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Asian Medical Theory - Origins and Approach
Origins and Approach   |   Yin and Yang   |   Five Elements  |   Vital Substances   |   Zang-Fu Organs

"As no man can say who it was that first invented the use of clothes and houses against the inclemency of the weather, so also can no investigator point out the origin of Medicine - mysterious as the source of the Nile." - Thomas Sydenham

Ambiguous Origins

asia The actual origins of Acupuncture and Traditional Asian Medicine (commonly referred to in America as Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM) are subject to argument. Some believe that it was through the pain and suffering of war that Acupuncture was discovered. Others believe the principles of Asian medicine developed within the sphere of Taoist religious philosophy. Some believe that Acupuncture originated in the Indus Valley civilization (circa 3300-1300 B.C.) in what is now Pakistan and North-Western India, and then spread to Central Asia, Egypt, China, Korea, Japan, and other countries in Asia. Still others believe that it spread to Asia from India through Buddhist monks.

Chinese historians write that acupuncture originated in China about 5,000 years ago. On the other hand, recently divulged archaeological artifacts and archives indicating that the first Korean civilization known as 'Han Kook' (translates as 'Korea') was established around 7,197 BC in the region now known as Siberia. These were technologically sophisticated people who were avid pyramid builders. Its 12 distinct tribes spread throughout various regions including China and Mesopotamia, crossed the Behring straits to North America, and centralized in Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. Around 3,900 B.C., the king of the Han people was said to have dispatched about 3,000 colonists to the area around Mt. Baiktu in North Korea which was inhabited by primitive tribes - the Tiger and the Bear tribes. The Han colonists subdued these tribes and established a new nation, Bai-dal in 3,898 B.C.  It is said that this new, highly advanced nation went on to occupy much of Manchuria and expanded into the area now known as China, occupying the provinces of Habook (Hebei), Hanam (Hainan), Shantung (Shandong), Gangso (Guangzhou), Ahnwhi (Anhui), and Julgang (Jilin). This Korean nation is said to have flourished creating the 'Chinese' characters, codification of Oriental (Asian) medicine including the early theory and methodology of acupuncture and herbal pharmacology, promulgated advances in agricultural technologies, and other innovations commonly attributed to the Chinese.

The Bai-dal kingdom lasted 1565 years under 18 kings.  The Go-Chosun nation (2,333 B.C.) followed Bai-dal and lasted 2096 years. It was the most powerful nation in Asia of its era but it is rarely mentioned in history books. Historical archives and archaeological evidence have established with certainty the veracity of Go-Chosun. Go-Chosun was followed by North Buyo and Koguryo. With the fall of Koguryo, the Korean people lost much of its territory to China and Russia: their knowledge and technology being subsumed by their conquerors.  

According to Chinese texts, however, the first comprehensive theoretical and philosophical framework underlying the practice of traditional Asian medicine (TAM) and Acupuncture was set forth in the Yellow Emperor's Inner Classics of Medicine, or Huang Di Nei Jing (Nei Jing). This is a multi-volume medical book compiled by various unspecified authors between the Early and Later Han dynasties (200 B.C. through 220 A.D.) The Chinese consider this to be the oldest and most comprehensive medical text of the empirical form of traditional Asian medicine. The therapeutic modalities discussed include Acupuncture, moxibustion, herbs, diet and exercise.

From this point forward Acupuncture practice was gradually refined in China until the mid-seventeenth century when there was a decline in acupuncture and herbal pharmacology coinciding with the increasing influence of Western ideas on China. Although acupuncture continued to be practiced in rural communities, it was not until after the Liberation and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, that there was a resurgence of interest in it at a national level. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), with the persecution of surgeons and doctors practicing biomedicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine was once again given new opportunities to develop. However, elsewhere in Asia, traditional Asian medicine  and Acupuncture continued to flourish during the centuries of its decline in China. Namely Korea, and to some degree Japan, continued refining the concepts of the medicine in both theory and practices and developed unique variations.

In America, most schools of Asian medicine base their curriculum on the materials and techniques held by the Chinese. However, many offer courses on a variety of other Asian Acupuncture theories and techniques such as Korean Constitutional Medicine, Korean 4-Needle Technique, Korean Hand Acupuncture, Japanese Acupuncture, Master Tong Acupuncture, and more. The specific technique(s) that a modern day doctor of traditional Asian medicine relies upon is entirely personal. Each technique offers a high degree of efficacy in the hands of a knowledgeable practitioner.

Whatever the origins of Asian medicine may be, it may be fair to infer that much of Asia studied, embraced and practiced the medicine in various forms while contributing to its science and artistry throughout the centuries.

Western vs Asian: Differences in Approach

Objects vs Patterns
Western medicine is based on the principles of Aristotelian logic which views phenomenon in a linear fashion. For example, A causes B which, with C, causes D.

Traditional Asian thought, on the other hand, is multidimensional and fluid along a continuum. It views various phenomenon as part of an interrelated pattern. Within it, objects and things have no meaning by themselves. Meaning is derived from the relationship of objects to each other and within the overall pattern.

Reducing vs Constructing
The differences in philosophy between the Western and Asian approaches are pronounced in their methodologies. Western medicine takes a reductionist approach - it analyzes and dissects until a causal link is apparent. From this, the disease is treated.

Whereas, Asian medicine takes the opposite approach - signs and symptoms are pieced together until a picture of the whole person emerges. From this, the person is treated.

Discrete vs Continuum
Western thought also assigns different qualities in discrete non-interchangeable categories of things. For example, A cannot be both A and not-A. In Western medicine, the mind-body dichotomy is an example of discrete entities which sometimes interact with each other.

Whereas, traditional Asian thought views the mind-body as existing along a continuum between two poles. In it, a certain symptom may be more on the Mind-side than some other symptom, but the same symptom can be more on the Body-side when compared to something else.

Competition vs Harmony
Socially, the lifestyle in the West is one of competition and, sometimes, confrontation. Similarly, disease is viewed within a competition-confrontation construct. Thus, disease is thought of as a foreign entity that should be contained, destroyed or cut out.

Alternatively, the Asian social and natural order is based on the principles of harmony and balance. In traditional Asian medicine disease is viewed not as a foreign entity, but a disorder and imbalance in the body. Treating it requires bringing the body back to harmony and balance.

Precision vs Ambiguity
In modern science, microbes are isolated, measurement is precise and known factors are idealized over the unknown and the unseen. In this approach a microbial cause of disease for example, is first isolated and reduced to its precise strain and the treatment (medication) is developed in reference to the strain, rather than in reference to a higher construct.

Whereas, traditional Asian medical thought is modeled after the behavior of natural phenomenon in the universe. Like nature, the concepts are ambiguous. Because of its emphasis on the overall pattern rather than on discrete objects, its amorphous concepts require it to be treated as an empirical science where theory can never be removed from practice, and practice should never occur without concept. This makes it a difficult field of study as often, precise definitions and specific points of reference may not exist.

Many vs One
In modern science, the isolation of a microbe and the subsequent therapy developed around it, emphasizes treating the many and the disease. In traditional Asian medicine, piecing together the totality of symptoms and signs to arrive at a picture of the whole person, requires it to treat the one and the individual.

Origins and Approach   |   Yin and Yang   |   Five Elements  |   Vital Substances   |   Zang-Fu Organs

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