Chinese medicine is founded on principles which are derived from several schools of thought, with influences from Taoism, Buddhism, and Neo-Confucianism.

Since 1200 BC, Chinese academics have attempted to identify the observable natural laws of the universe and understand impact on the place of humans in the universe. In I Ching and other classical Chinese philosophical literature, a range of general principles and their applications to health and healing in Chinese medicine have been documented, including:

  • The universe is in a state of constant change in the. Humans are an integral part of the universe and cannot avoid the process of change.

  • Everything is ultimately interconnected, and all of the forces in the universe tend towards a point of balance.

  • A system-wide holistic approach can be used to address any imbalances.

  • Optimum health results when humans live harmoniously with the processes of the universe and allow the process of change to bring them towards balance. If there is no change (a state called stagnation), or if there is too much change (a state called catastrophism), then balance is lost and illnesses results.

An important philosophical concept of Traditional Chinese Medicine is that the human body is miniature universe, complete with a set and sophisticated interconnected systems which, in a healthy human body, work in harmony to maintain healthy function and balance.

Holistic View

One popular interpretation of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s macro or holistic view of disease is that a well-balanced human body can resist disease and fight off (at least) most bacteria, viruses, and other micro-organisms, which are ubiquitous and quickly changing organisms.

An infection might be caused by one or more micro-organisms, but it is an underlying imbalance in the body that allowed the disease to develop. It is this imbalance that is the target of Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment. That is, the micro-organisms are not targeted by Traditional Chinese Medicine, but the imbalance in the body that is allowing the micro-organisms to prosper and cause the illness.

Because of this focus on imbalance, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner may recommend very different treatments to patients apparently afflicted by the same condition. In such a case, different symptoms would become apparent during diagnosis, and these would indicate different types of imbalance.

Complete System View

The Western anatomical model divides the human body into parts, whereas the Chinese model of the body is more concerned with function. This differing philosophy has a profound affect on the diagnosis and treatment of illness.

For example, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the spleen is not just a piece of flesh or an isolated organ of the body, but an integral part of the body which performs important and vital functions related to various bodily processes, such as transformation and transportation within the body, and also has influence over mental functions, such as thought.

There is a popular saying in China which summarizes the difference between Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine perfectly: Chinese Medicine treats humans while Western Medicine treats diseases. Traditional Chinese Medicine theory and practice is based on a number of philosophical frameworks. The main philosophical frameworks for TCM include the following:

All TCM diagnoses and treatments are conducted with reference to one or more of these theories. However, there are various other theories and frameworks that may also be used to explain or understand TCM.

In addition, significant differences in practice and theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine occur because of regional and philosophical differences between practitioners and schools.

Other Theories

Some of these philosophical frameworks may be applied to systems other than the human body, such as Yin-Yang and the Five Element theories. However, some theories are more specific to bodily function, such as Zang Fu Theory, Meridian Theory, and Three Jiaos.

There are also a range of separate models that apply to specific influences, such as:

  • Four Stages Theory - which is concerned with the progression of warm diseases (such as fevers)

  • Six Levels Theory which is concerned with the progression of cold diseases

  • Eight Principles System for the classification of diseases.

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