Traditional Chinese Medicine - Time-honored History of TCM

shennong gathering herbs

Time-honored History of TCM

The ancestors of the Chinese people originally inhabited in China’s Yellow River Basin, which therefore served as the origin of TCM. A legend goes that “Shennong tasted one hundred herbs…… experienced 70 kinds of poisonous herbs in one day”, which vividly reflects the arduous efforts that the ancient people made for discovering medicines and accumulating the experience in disease treatment during the process of fighting against the nature and diseases, and also shows that the TCM originated from productive labor.
Apart from herbs, following the development of fishing and hunting and use of fire, people were able to obtain more meat, fish and shellfish food, and so they gradually accumulated the knowledge about animal-based and mineral medicines.
As early as in Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties, medicinal liquor and decoction already emerged in China. The decoction, as one of the main dosage forms of TCM, was invented by Prime Minister. Yi Yin during Emperor Shangtang’s reign according to legends, and Yi Yin also wrote 32 volumes of Decoction Prescription, which, however, have been lost. The inscriptions on oracle bones in Shang Dynasty contain the records of medical health and over 10 kinds of diseases.
The book Shi Jing (The Book of Songs), written in the Western Zhou Dynasty and recording over 50 medicinal herbs including Leonurus, the fruit of Chinese wolfberry and sweet wormwood, Is the earliest existing book about the medicines in China. Zhou Li(The Rites of Zhou) classified medical personnel into food doctors, Internists, surgeons, and veterinarians. The diagnosis methods like observation, auscultation and olfaction, inquiry and palpation and the therapeutic methods such as medicines, acupuncture and moxibustion and surgery were already used in the Zhou Dynasty. According to the records of Zuo Zhuan(Chronicle of Zuo), in the Spring and Autumn Period, the doctor was called Yiyan in the State of Jin. Yihuan and Yihe in the State of Qin, as well as Qiyi (doctor in the State of Qi)and Chuyi (doctor in the State of Chu), all of which were the official doctors at that time. The famous doctor in the Warring States Period Bian Que was proficient in observation and palpation, and left behind many splendid cases.
Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon), finished in the Spring-Autumn Period(770B.C.-476B.C.)& the Warring States Period(475B.C.-221B.C.), is the existing oldest medical book in China. In the form of dialogue between Huangdi(Yellow Emperor)and his teacher Qi Bo about medicine, Huangdi Neijing discusses the relation between human and the nature, physiology, pathology, diagnosis, disease prevention knowledge, meridian and the general principle of collateral & acupuncture point, acupuncture methods and acupuncture cure, and basically forms the theoretical system and the way of thinking of TCM.
In the late Eastern Han Dynasty, there appeared an outstanding therapist whose name was Zhang Zhongjing Because of the prevailing plague and the chaos caused by war, over 100 people in Zhang Zhongjing’s clan lost their lives out of communicable diseases. For this reason, Zhang made up his mind to spend his whole life on studying medicines, and after analyzing the earlier medical books and performing abundant therapic practices, he successfully wrote the book Shanghan Zabing Lun (Treatise on Cold Pathogenic and Miscellaneous Diseases), particularly describing disease verification, diagnosis and curing principle of many diseases. It hence laid a solid foundation for TCM’s diagnosis and treatment principle and the development of TCM prescription and became a standard for the later prescription books.
The ancient Chinese people in Han Dynasty were able to master a relatively high level of science and technology. According to the History of the Three Kingdoms, Hua Tuo, a famous doctor, could perform many kinds of surgeons for patients under general anesthesia by using ” Mafeisan”(powder for anesthesia) at that time, and besides. he also created the Five-animal Exercises, which has been regarded as the classic gymnastics form.
By summing up the theories and experience of the predecessors, Sun Simiao in the Tang Dynasty, who was called the”King of Medicine”, collected over 5,000 prescriptions and adopted the treatment based on syndrome differentiation. After the Tang Dynasty, a lot of works and theories concerning TCM were introduced to Korean. Japan, and countries and regions in Central Asia and Western Asia, etc. During the Song Dynasty, some valuable work for medical development was carried out by the court such as setting up the Imperial Medical Academy, dividing the medicine to systematical branches, unifying the position of the acupoint, and publishing the Tu Jing, (Illustrated Classics). During the following long period, famous doctors and medical classics came forth in large numbers, various academic schools formed, different specialties such as paediatrics, gynaecology, and surgery had been maturing gradually, and people’s understanding about the effect, preparation and compatibility of medicines had been improving. But all the development and progress of TCM was based on the theoretical system established by classics of TCM, which means that the modes of thinking of TCM in understanding the life and disease have never been changed, and that’s why until today, TCM, as an ancient science, still enjoys strong vitality.

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