Notes on Chinese Medicine

Notes on the Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is the most important non-Western medicine, and it is the only one of the medicines developed by non-Western countries that has managed, throughout history, to face the continuous achievements and advances of Western medical techniques without losing its prestige and without its foundations, development, and results being questioned. Moreover, Chinese medicine, with all the philosophical and cultural baggage it carries with it, is increasingly considered the ideal complement to Western medicine. It could be said that Chinese medicine begins where Western medicine ends and vice versa.

As a general rule it can be said that Chinese medicine considers the body as a whole and attributes the disease to the imbalance between the different elements of it, so its treatment, rather than aimed at curing a particular symptom, focuses on restoring the body’s balance, emphasizing the need for a healthy lifestyle, nutrition, relaxation, breathing exercises and other measures little used in the West.

Western medicine, unfortunately, is increasingly accustomed to treating the presentation of a specific clinical condition to return the body to its previous situation, without worrying that this previous situation will be the continuing source of new diseases. The contrast that best shows the difference between both medicines is the one that has occurred in medical practice in China, where acute diseases are treated by Western medicine, and chronic processes by traditional medicine.


Chinese medicine has 3,000 years of history. The names of some diseases, their symptoms, and treatment have been found engraved on some bones and turtle shells. In the year 1,000 B.C. there was already a body of doctors in China who followed certain methods for the treatment of diseases. In the 5th century BC, the Canon of Internal Medicine was written, in which numerous diseases, their diagnosis, and treatment were described. During the following centuries, its development was rapid, with many famous physicians appearing throughout the country. There are 14 medical treatises from that time that are still preserved today.

In the second century AD, the famous physician Hua Tuo, performed abdominal operations by anesthetizing his patients with anesthetic powders whose composition is unknown today. In the following centuries, two of the most interesting facets of this science were developed: pulse diagnosis and acupuncture. And from the 10th century onwards, it was systematized as a medical science much more advanced than the Western one, with specialists in internal medicine, surgeons, pediatricians, gynecologists, and specialists in acupuncture and medicinal massage.

Vaccines against smallpox were first used in China by Wang Qingren, at the beginning of the 19th century, before they began to be used in Europe. Parallel to medicine, a unique pharmacopeia was also developed, which, from the 365 medicinal herbs mentioned in the Canon of Materia Medica, reached the number of 2,608 medicines in the middle of the 18th century. A figure that Western medicine will only reach a few years ago. Today in China medical studies are still divided into Chinese and Western medicine. And in general, it can be said that the Chinese resort to their own medicine for chronic illnesses, and to Western medicine for acute illnesses.


Of the many Chinese medical techniques, acupuncture is the most renowned and the one that has found the most followers in the West. It basically consists of the stimulation with fine metal needles of the channels through which the body’s energy circulates. Given the connection of these channels with the organs of our body, it is achieved with it the stimulation of these organs and the treatment of diseases that affect them.

The history of acupuncture is as old as the history of medicine in China, and there is evidence that its basic principles were formulated at least 2,500 years ago. Since then it has continued to be used more and more. In all countries of the world, more and more physicians are turning to acupuncture for the treatment of various diseases. It is considered to be an effective and natural way and avoids the side effects of drugs.

Diagnosis by pulse, very important in the practice of Chinese medicine throughout history, has been little studied, understood, and appreciated in the West.

The third important practice in Chinese medicine, the study of plants, minerals, and animals useful for curing diseases, has served as the basis for the development of many modern medicines, although there are times when this contribution to medical practice is blurred by the superstitious traditions involved, such as the use of parts of tigers, rhinoceroses, and other animals for therapeutic purposes.

Chinese massage

Chinese massage is part of their traditional medicine. A perfect complement to it. Since the massage aims to stimulate the channels through which the body’s energy flows, and by a process similar to that which supports acupuncture, to improve the functioning of the organs related to that particular point.

The use of Chinese massage has spread enormously in this country. Nowadays you can receive a good massage in many hairdressers and hotels, clinics (some of them specialized in the massage of the blind, with more sensitivity to detect the places most in need of being massaged), and even on the street, state hospital workers, poorly paid, offer to massage passers-by, sometimes with a chair, or even with a prepared stretcher.

In China, there is one type of massage that is especially recommended. It is the massage of the feet, in some specialized places they first wash the feet with medicinal herbs, and then, following the theories of reflexotherapy, which assures that each organ of the body has its reflection in a certain place on the soles of the feet, they conscientiously massage the feet looking for the stimulation of the different organs.


Qigong is an ancient Chinese therapeutic technique that could be literally translated as «air control» since one of its basic principles is the control of breathing through concentration and a series of gymnastic exercises.

Through the study of air and breath control, the person who practices Qigong seeks to maintain a good physical shape, and harmonize body and mind. But not only that, because according to traditional Chinese medicine, the air one breathes goes throughout the body through channels (as well as according to traditional medicine, the oxygen in the air reaches the different organs through the transport of red blood cells in the blood), and with the control of this air, stress and other stresses suffered by the body are controlled, and the vital energy of the body is increased, which gives greater resistance to disease and ensures long life.

Today, millions of citizens of the People’s Republic of China practice qigong. In the early morning, from 6 a.m. onwards, parks and gardens are buzzing with people practicing qigong alone or with the help of a teacher. In the evening, the cities become crowded with people finishing the day with their daily qigong exercises. Each one follows the rhythm that suits his or her body, all are convinced that the continued practice of qigong will bring them longevity. And they must not be far wrong, because China, despite being a developing country, has a population whose life expectancy is very close to that of developed countries.


Taijiquan is the so-called traditional Chinese boxing.  Some call it fighting with the air because its slow movements make it seem more like breathing exercises than a type of combat. Taijiquan has its origins in Taoist exercises aimed at facilitating the integration of the individual in the universe, thus aimed at absorbing the energy of the sky, the earth, and the stars. Although any other element of nature is capable of transmitting its energy to the man capable of capturing it. And that is precisely what taijiquan is about. To develop in people the ability to absorb the different energies of nature.

To achieve these objectives, each school proposes the systematization of different movements. Movements that, despite being very slow, involve a great control of the body muscles, which is why taijiquan is associated with a type of boxing. Let us not forget that wushu originated from similar exercises. 

Image by kian2018 from Pixabay

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To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Notes on Chinese Medicine," in Ethnic China, 14 junio 2021,

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