Traditional Chinese Medicine

There are roughly 13,000 medicinals used in China and over 100,000 medicinal recipes recorded in the ancient literature.

How & What: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) (simplified Chinese: 中医; traditional Chinese: 中醫; literally “Chinese medicine”) is a broad range of medicine practices sharing common theoretical concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years, including various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy.

TCM’s view of the body places little emphasis on anatomical structures, but is mainly concerned with the identification of functional entities (which regulate digestion, breathing, aging etc.). While health is perceived as harmonious interaction of these entities and the outside world, disease is interpreted as a disharmony in interaction. TCM diagnosis consists in tracing symptoms to patterns of an underlying disharmony, mainly by palpating the pulse and inspecting the tongue.

Yin and yang

Yin and yang are ancient Chinese concepts which can be traced back to the Shang dynasty (1600–1100 BC). They represent two abstract and complementary aspects that every phenomenon in the universe can be divided into. Primordial analogies for these aspects are the sun-facing (yang) and the shady (yin) side of a hill. Two other commonly used representational allegories of yin and yang are water and fire. In the yin-yang theory, detailed attributions are made regarding the yin or yang character of things:

Phenomenon Yin Yang
Celestial bodies moon sun
Gender female male
Location inside outside
Temperature cold hot
Direction downward upward
Degree of humidity damp/moist dry

The concept of yin and yang is also applicable to the human body; for example, the upper part of the body and the back are assigned to yang, while the lower part of the body are believed to have the yin character. Yin and yang characterization also extends to the various body functions, and – more importantly – to disease symptoms (e.g., cold and heat sensations are assumed to be yin and yang symptoms, respectively). Thus, yin and yang of the body are seen as phenomena whose lack (or overabundance) comes with characteristic symptom combinations:

  • Yin vacuity (also termed “vacuity-heat”): heat sensations, possible night sweats, insomnia, dry pharynx, dry mouth, dark urine, a red tongue with scant fur, and a “fine” and rapid pulse.
  • Yang vacuity (“vacuity-cold”): aversion to cold, cold limbs, bright white complexion, long voidings of clear urine, diarrhea, pale and enlarged tongue, and a slightly weak, slow and fine pulse.

TCM also identifies drugs believed to treat these specific symptom combinations, i.e., to reinforce yin and yang.

“The tendency of Chinese thought is to seek out dynamic functional activity rather than to look for the fixed somatic structures that perform the activities. Because of this, the Chinese have no system of anatomy comparable to that of the West.”

—Ted Kaptchuk

Chinese food therapy (simplified Chinese: 食疗; traditional Chinese: 食療; pinyin: shíliáo) is a practice in the belief of healing through the use of natural foods instead of medications.

One of the central ideas in this belief system is that certain foods have a “hot” or heat inducing quality while others have a “cold” or chilling effect on one’s body, organs or “energy” levels. The idea being that one’s imbalance of natural “heat” and “cold” in a body can cause disease or be more conducive towards sickness. Although, in this belief system, it does not necessarily mean one’s internal “heat” or “cold” balance is directly related to being physically hot (to the point of sweating) or cold (feeling chilly from cold weather). As an example, if one had a cold, or felt he was about to get a cold, he would not want to eat any “cold” foods such as a lemon, melon or cucumber. If one had a so called “hot” disease, like Eczema, then he would not want to eat “hot” foods such as garlic, onions, or chocolate lest the “hot” disease is worsened. Indeed, it is thought by some that these “hot” or “cold” properties of foods are so intense that merely the eating of too many of one or another can actually cause diseases.


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