As I enter my last year of a very demanding medical program in the study of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, I can't help but want to share this fascinating medicine with pretty much anyone and everyone that will listen to me. With that being said this will be one of many articles to come that will introduce all there is to know (in a nutshell) about Oriental Medicine. First off, to truly understand where Oriental Medicine has come from and to get an appreciation for what this medicine is all about, I will have to dive into a bit of history. I know, I know, you’re all probably thinking, “Oh no, here comes a bunch of random dates, names, and boring facts!” But stick with me—I’m going to make this as interesting!
The history of Chinese Medicine is plentiful, with many contributions coming from thousands of influences spanning over thousands of years (the Chinese civilization is one of the oldest in the world). But as promised earlier I am going to keep it short and sweet and have narrowed it down to only the most influential. Okay, here we go!
Oriental Medicine, also referred to as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dates back thousands of years ago. It is even believed, based upon archeological records, that the origins of TCM goes back some five thousand years. Wow! That's a long time ago! However, due to this lengthy timeline and the inability to write down these ancient practices, many were passed from one Chinese dynasty to the next through word of mouth. Therefore, apart from the few recorded documents, much of what is said about the origins of Chinese medicine is more legend than history. Nevertheless, to this day ancient tombs in parts of China are being discovered with remains that are adding more creditability to these so-called tales. Some of these notable legends are the emperors or rulers who are attributed as the founders and developers of the most important literature in TCM: Fu Xi, Shen Nong, and Huang Di.
Fu Xi was a cultural hero who developed the trigrams of Yi Jing (I Ching) or Book of Changes, which included the “Supreme Ultimate” or as most of you will know it, the Yin and Yang symbol. Quick fun fact: Yang is pronounced with an O not an A, “Yong!” Okay back to the story. This symbol, or more so the meaning behind it, is the concept for the Yin-Yang Theory which is deemed the single most important and distinctive theory of Chinese Medicine.
Shen Nong, a legendary emperor who lived 5000 years ago, is hailed as the "Divine Cultivator" or "Divine Farmer" for he is known as the founder of herbal medicine, the “pharmaceuticals,” if you will, of TCM. In order to determine the nature of different herbal medicines, Shen Nong sampled various kinds of plants, ingesting them himself to test and analyze their individual effects. According to the ancient texts, Shen Nong tasted “the hundred herbs,” including 70 toxic substances in a single day.
Known as the first materia medica of TCM, this text was passed down and added to throughout the generations to the current version including over 10,000 substances, consisting not only of plants but also minerals and animals as well.
Huang Di, known as the Yellow Emperor, is credited for the creation of the first written text in TCM, the “Huang Di Nei Jing” or “Yellow Emperor's Cannon of Inner Classics.” This book is one of the oldest medical texts known in the world, with differing opinions dating it back to between 200–800 BC, making it over 2000 years old. Written as a dialogue between the Yellow Emperor and his physician Qibo, the text systemized and consolidated ancient medical experience and theory into one compilation. It covers in detail the major theories of TCM and expands on the physiology, pathology, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease with the use of acupuncture and moxibustion, tui na (massage), Tai Chi (exercise), and Qi Gong (breathing) as different modalities. This cannon of Chinese medicine is known as one of the most important books in Chinese Medicine.
These famous pieces of literature as well as many other texts have withstood the test of time.
Today, modern versions are used throughout the world as textbooks for students, like me, who are learning the discipline of TCM, as well as by practitioners of Chinese medicine in the treatment and prevention of disease. To have a form of medicine start millennia ago, evolve through history and end up still being relevant in the modern world is nothing short of amazing. Don't you think? I certainly do!