Traditional Chinese Medicine

On July 19, 2011, in Featured China Stories, by Jack Li

Traditional Chinese medicine — science or superstition? That question depends largely on whether you ask a Western or Eastern practitioner. But don’t just read about it, hop on a flight by China Flights today and experience it for yourself in China with China Travels!

Western doctors, staunch believers in the power of pathogens and biological actions, frown upon Taoism-founded belief in a bodily imbalance of qi, or universal energy made up of opposing yin and yang forces. Nonetheless, increasing numbers of Westerners are approaching the conclusion that there may be value in Eastern medicine.

Since ancient times, all that has been needed for a Chinese doctor to diagnose his patient was a look at the tongue and a pulse reading. From this, the doctor could determine the nature of the imbalance – too much yin or too much yang. The doctor could then write out a prescription for any of thousands of medicinal substances, including herbs, animal parts, and minerals.

More than a million tons of herbs are used in China each year, with licorice topping the list at 86,000 tons. A relatively well-stocked pharmacy stocks about 450 different herbs, and a clinical herbalist modifies about 250 standard formulas to fit a patient’s individual diagnosis. But it is not herbal medicine that has sparked the most controversy among Western observers; rather, it is the use of dried animal parts. Use of tiger bone, rhino horn, turtle shell, and bear organs raise the ire of conservation groups who argue that many of these treatments are ineffective and detrimental to the preservation of endangered species.

Acupuncture is another fundamental therapy within traditional Chinese medicine. 1997 marked a watershed moment for proponents of Eastern medicine when the U.S. National Institutes of Health recognized acupuncture as an effective treatment for a number of ailments, including chemotherapy-related nausea, menstrual cramps, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma. Acupuncture can also play a pivotal role in reversing addictions. Opium, cocaine, and nicotine addicts have benefited from what was once considered superstitious folk medicine. One variation of acupuncture is known as electroacupuncture, a form of acupuncture in which the needles are attached to a device that generates continuous electric pulses.

Moxibustion makes use of moxa, or mugwort herb. Suppliers age mugwort and grind it up to a fluff, then practitioners burn the fluff or process it further into a stick that resembles a cigar. They can use it with acupuncture needles or burn it on a patient’s skin. Moxa is used to warm acupuncture points to stimulate circulation and induce a smoother flow of blood and qi.

Now that you know about some of the different methods traditional Chinese medicine uses, travel to Beijing and experience it firsthand!

Jack Li
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