of the 19th century, they decided to abandon and even outlaw Classical Chinese Medicine in favor of the more Western and accepted scientific systems that were being developed in the Industrial powers of the time. This decision was based on a fear of being left behind in scientific knowledge. It can be seen as a concession to the idea that if a Nation could build bigger ships and cannons, it must have a superior medical system. However, the belief in and practice of CCM never faltered in rural China despite people being prosecuted for adhering to it.
When the Communist Government took over China, they continued the ban on CCM. Their main objection was the spiritual and religious implications and connection. The need to provide less expensive medical treatment to the masses in rural China eventually called for a rethinking of this stance. In the 1960’s, Mao Zedong finally relented and commissioned a group of the top ten doctors in China to reexamine CCM and create a standard for its practice and application. This standard is what is referred to today as Traditional Chinese Medicine.