Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM: 中医; traditional Chinese: 中醫; pinyin: Zhōngyī) is a style of traditional medicine built on a foundation of more than 2,500 years of Chinese medical practice that includes various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage (tui na), exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy, but recently also influenced by modern Western medicine. TCM is widely used in Greater China (where it has long been the standard system of medicine), and is becoming increasingly popular and recognized worldwide (where it is primarily approached as alternative medicine).
One of the basic tenets of TCM is that “the body’s vital energy (ch’i or qi) circulates through channels, called meridians, that have branches connected to bodily organs and functions.” Concepts of the body and of disease used in TCM reflect its ancient origins and its emphasis on dynamic processes over material structure, similar to European humoral theory. Scientific investigation has not found histological or physiological evidence for traditional Chinese concepts such as qi, meridians, and acupuncture points. The TCM theory and practice are not based upon scientific knowledge, and there is disagreement between TCM practitioners on what diagnosis and treatments should be used for any given patient. The effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine remains poorly researched and documented. There are concerns over a number of potentially toxic plants, animal parts, and mineral Chinese medicinals. There are also concerns over illegal trade and transport of endangered species including rhinoceroses and tigers, and the welfare of specially farmed animals including bears. A review of cost-effectiveness research for TCM found that studies had low levels of evidence, but so far have not shown benefit outcomes. Pharmaceutical research has explored the potential for creating new drugs from traditional remedies, with few successful results. A Nature editorial described TCM as “fraught with pseudoscience“, and said that the most obvious reason it hasn’t delivered many cures is that the majority of its treatments have no logical mechanism of action. Proponents propose that research has so far missed key features of the art of TCM, such as unknown interactions between various ingredients and complex interactive biological systems.
The doctrines of Chinese medicine are rooted in books such as the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon and the Treatise on Cold Damage, as well as in cosmological notions such as yin-yang and the five phases. Starting in the 1950s, these precepts were standardized in the People’s Republic of China, including attempts to integrate them with modern notions of anatomy and pathology. In the 1950s, the Chinese government promoted a systematized form of TCM.
While health is perceived as the harmonious interaction of these entities and the outside world, disease is interpreted as a disharmony in interaction. TCM diagnosis aims to trace symptoms to patterns of an underlying disharmony, by measuring the pulse, inspecting the tongue, skin, and eyes, and looking at the eating and sleeping habits of the person as well as many other things.