Introduction to Chinese Medicine: a Brief History

For around 4,000 years the Chinese people have had the benefit of a comprehensive medical system. Some historians report that many of the Chinese methods actually came from India. India has early records of acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine, chiropractic, and exercise methods like yoga which preceded the traditional Chinese medicine system. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) employs an approach in which the doctor is practicing as a philosopher, a teacher of exercise, an teacher of good nutrition, an herbalist, and then lastly an acupuncturist. Like many things in China, these methods were considered secret practices and were not shared with the western world.

James Reston, a reporter, had an appendectomy performed with acupuncture analgesia in the 1971 in China. Since he was accompanying President Nixon it was widely publicized in this country . As a result, most people in this country thought of acupuncture as a way to have surgery without an anesthetic. Anesthetics were very dangerous at the time this article appeared. I once had a Chinese doctor say to me that he thought sharing with the west that acupuncture was an alternative to an anesthetic was a Communist conspiracy. In fact using acupuncture for surgical procedures is only about 70% effective and can take up to 45 minutes to induce a state of analgesia which allows a surgeon to cut into the skin. Now that the Chinese see their knowledge as a source of income they have been sharing freely with the West. Since, the 1970’s, veterinarians have been going to China to learn about Traditional Chinese Medicine. We have learned a lot of good applications for acupuncture. Chinese Medicine is far more than a way to do surgery without anesthetic agents.