Traditional Chinese Medicine History, Then and Now

An Oriental Medicine orientation.

| March/April 2005

  • Qi gong is a stress-relieving therapeutic exercise that often includes deep breathing and visualization.

It may come as a surprise, but Cher, U.S. Tour de France cyclist George Hincapie and U.S. Olympic high jumper Amy Acuff do have at least one thing in common: They all use Oriental Medicine (OM), a 3,000-year-old health-care system that originated in China. Also known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (see “Explaining the Terms” on Page 39), this system uses herbal medicine, acupuncture, nutritional therapy and therapeutic massage.

Nearing her 60th birthday, Cher gets regular acupuncture treatments to help maintain her youthful beauty. Hincapie, a seven-time Tour de France competitor who played a pivotal role in Lance Armstrong’s six triumphs, turned to OM after conventional medicine failed to help him overcome several career-threatening illnesses. The OM treatments returned him to optimum health and performance, and he now uses OM as his primary health-care modality.

In a recent interview with USA Today, Acuff credits acupuncture treatments for keeping her free of major injuries during the four years she trained for the 2004 Athens Olympics. She plans to practice OM and will graduate from an Oriental medical college this spring.

Although new to many Americans, OM has an ancient legacy of leading the world in scientific discoveries, and many international studies indicate Oriental medical therapies can improve health and quality of life.

First to Come, First to Serve

What we now call “Oriental Medicine” originated in China. In his encyclopedic multivolume Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge University Press, 1956-1961), the eminent sinologist Joseph Needham reported that Chinese physicians began recording medical knowledge on tortoise shells and cattle bones between 1700 and 1027 B.C. By 200 B.C., Chinese physicians had medical knowledge unmatched by Western physicians until centuries later.

Chinese physicians correctly understood blood circulation and heart function by 200 B.C., about 1,800 years before Western physicians. By this time, Chinese scientists also were explaining some physiological phenomena as manifestations of a vital force called qi (pronounced chee) that circulates throughout the body and can be manipulated by massage and acupuncture to ameliorate disease.

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