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chinese-medicineChinese civilization has for thousands of years been one of the most advanced in the world. China is the land of grandiose architectural monuments, deeply-rooted traditions, unique philosophy and mysterious poetry, a diverse and difficult language, and an enigmatic mentality—a land of great accomplishments and terrible historical cataclysms. When speaking of China, one probably imagines Buddhist monks, temples in which students master the arts of peace and war, overpopulated megalopolises, exotic food, and incomprehensible (for a laowai: a foreigner) customs and lifestyle. But along with this, one of the most notable legacies of Chinese civilization is its traditional medicine.

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It is not a secret that Chinese people live long—sometimes, incredibly long. If you have watched travel shows on Discovery or similar channels dedicated to China, you must have seen those old men and women, who, in their 80s or even 90s, look like a western person in their 60s. You must have also been amazed by how graciously and actively they move when doing physical exercises in open air—Chinese elderly people love them; it is called Tai Chi Quan, a mix of martial arts and gymnastics. Perhaps the question you kept asking yourself when seeing this was, “How? How is it possible that a person born somewhere in 1930s can look, move, and feel much younger that their age suggests?” One of the answers to this question is Chinese medicine.

To start with, Chinese medicine approaches health issues in a way different from what we have become accustomed to in the West. In particular, traditional Chinese medicine does not view body malfunctioning and diseases as separate, particular phenomenons, but rather as consistent patterns, legitimacies, which can be cured only through analyzing and treating a body as a holistic system, in which everything is interconnected. Therefore, Chinese medicine does not (or rarely) prescribe ailments for specific conditions, but focuses on treating the whole body instead. A big part of such approach belongs to the relationship between Yin and Yang—shortly put, two levels of energy flowing through everything that surrounds us. When there is harmony between these two flows of energy, a body is harmonious and healthy as well; when there is a imbalance, different kinds of maladies occur. Yin represents the feminine, “passive” energy, calm and gentle, whereas Yang comprises aggressiveness and hardness—features that men are usually imbued with (Taiwanese Secrets). The goal of treatment in Chinese medicine is to bring balance to the relationship between Yin and Yang.

Based on such an approach, Chinese doctors have for thousands of years developed their arts of therapy and treatment. China’s traditional medicine widely utilizes methods that are considered unconventional in the West, but which have nevertheless been proven in their efficiency. Along with Qi-gong, Tai Chi, or Wushu, all of which are closely related to manipulating energies, Chinese medicine also relies on herbs, acupuncture, and massage. However, as it often occurs in Asia, it is not all that simple.

Herbal therapy is probably among the most-commonly used types of therapy in China. It focuses on both treating a disease, and preventing it from occurring again in the future. There are 5,767 medicinal substances used by Chinese traditional medicine at the moment, and not all of them are herbs: a person undergoing such therapy may encounter rather exotic ingredients from which the ailments are made, such as insects, animal genitals, tiger claws, and so on. There are also several forms in which medicine can be made: 1) herbal decoctions, which are the most traditional and “acceptable” to the western mind. These decoctions can take a long time to make, and are famous (or better said, infamous) for their strong scent and taste; 2) herbal powders, from which, with the addition of water, the aforementioned “teas” can be made. Since they possess a weaker aroma and taste better, they are more popular in the West as compared to decoctions; 3) syrups, which are mostly used to treat children from light illnesses, such as cough, common cold, and sore throat; 4) liniments, compressors, and plasters applied externally. All of these, as well as other methods, are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine both inside and outside China (University of Minnesota). However, perhaps only in China you will be able to find the most efficient and exotic ailments, since some ingredients for them cannot be found outside of this country.

Massage is yet another common method of treatment widely used in Chinese medicine. The type of massage described below originates from Taiwan, and is called the Taiwanese knife massage. It dates back over 2000 years, and in other places outside of Taiwan, it has completely disappeared. As exotic as it sounds, the knife massage is also claimed to be more effective than more conventional massage techniques. These special knives are believed to penetrate muscles more deeply than in other methods, resulting in more noticeable positive health effects. The knives used for this type of massage are not regular meat cleavers—they are made specifically for masseurs, and are unlikely to cut a patient’s skin. Besides, the massage is performed through a towel, so the risks are minimal. Currently, there are about 2000 masseurs specializing in this type of massage. These days, there are around 2000 knife therapists in China, all of them living strict and disciplined lives, following special vegetarian diets, and practicing their art regularly (Skyscanner).

Yet another technique used throughout Asia for therapy and malady prevention is acupuncture, and China is the land in which the art of acupuncture had emerged and reached its climax. The first records mentioning acupuncture originated from approximately 1600 B.C., most of them being carvings made on bones, such as turtle-shells. Ancient acupuncture needles were made of stone, and were used to make skin incisions and stimulate specific points in the human body; it was believed Qi energy (or vital energy) could not flow freely through these points if they were functioning improperly, and acupuncture was supposed to break such “blocks” and let Qi flow naturally (British Acupuncture Council). Later, needles for acupuncture were made from bamboo (acos.rog). Acupuncturists are knowledgeable in using secret diagnostic techniques, and focus rather on a patient than on his or her sickness or symptoms (applying the aforementioned holistic approach). Each patient is seen as unique, and even if they possess the same diagnosis, the treatment may differ; two people with the same western diagnosis may well receive different acupuncture treatments (British Acupuncture Council).

As it can be seen, traditional Chinese medicine is as enigmatic and complex as Chinese culture. Based on principles alien to western conventional medicine, the oriental approach to therapy and treatment has been nevertheless proven to be efficient throughout centuries. Focusing on the relationship between Yin and Yang, on the flow of the vital Qi energy through a human body, Chinese therapists use a variety of methods to return a human body to healthy functioning, such as herbal decoctions, secret massage techniques, and the ancient art of acupuncture. Perhaps, people in the West should not neglect the effectiveness of Chinese medicine just because it does not use MRI scanners and modern diagnostics, and put more trust in the millenary traditions of Chinese people.

Works Cited

  1. “Chinese Medicine in Taiwan—Does It Really Work?” Taiwanese Secrets. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016. .
  2. “Chinese Herbs.” University of Minnesota. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016. .
  3. “Ancient Chinese Acupuncture.” N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016. .
  4. “What is Traditional Acupuncture?” British Acupuncture Council. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016. .
  5. Masaki-Joyce, Norina. “7 Bizarre Asian Massages You Have to Try Once.” Skyscanner. N.p., 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 Dec. 2016. .

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