With a history of 2000 to 3000 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has formed a unique system to diagnose and cure illness. The TCM approach is fundamentally different from that of Western medicine. In TCM, the understanding of the human body is based on the holistic understanding of the universe as described in Daoism, and the treatment of illness is based primarily on the diagnosis and differentiation of syndromes. Daoism bases much of its thinking on observing the natural world in a manner in which it operates, so it is no surprise to find that the Chinese medical system draws extensively on natural metaphors. In Chinese medicine, the metaphoric views of the human body based on observations of nature are fully articulated in the theory of Yin-Yang and the system of Five Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Wood and Metal).
The direct meanings of Yin and Yang in Chinese are bright and dark sides of an object. Chinese philosophy uses Yin and Yang to represent a wider range of opposite properties in the universe: cold and hot, slow and fast, still and moving, masculine and feminine, lower and upper, etc. In general, anything that is moving, initiating, ascending, bright, progressing, hyperactive, including functional disease of the body, pertains to Yang. The characteristics of stillness, recipience, descending, darkness, degeneration, hypo-activity, including organic disease, pertain to Yin.
The function of Yin and Yang is guided by the law of unity of the opposites. In other words, Yin and Yang are in conflict but at the same time mutually dependent. The nature of Yin and Yang is relative, with neither being able to exist in isolation. Without "cold" there would be no "hot"; without "moving" there would be no "still"; without "dark", there would be no "light". The most illustrative example of Yin-Yang interdependence is the interrelationship between substance and function. Only with ample substance can the human body function in a healthy way; and only when the functional processes are in good condition, can the essential substances be appropriately refreshed. The opposites in all objects and phenomena are in constant motion and change: The gain, growth and advance of the one mean the loss, decline and retreat of the other.
Traditional Chinese medicine holds that human life is a physiological process in constant motion and change. Under normal conditions, the waxing and waning of Yin and Yang are kept within certain bounds, reflecting a dynamic equilibrium of the physiological processes. Only then is the unharmed flow of life energy (Qi) ensured. When the balance is broken, disease occurs. Typical cases of disease-related imbalance include excess of Yin, excess of Yang, deficiency of Yin, and deficiency of Yang.
The TCM approach treats zang-fu organs as the core of the human body. Tissue and organs are connected through a network of channels and blood vessels inside human body. Qi (or Chi= vital energy) acts as some kind of carrier of information that is expressed externally through jingluo system. Qi is treated as the fundamental substance of the human body, and its movements explain various life processes. Qi is formed from the inhaled oxygen, the dietary nutrients, and the inborn primordial Qi stored in the kidney, which may be genetically related. Qi circulates along meridians and collaterals. A healthy body requires normal circulations of Qi. Health problems occur if the flow of Qi is stagnated. The circulation of Qi is also closely related to mental conditions. Emotional instability may cause the stagnation of Qi.
Pathologically, a dysfunction of the zang-fu organs may be reflected on the body surface through the network, and meanwhile, diseases of body surface tissues may also affect their related zang or fu organs. Affected zang or fu organs may also influence each other through internal connections. Traditional Chinese medicine treatment starts with the analysis of the entire system, then focuses on the correction of pathological changes through readjusting the functions of the zang-fu organs.
Evaluation of a syndrome not only includes the cause, mechanism, location, and nature of the disease, but also the confrontation between the pathogenic factor and body resistance. Treatment is not based only on the symptoms, but differentiation of syndromes. Therefore, those with an identical disease may be treated in different ways, and on the other hand, different diseases may result in the same syndrome and are treated in similar ways.
The clinical diagnosis and treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine are mainly based on the Yin-Yang and five elements theories. These theories apply the phenomena and laws of nature to the study of the physiological activities and pathological changes of the human body and its interrelationships. The typical TCM therapies include acupuncture, herbal medicine, meditation and exercises like Qi-gong, Tui Na and T’ai Chi.