The Medicine of Ancient China


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Yin and Yang are the two opposite yet complementary cosmoslogical forces of nature. Yin stands for c

Yin and Yang are the two opposite yet complementary cosmoslogical forces of nature. Yin stands for cloudiness, the moon, earth, night, water, cold, dampness, darkness, what is feminine; while Yang stands for sunshine, the sun, heaven, day, fire, heat, dryness, brightness, what is masculine. These two forces also break down into the 'fine elements' Fire, Water, Wood, Metal and Earth. Different parts of the human body correspond to different Yin and Yang and the 'five elements'. Harmony between the two forces of Yin and Yang in the human body, according to traditional medicine,, means good health, while disharmony or undue preponderance of one over the other brings about sickness and death. The job of the Chinese doctor is to restore the harmony by such means as prescribing herbs, applying surgery and acupuncture.

The earliest pharmacopocia was written during the Han Dynasty (202BC - AD 220). By early in the Third Century the surgeon Hua To had produced general anaesthesia by the use of a wine called Mafeisan.

Much development of Chinese medicine took place between the Chin Dynasty (AD 265 - 420) and The Five Dynasties (AD 907 - 960). Pulse reading had always been an important technique used for diagnosis by Chinese physicians.

Ge Hong, an alchemist during the Fourth Century, wrote two medical books dealing with infectious diseases and giving prescriptions for various types of sicknesses including eye trouble. Soyabeans and milk were prescribed for the treatment of beri-beri.

During the Tang period, many advances in medicine were made in the direction of clinical medicine, gynaccology, paediatrics, surgery and physiotherapy. Amalgam was used as a filling for tooth cavities.

Chinese medicine made further advances during the Sung period. Along with the Royal Academy, there was a public bureau of health set up with a staff of over one thousand. During this time further advances were made in acupuncture and forensic medicine, as well as food nutrition. By the sixteenth Century medical books were already discussing the prevention of smallpox, two hundred years before Edward Jenner introduced vaccination.

Western medicine came to China in the mid-Nineteenth Century and the two co-existed for some time. Steps were taken in 1929 by the Nationalist Government to abolish traditional Chinese medicine. However, strong protests from the public forced the government to back down on its legislation.

The use of both Chinese and Western medicine was advocated by Mao Zedong as early as 1926. With the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Chinese and Western medical practitioners were encouraged to learn from each other, and to combine their knowledge and experience.


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