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Traditional Chinese Medicinal Practices

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Summer Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(2) page(s): 37

As to the where and when ancient yin and yang and other traditional medicinal practices began, there are many mixed messages. These philosophies and facts began in many different times. We once read that Fu Xi, seven or more thousand years ago, may have been the first to speak about Taiji, the Supreme Ultimate, and some of them. At least, we give him credit for figuring many out but do not know which, how, or when; do you?

The earliest Chinese medical information we knew before learning this one was in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine, also known as the Shen Nong Ben Cao with its information about the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica. There one learns knowledge about what Chinese ancestors knew in their very early days.

This chap,, called the ‘divine farmer’ knew many human organs, their relationships to the environment, and that medicinals have five flavors. He is credited with fathering most if not all traditional Chinese medicine we know today and write as TCM. We know he did martyr himself ingesting many plants, and they helped him to learn dosage sizes, what they did to his body, and much more. We also know he died of their poisonings, not when or which specific ones.

Before this, we know that in Neolithic times, Chinese practitioners did grind stones with sharp points to insert medicines in certain places to clear what they called ‘meridians, points, or ‘channels,’ with intent to ‘unclog’ them. Were they looking for jing or bodily essences, or qi and man’s ‘vital energy?’ Did they know how these things moved up and down in the body? That book does record many of these things known mor than three thousand years ago. It was China’s first medicinal tome and it includes essential TCM components and recommends some ways to prevent some diseases by using correlations between internal organs.

Sima Qian, many years later, wrote a book introducing the elements of ‘metal, wood, water, fire; and ‘earth’ and explaining how the universe came into being and other relationships, too, such as plants and man. We know not how his medical theories came into being nor how he determined any practices or diagnosis or which observations and listening, smelling, questioning, and pulse-taking he knew that he wrote about; do you?

His earliest known causes of disease may have been health influenced or e external forces of wind, cold, warmth, heat, dampness, dryness, or the emotions known as excitement, anger, anxiety, longing, grief, fear, or shock; or how they disturb the internal organs, qi, or blood circulation that he said degrade health.

TCM practitioners learned then or later of the need to diagnose functions and correlations of internal organs such as the heart, liver, lung, spleen, and kidneys. They did learn to provide profiles of disease and many symptoms which may have been the earliest knowledge of disease causation. Han Wen Jia wrote that during the Late Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 24 CE), ‘Suirenshi makes fire drilling in the Theological Interpretation of the Book of Rites. This important piece of information, he says, goes with adding mud-coated raw meat and roasting it so people do not get any abdominal disease.’ This did encourage folk to cook meat and not eat it raw as that way it can cause stomach and intestinal disorders that degrade health.

Did Yi He include excesses in yin-yang, wind-rain, and darkness-brightness from this court doctor? Did others in the State of Qin during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BCE) know this? Did he summarize what was then known about pathology, and conclude that the six evils, seven emotions, inappropriate diet, overwork, and physical injury can cause illness?

One early Chinese theory asks how Chinese medicine looks at its pathology? Is it based on anatomy and holistic analyses of disease causation, relationships between internal and external functions, anatomical manifestations, upper and lower body parts, diagnostic importance of the gall bladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, and bladder, and relationships to each other and the climactic elements? Does it see circulation of qi, maintaining bodily water balance, management of the ‘gate of life,’ the ‘eye’ they talk about in the right kidney, and jing, also shen. and how these affect human reproductive activities? Do folks in those times know how any of these work? We know not, do you?

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