Brief History of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The English phrase “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (and its corresponding abbreviation TCM) were created in the 1950s by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) so that Chinese medicine could be exported (and hopefully adopted) throughout the world.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a range of diverse medical practices originating in China have been developed and practiced over several thousand years, and its history is long, detailed, and complex.
Instead of going into too much complex detail, we will restrict this discussion to a brief discussion of the history of two TCM treatments – Acupuncture and Chinese Food Therapy.

3,000 BC

Acupuncture is generally believed to have originated in China, and can be traced back to at least several hundred years BC and perhaps even as early as 1,000 to 3,000 BC or more. The Chinese medical text that first describes Acupuncture is The Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine (from 305204 B.C.).
Forms of Acupuncture also include Chimsul, which is part of traditional Korean medicine, and Kampo, which is part of traditional Japanese medicine.

Ancient Acupuncture

However, Acupuncture may be even older than this. A primitive Acupuncture-like therapy was believed to have been practiced in India around 7,000 years ago, and Stone Age humans used fishbone needles in China 5,000 years ago to perform Acupuncture-like therapy. In the 1970s, studies of a 5,000 year old human body discovered in the Alps, named Ötzi, revealed more than 50 tattoos, of which several are positioned on Acupuncture Points.

In addition, sharp stones, called Bian Stones, have been discovered in ancient ruins and are believed to have been used in the treatment of a range of ailments, and these may have been used to perform techniques which are comparable to Acupuncture. Some researchers also believe that these stones may have been used for bloodletting, a practice that may predate Acupuncture.

The Chinese Communist Party

In the 1960s, the Chinese Communist Party displayed a great deal of hostility towards all forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (including Acupuncture), and ridiculed it as irrational, backwards, and based on superstition. However, the Party later reversed its position, and Chairman Mao proclaimed:
“Chinese medicine and pharmacology are a great treasure house and efforts should be made to explore them and raise them to a higher level”.

After this complete change of tack, government researchers were sent throughout China to collect and document the practices and theories of traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the official Chinese medicine practice that was derived from this research.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) includes Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, and other, but not all, types of classical Chinese treatments. Following the Cultural Revolution in China, teachings based on Traditional Chinese Medicine were included in medical programs at university under a policy known as the “Three Roads Policy”. However, some classical forms of Chinese medicine were not included in TCM and were outlawed, forcing their practitioners either to change their treatments or leave China.

The initial practicing of Acupuncture in the United States was performed by these non-TCM practitioners, most of whom used forms that had been passed from parent to child or from master to apprentice for many centuries.

Chinese Food Therapy is believed to have originated as early as 2000 BC. Ancient Chinese Food Therapy texts exist today that date back as far as 500 BC. One of the most important works that forms the basis of Chinese Food Therapy is The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, also known as the Niejing, which dates to around 300 BC.