Traditional Chinese and Western Medical Approaches

Published 22 Feb 2017

Culture has played a great role in developing different approaches to healing. The Western approach is based on many studies and scientific research while Traditional Chinese Medicine, although not as fully-researched as the Western approach, owes its length of existence to its impressive results. Western medical approach is still the one being practiced in hospitals but The Traditional Chinese Medical system is already gaining popularity. It is best to find out more about these two approaches to determine which is a more practical and effective way of healing.

What is Western Medicine?

According to (par. 1), Western or Conventional medicine is practiced by the degree holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) and by their allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists and registered nurses.

One way to understanding Allopathy, another term for Western Medicine, is through its doctors’ perception of the human body. According to Mike Adams, these physicians launch offensives on the patient’s body due to their perception that this is “battleground on which wars are waged against invaders and tumors.” (“Western Medicine Believes”, par. 2) Once a symptom of a disease like cancer is diagnosed, the allopathic doctor will attack it with different kinds of chemically formulated medicine or with artillery like surgical instruments.

In another article, Adams says that conventional Medicine lays its foundations on Western concepts that believe that a “body is only a collection of its parts,” (“Systems of Medicine,” par. 4) and that by focusing on each part individually, you can understand the whole.

History of Western Medicine

“Hippocrates of Cos is often hailed as the father of medicine” (Mayeaux, par. 3). This famous health practitioner came from Greece and survived in the timeline of around the four to five thousand years before Christ. He understood that nature has the best cures and that the doctor is just a modifier. He tutored his students based on the principle that cures are there to counterattack the symptoms of an illness. People of his time were against dissections but he did what he could to further understand the human anatomy. He was known to have treated skull fractures.

After Hippocrates, Galen became the renowned physician. He used his predecessor’s studies up to a certain extent but formed his own theories which were not as good as Hippocrates’. He believed more on his theories than on observation so in the end, he became a detriment to knowing more cures (Mayeaux, pars. 7-9).

During the first four centuries, the Catholic Church became the propagators of medicine because of the numerous plagues and invasions However, because of their practicality, whenever something was cured by a perceived object, the treatment is just repeated when a same symptom arose. This strengthened the belief in amulets and other wrong cures (Catholic Encyclopedia, pars. 14-15).
The first recordings of a hospital was in around 820 which showed that the monastery of St. Gall already had rooms for the sick, a pharmacy, and room for the doctor. This started the trend with other monasteries in Europe (Mayeaux, par. 33).

In 1140, King Roger of Sicily decreed that doctors can only perform medical duties if they had formal studies and by the 13th or 14th century, medicine became a university degree. Because of this formal approach to curing, studies and research fully developed during these times. Herbal medications became popular and cleanliness in hospitals became important. Because guns became widespread, surgery also improved (pars. 37 – 29).
Medical literature developed around the 15th century because of the great advancements in printing. During this period, more hospitals were built and competed with one another. This greatly improved services and cures (pars. 50-54).

With printed books on medicine, universities teaching courses and hospitals being constructed, Western medical approach easily developed to become the science that is now in place in modern society.
History of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Books acknowledge the first historical proof of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to be seen was round 20 centuries ago, TCM may actually “go back more than 5000 years” (“Traditional Chinese Medicine,” par. 1). Confusion regarding its history is hard to clarify because TCM records were based on legendary mythical figures. Fu Xi, a cultural hero, was the one who developed the eight trigrams that gave way to the concept of the I Ching or Book of Changes. Herbal medicine was founded by a mythical emperor named Shen Nong. Legend has it that this emperor even tested hundreds of herbs on himself (even the 70 toxic ones) to find cures. These healing concoctions were verbally passed to every generation because the written word has not been invented yet (par. 1)

The third legendary figure is not a person but the oldest medical textbook called Hung-Di Nei-Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Cannon of Internal Medicine). The book must have been written between 800 to 200 B.C. It includes many theories of TCM such as the meridian theory and acupuncture (par. 2).

The theoretical foundations of the five elements, yin and yang, and better comprehension of acupuncture developed during the Zhou dynasty (1122 to 256 B.C.).
Stone needles were replaced by metal. Somewhere during this era, a Chinese doctor called Bian Que started using pulse to diagnose sicknesses which he cured through acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage and moxibustion (therapy using an herb called moxa). Legend has it that he was summoned to cure a crown prince but when he arrived, the funeral preparations were already in place. He diagnosed the prince to have been in coma and used acupuncture plus herbal medicine to revive him. This was the start of his popularity as a miracle worker who can bring the dead back to life. He refuted this by claiming that the prince was just in coma but his legend lived on (par. 3).

Under the Han dynast that a popular doctor, Wang Shuhe, was able to discover that there was a relationship between pulse, physiology and pathology (par. 5).
Under the Western Jin dynasty, another doctor called Huang Funi wrote a book called the Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. It is considered a classic which has a dozen volumes and 128 chapters (par. 6).

A Chinese alchemist named Ge Hong (281-341 A.D.) was able to write about many symptoms of different diseases (including tuberculosis and small pox) and recorded various formulas to cure these illnesses in the Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies (par. 6).

Classical Chinese medicine developed very well but by the 1930’s, the National government of China prohibited the use of this approach. The ban was lifted thirty years after by Mao Zedong (par. 12). This ruler is also responsible for ensuring that the classical approach was formalized and this gave rise to what is now known as Traditional Chinese Medicine. This gave TCM a proper curriculum in Chinese medical schools and is now being studied not only by Chinese but other Asians and cultures as well.

Comparing Western Medicine with TCM

TCM and Western medicine approach the human body from different perspectives. TCM sees the individual as part of the cosmos and encompasses man’s physiological, emotional and moral balance based on the natural cycle of the earth. It perceives the patient’s physique as a “language of processes rather than structure and tissues and organs” (“The Body In Balance,” par. 5).

Conventional medicine, on the other hand, looks at the human body as an anatomy made up of different parts. Diagnosis is based on finding which part of the body is malfunctioning and cure will be concentrated on this area to make it work again. To a Western medical doctor, the body is like a machine that just needs to be tinkered to get it in running condition.

An advantage that TCM has over allopathy is in its natural forms of medicine. Western medical solutions often require chemicals that are regarded as toxins by the human body.

Another advantage going for TCM is cost. TCM offers many cures to the same diseases that Western medicine heals but the overall price is relatively cheaper and less invasive to the human body.
TCM views the body as having an energy that balances itself to the environment while health is described by conventional medicine as the absence of pain or any symptoms of disease. Therefore, a disease for TCM doctors, means there is disharmony within the individual while allopathy would look at it as a digression of the body from the healthy condition.

The positive outlook of TCM views symptoms as signs that the body is attempting to heal it self while conventional medicine sees it as a physiological situation that needs to be attacked and controlled.
TCM would regard a series of diseases as a result of various effects of things that have destroyed the natural balance within the human body. This takes into account the person’s relationships with the people and environment around him. Therefore, TCM requires a more personal approach.

Medical doctors would look at each sickness individually. These physicians focus their attention on what is wrong and professionalism puts a wall between the patient and his doctor.

The problem, however, of TCM is that it has not taken into account the different harmful inventions that man has made (ex. Pollution). Western medicine, on the other hand, ignores the existence of the energy that Chinese believe in so all diagnosis are merely based on physical evidences that occur. Observation, trial and error are the basis of allopathy. This can mean a series of pain before the healing process is finally made.
The strength of TCM is on preventive medicine that considers lifestyle before diseases can develop while Western medicine cures what already has developed.

Both approaches are very important in the world of healing and it would be to man’s greatest advantage if these can find ways to integrate themselves in finding better cures for the health of mankind.

Works Cited

  • Adams, Mike. “Western Medicine Believes Health is a War, and the Body is a Battleground that Should be Assaulted.” News Target Network. par.2. 4 pars. 30 January 2004. News Target Network. 14 May 2007
  • Adams, Mike. “Systems of Medicine Explained.” News Target Network. par. 4. 01 May 2006.
  • News Target Network. 14 May 2007
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia. “History of Medicine.” Volume X. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. 80 pars. 14 May 2007
  • “Definition of Conventional Medicine.” 2007. Medicine Net. 17 pars.14 May 2007
  • Mayeaux, E.J., Jr. “A History of Western Medicine and Surgery.” 1989. Louisiana State University Medical Center – Shreveport. 56 pars.14 May 2007
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