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An Introductions to Chinese Medicine

Some of you will be very skeptical about what you will read in this collection of articles on Qigong (pronounced chee gung). I believe a bit of skepticism is always healthy. In fact, I often visit some of the web sites of various societies of skeptics and have run across an few papers on acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Now being skeptical is quite different from being a confirmed, certified Skeptic. Skeptics set out to debunk anything in which they do not believe. They claim that Science is their one and only God. However, this form of skepticism has very little to do with science; it is a belief system, a religion. It is as much biased and prejudiced as any superstition, because when faced with contradictory science, the Skeptic will set out to debunk that too.

The articles on acupuncture and Qigong I have read at these sites are all based upon these assumptions: that Chinese medicine was developed by a very primitive people using very primitive assumptions based upon primitive superstitions and is therefore absolutely unscientific not to mention useless.

I had to laugh. Does anyone out there know who invented Science? It was the Chinese. Six to ten thousand years ago the Chinese codified a system of observation they called Tao (pronounced dow). The best translation of Tao is "the way." The early Chinese "scientists" observed and noted the way of all things. Now no one has ever said that observation is objective, however, the object of their observations (concerning the human body) was to learn "the way" and eventually reproduce and reinstate "the (right) way" when "the way" has gone wayward. This too is an object of Western science: any study or experiment must have reproducible results. In other words, if it works in San Francisco, it should work in Boston exactly the same. If an herbal preparation relieves hot flashes in Beijing, it should relieve them in Timbuktu also.  Top

When Nixon re-opened the communication lines between the East and the West, it was the Chinese who quickly absorbed our Western medicines, Western ways and methods, whereas we were slow to accept little of what we could learn from this ancient culture. When a group of touring physicians witnessed a lung resection using only acupuncture as the anesthesia, do you know what they concluded? You and I would have jumped up and down with the discovery of this wonderful procedure, however, the medical community admitted only that this was something that had to be studied. Only Western arrogance could possibly poo poo this three thousand year old medical procedure. In the West, there are rigorous methodologies a scientist must use to prove something. In the West, we are very paranoid, for we cannot accept any proof whatsoever from the Orient, without subjecting it to our rigorous methods. This is nonsense (it is a waste of time), for the simple fact that: If something does not work, it does not last three thousand years.

Let us take a look at a few interesting differences in our two cultures' medical systems.

Western medicine, the system and paradigms guiding us today, began 200 years ago in 1789 when Edward Jenner vaccinated his one and a half year old son against smallpox. It wasn't until the 1850s that Pasteur developed the germ theory of medicine, a theory that was hotly debated years afterwards with few physicians believing that these little germs could take down a big strong human body. Pasteur, because of his findings, urged surgeons to sterilize their surgical instruments, while in England, Joseph Lister (you've heard of Listerine®) took up this same battle in 1865 performing the first surgery using instruments cleaned with carbolic acid. No one likes to be told their own business and many physicians continued to practice their medicine openly disregarding this "theory" while 50% of their patients died of sepsis. My brother, a surgeon and part time medical historian, told me of a hospital in France (before the times of sterilization) where if a pregnant woman entered and turned left, she died. If she turned right, she lived. To the left were the surgeons who delivered babies without cleaning up beforehand. To the right were midwives who kept things clean. Top

In 1896 a French medical student discovered a mold that killed bacteria, but his work went unnoticed, most likely because he was only a student. Then in 1928, Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician working with staphylococci bacteria, discovered that his cultures had been destroyed by a mold. That mold was penicillin. You would think that the medical community would be overjoyed at this discovery, except that it wasn't until 1939 that researchers from Oxford were able to test successfully penicillin on human subjects, just in time for World War II, where it was tested most thoroughly. For a very good article on the history of penicillin, take a look at "What the Heck is Penicillin?"

Now Chinese medicine began, according to most accounts, approximately four thousand years before the birth of Christ. Chinese medicine focuses on the balance between the yin and the yang; yin being the female energy from the earth, and yang being the male energy from the heavens. The body lives because of its "life force" or qi (chee). We are born with a certain amount of qi created at conception. We cannot create qi, but we gain it from our foods, herbs, air and water, and from the earth's and the heaven's subtle energies. This "life force" flows through our bodies in a system of meridians. Once thought to be only a Chinese notion, western scientists have today mapped the entire meridian system using high-tech equipment; the same meridian system the Chinese masters discovered six thousand years ago using only their senses.

Conditions in a body that is out of balance are considered either cold or hot (yin or yang), e.g., for or a cold condition, "hot" herbs are recommended. Energy imbalances occur at points in the body where energy is either blocked (cold), or flowing too heavily (hot).

The organs are categorized either yin or yang. Each organ system has a color, a season, a compass direction, a sound, and an element assigned to it. The yang meridians flow down the body; the yin meridians flow up. At twelve noon, when the sun is high in the sky, picture yourself down on all fours (like a dog). The areas the sun hits are the yang meridians and the areas shaded (inside) are the yin meridians. These meridians are where the acupuncture points are located and treated by Chinese health care professionals using acupuncture, acupressure, shiatsu, and Qigong (not to mention nutrition and herbal remedies, but these affect the points indirectly). These points are also used by martial artists. Certain combinations of accurate strikes can injure lightly, seriously, or even kill an opponent, depending on which points are struck and in what order.  Top

The Chinese, though they did study anatomy, never studied a cadaver. Why? Because there is no life force present in a cadaver. No qi. Chinese medicine deals with qi, not dead organs.

A traditional (classical) Chinese physician is raised to be a physician. They must study, in addition to his medical subjects and the sciences, philosophy, psychology, history, art, literature, astrology/astronomy, and the law. They do not practice until they reach their mid forties, at the earliest. They are first and foremost a teacher: they teach patients to maintain their qi and their health. When a patient who is sick visits the doctor, they do not charge for their services, because they have not done their job in the first place.

So, this is unscientific? Well, when you consider that the subtle energies the Chinese have known for centuries (earth and heaven energies) are just today being discovered (and renamed) by our physicists, what do you think? Skeptics point to Science as the foundation of reason. Science is the only true way, the only constant. That's nice. Then why is it that this Science that produces our medicines, tests our medicines, and prescribes our medicines, determines every ten years that 50% of our medicines should be taken off the market and replaced by new medicines? In Chinese medicine, the only constant is change, and yet little has changed over the centuries in their concepts of human health care. Why? Because it works. The Chinese have, comparatively, one of the least expensive health care systems in the world. And it is a true health care system, because its focus is on health, not disease. And yes, they are not so proud or arrogant as to ignore our modern drugs and therapies. But they're not so screwy as to develop antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria through their overuse. Nuff said. Top


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