What is Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is the traditional medicine of China. It has two main characteristics: The concept of holism and the concept of syndrome differentiation to guide treatment.

The Concept of Holism:

We can split the concept of holism into two aspects. One, Chinese medicine believes in the organic wholeness of the body. This means that the body is an inseparable whole, which is centered around the five Zang organs. Every part of the body, inside and out, has special relationships with the five Zang organs. These Zang organs in turn have relationships with each other. The whole body is connected by the system of Meridians. The human body is an extremely complex structure and when treating a problem all aspects must be taken into account.

The other aspect of the concept of holism is the correlation between man and nature. Chinese medicine sees Mother Nature as a large universe and within that large universe, linked to it, is the human body, a small universe. An example of this link is arthritis sufferers. Many will find that before it rains they already know, because their pain is exacerbated by bad weather. They are often more accurate than a weather forecast when it comes to determining when it will rain.

The Concept of Syndrome Differentiation to Guide Treatment:

A syndrome can be understood as a specific group of symptoms. All symptoms reflect disease and this symptomatic information is extremely important to a Chinese doctor. Everything to do with what a patient feels (e.g. agitated, bitter taste in the mouth, easily irritated, sad etc), their sleep, their bowel motions and urination, their appetite, the appearance of their tongue, their pulse etc, any abnormality in these is what Chinese medicine refers to as symptoms.

Differentiation of syndrome is to use the four diagnostic methods (namely inspection, listening and smelling, inquiring, taking pulse and palpation) to collect data about the symptoms and then through analysis and summarization, determine what nature of syndrome (Yin, Yang, cold, hot, deficiency, excess, external or internal) the patient has.

Using this to guide treatment is to take the results of the differentiation of syndrome and choose an appropriate treatment method according to the principles “treat cold syndrome with hot-natured herbs”, “treat heat syndrome with cold-natured herbs”, “treat deficiency syndrome by nourishing”, and “treat excess syndrome by purging”.

Szenan Phua, B.Med (Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine).