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Qi, Vital Energy

Chinese Medicine
East Meets West

The study of medicine and the use of practitioners have been practiced for thousands of years before the birth of Western medicine. Western medicine has been traced back as early as the Third Dynasty in ancient Egypt. On the other hand, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has records that date back as far as 5-8,000 c.e. Each style of medicine has as many similarities as well as differences. The beliefs of western medicine and TCM originated in a similar fashion that they looked at the body as a whole, but Western Medicine slowly modified its practice to the focus of Pharmaceuticals. The Chinese maintain the belief and see the body as one entity as opposed to the sum of its parts. Imbalances, known by Western medicine as illnesses, can be restored by focusing and treating the root of the problem as opposed to western drugs, which only mask symptoms until the body can defend the ailment on its own. An example would be taking two aspirin for a migraine. The drug only numbs the pain until the body can eliminate the source of the migraine on its own. Alternatively, TCM sees the migraine as a disharmony of the liver, by association of an excess of Qi (Pronounced Chee), and can be treated by the means of acupuncture, herbs, or massage (Kaptchuk 189). To the Chinese, each individual is different; So, the quantity of needles, the type of herbs and message differ for each person. The western philosophy of illness is everyone gets sick the same way. The only difference is how hard he or she coughs or how high the fever is, but in the end, the same drug is given to each patient. Eastern medicine has many advantages over the Western style of medicine. With the use of herbs, acupuncture, and massage, The Chinese have treated patients successfully by alleviating pains and symptoms of diseases with little to no side affects whatsoever.

The history of the West:
To differentiate the two styles of medicine, one must first understand the history of each. Western medicine owes its practices to ancient civilizations as far back as the Egyptians. In the Third Dynasty, Imhotep, known as the first “Father of Medicine”, was as much as a medical practitioner as he was as an architect (True). The Egyptians carried his knowledge of healings through religion and practical methods. By 500 c.e., Egyptians had migrated northward into Greece, and in the 4th to 5th century c.e., another “Father of Medicine” had transpired. His name was Hippocrates.

Hippocrates believed that nature healed all ailments. Therefore, he relied little on medications and practiced medicine by the use of natural phenomena like; fresh air, resting, and a healthy diet (Delvey). These methods would heal the body as a whole and not just treat the ill element of the body. He also studied the four elements of the sky, which are earth, air, fire and water, and further created his own elements that pertained to the human body. These elements were black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. Through phlebotomy (Releasing of blood), he was able to remove excess elements in the body that caused discomforts or sicknesses (Allen). In turn, the patients were restored to health.

After his death, in 377 c.e., many had assumed his role. Some of those famous scholars were Aristotle and Galen. Each expanded on Hippocrates work and took his findings and scripts to new levels. For instance, Galen introduced Medication into the medical spectrum and was known as the “Father of Pharmacy” (Delvey). Aristotle, aside his mark on Western civilization for his philosophy, spent time studying the anatomy of animals and humans, which provided a blueprint for the human body (Delvey). Through centuries of further studies and conjuring of works from intellectuals, such as Imhotep, Hippocrates, and Galen, Western civilizations grew further from the natural aspects of healing and veered towards the medicating, dissecting or even removing limbs to cure ailments. Looking at the human as a whole is no longer seen, for each particular part of our physiology is now considered separate and can be removed.

The History of the East
Oddly enough, Hippocrates beliefs were not too far off from an alternative style of medicine that has slowly crept into the mass population worldwide. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses a wide range of natural healings, which date back long before western physicians sought their medical beliefs. In contrast with Western Medicine, the history is not as complicated because the beliefs, which became the foundation for this unconventional style of healing, is still used to this day.

The Ancient Chinese Philosophers used to sit in beautiful gardens, where they viewed humans as a miniature universe (Beinfield 29). For humans were not separate from the earth, but a part of it, in which each creature contained a smaller microcosm within themselves. Chinese Medicine is based on Taoist beliefs and Yin-Yang theory. (Kaptchuk 172).

Taoism (pronounced Dowism) is a religion and the foundation of TCM. The definition cannot be translated, but the concept of Yin and Yang is as close of an explanation as one can conceive. Essentially, the Yin Yang symbol states that as long as everything is in balance, harmony exists. However, if one overpowers another, disarray occurs. Each part of the symbol has a dot of the opposite color within, which means one influences the other. For example, without life, there would not be death, or without night, there would not be day. Everything has its natural end and is influenced by its opposite. Yet, Taoism is not the opposites of a phenomenon, but where the two become equal. Chuang Tzu (399-295 b.c.e), who was a Taoist philosopher states,

"The 'this' is also the 'that'. The 'that' is also the 'this'. Is there really any distinction between 'this' and 'That'? When 'this' and 'that' have no opposites, there is the very axis of Tao”(Kaptchuk 172-173).

Furthermore, when the elements of nature are in balance, life is harmonic and everything flows smoothly, like wind blowing across a plane. However, when the forces of nature are disturbed or upset and imbalance occurs. This imbalance, with each individual, is the primary cause for sickness, disease or discomfort. Therefore, the practice of TCM is to find the connection of the imbalance from the smaller ecosystem and its surroundings, and restores the body to harmony with in itself and the outside world. This differs from the West science because the human body is seen as a machine made up of mechanical parts. Each mechanical element can be replaced and/or removed if necessary. Western doctors see the body separate from nature. Thus, they study how the machine works and simply remove the nonfunctioning element, and put the machine back in working order (Beinfield 19). Chinese see the human as an entity, not only to itself, but also with its’ surroundings within and without. Therefore, simply removing an organ or limb should be the absolute last resort, and only performed when the true cause of ailment has been determined.