History of Chinese Herbal medicine
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What makes Chinese medicine so unique throughout the world? Looking back at the development of Chinese medicine it is necessary to travel back in time in order to understand and appreciate the great contributions that Chinese dynasties contributed. Chinese Dynasties throughout history based their knowledge on empirical observations, which looked for a pattern in energy interactions in order to create a balance with natural medicine. The development of herbal medicine not only takes herbs in a medical context, but also how it developed its relationship with formulate and the diagnosis.
Chinese medicine has a holistic approach, in which human kind is more than something measurable and rigid, such as it is seen in western medicine; but instead humans are considered part of nature and as a result its well-being goes beyond measurable facts. Chinese Herbal medicine has provided a great treasure to diagnose, heal, and prevent many human diseases. These advances on herbal medicine have supported further researchers, led by contemporaneous scientists throughout the world.
Chinese herbal medicine began before history of it could be recorded for China; approximately 5000 years ago. Legend says that it was believed by ancient China that the first benefits of herbs were discovered by a farmer. It is believed that a farmer tried killing a snake by hitting it severely, yet the next day the snake seemed untouched. The farmer hit it again to find out again the next day that the snake was again in perfect condition. He realized that the snake was able to heal so quickly due to the fact that it was eating some weed right after it was hurt. This observation led to the discovery of (San Qi) or root of a plant (Radix Noto ginseng) with the medical benefits of stopping internal and external bleeding and decreasing pain. (Hicks, 1997).
Throughout history, herbs have helped many in the process of healing; in fact, Chinese medicine was the first Aid kit in ancient China for armies having to fight hand to hand who suffered great pain after injuries. Chinese herbs were valued as gold, which was not going to be trade since it was considered a great treasure. Discovery of the effects on health of herbal medicine in China was an ongoing process
Sheng Nung. 2800 B.C. Looking back at history, we can observe that the first people who handled the healing powers of the herbs were the shamans. Shamans were the infancy of Chinese medicine or “Medicine Men” who retreated into deep mountain mist where they practiced (the way of long life) which is about treatment based on breathing techniques, Kuong-Fu and herbal diet, which has a great similitude to practices in India by what they call gurus or masters. They believe that these practices could prolong their lives and strengthen their connections with the vital essence of life.
An example of a great Shaman during the prehistoric era was Sheng Nung. Primitive men struggled with not only supernatural enemies, but also with enemies of health that caused disease as a result primitive men began the skillful selection of healing plants and minerals. Parallel to the increased knowledge in plans was the discovery of stone needle, which were used for operations and treatment. Chinese primitives found not only healing plants, but also were able to develop awareness of the toxic plants, this increased knowledge allowed the development of an agrarian society were society was more enjoyable. Sheng was greatly worshipped during agricultural years since it was believe that he could allow farmers to grow abundant crops. Shen Nung was well recognized by the Han dynasty not only because of his ability to heal, but also for his great expertise with plants since he had tested himself multiple herbs. This method of testing the herbs himself before giving it as a medical herb to heal gave him the opportunity to acquire a greater sensitivity.
Consequently, the great sensitivity Sheng developed with plants he was able to determine the different properties; such as Han/Cold, Jeh/Heat, Wen/Warmth and Liang/Coolness. He could also assess if these plants could cause side effects such as stomach pain. Despite of the fact that Shen Nung had so much knowledge to contribute to the advancement of Chinese medicine, he could not document in written any of his discoveries, yet it was past throughout generations by word of mouth. In addition development of pottering and sign language also contributed to the comfort of life. Sheng Nung had not written records, but around 101 B.C an anonymous scribe wrote a book called The Herbal Classic of the Divine Plowmen, which recorded the work Sheng Nung had developed on Chinese Medicine. It is believe that those who follow Shen advice were able to enjoy a healthy and long life beyond seventy years of age. (Huang, 1998)
The Yellow emperor (Huang Ti) 2696 B.C During 2696 B.C came Chinese the first emperor named: The Yellow emperor, while he was in power he was able to form a medical cabinet with two members Leikun and Gi po, who developed various techniques to treat with herbs and diagnosed disease. Yet, discoveries could only be published until 100 B.C in a well-recognized book called Huang Ti Nei Chien, which was able to document most of the techniques developed by the cabinet of the yellow Emperor. This work was able to contribute to the development of the Chinese medicine as well.
Furthermore, for the advancement of men and in order to improve life condition wine and fire was very useful in the preparation of medical herbs, since wine was used to preserve medical properties of herbs and condense the extracts of drug activity. Fire was an alternative to dry plants in order to be preserving them when out of season. From this time on Chinese people were able to preserve medications throughout the year, instead of being just limited by what the season had to offer.
Shang, Zhou-Han Dynasties 2000-206 BC Emperor Sheng Tong Wong during 1600 B.C had a very talented chef called Yi Yuen who had a great ability in preparing herbs in a way that people will be able to learn how to add healing benefits to ordinary food. He was recognized to be the first to introduce decoction when preparing herbs and he adapted his formulas from what he learnt in the book the Herbal Classic of the Divine Plowman. Pin Choi mentioned during the Han dynasty 407 – 310 B.C was the first to develop sphygmology. He was very famous during the Qing period since he was able to diagnosed disease by observing the irregularities in patient’s pulse.
Another great contribution by Pin Choi, were his two books Wal Chien and Pin Shoi Nai Chien. In these books he left all his knowledge of sphygmology, disease and diagnosis. He even made the community aware of how misleading the practices of doctors who practice non-conventional medicine such those that use propaganda of supernatural magic. By bringing in awareness of the doctors who only wanted to advertise supernatural powers he created a great distinction of the empirical and holistic knowledge that was being developed which deserved a higher sense of respect.
Zhou dynasty 1100 – 207 B.C was recognized for the medical contribution of Zhou Li who divided living materials into plants and animal categories, which helped in the medical practices for the improvement of disease. Later on, comes the Qin and Han dynasty where for the first time physicians were recognized as an official profession. The fact that paper was invented at that time contributed in the development of permanent writing records of new discoveries. Many important books were written such as the Herbal Classics of the Divine Plowman and Hoang Ti Nai Chien; yet it is not well known who the author was since these books were attributed to heroes and authorities rather than the real author.
Zhang Chong – Jen was one of the most popular physicians during the Han dynasty (2nd and 3rd century A.D) the reason for his great reputation was the following: He offered free services to the poor, wrote many books in regards to herbal treatment and the epidemics such as typhoid (harmful cold). During 145 -203 A.D a great surgeon and internist called Hua Tau, who wrote many healing formulas and manuscripts describing the process of anesthesia before an operation. He used his anesthesia techniques during abdominal surgeries for the removal of abscesses and amputation of extremities. Furthermore, he contributed to sphygmology and acupuncture. (In Fact, you could find on today’s clinics a motto on the wall saying “The re-born Hua Tau” which clearly shows that his medical contributions are presently still used and greatly admired.)
Another important doctor/alchemist during the Han dynasty was Yipo-Yang who left instructions on how to purify metals and create pills from it. He had a great passion for mercury products, which led to the treatment of different skin diseases. The medical records left by doctor Yi are the oldest publication on alchemy all over the world. Around 200 B.C was the publication of the book called: Nei Jing, which was considered another great contribution to the Chinese herbal medicine. This book is an argument between two important people the Yellow emperor and his doctor Chipo. The reason why this book was considered a great contribution was because it provided many important changes to the Chinese medicine, such as the improvement of diagnosis. In this book, we are able to see a remarkable distinction between the roots of the disease in addition, its manifestation. It is clarified the concept that similar symptoms could come from several roots. These changes in concepts created a great change, since the publication of Nei Jing, doctors not only were focused on healing the symptoms, but to discover the root of that symptom. Another great change of this book was the fact that more attention was giving to the writing record, experiments, and observations than to superstitions, which as a result gave a naturalistic attitude to Chinese herbal knowledge. Finally Nei Jing also gave great emphasis to the cause of disease being: improper exercise and improper diet. As a result of the contribution offered by Nei Jing herbal medicine was able to evolve more efficiently.
Another book, which offered great development of Chinese medicine, was the Divine Husbandman’s classic of herbal medicine, one of the great contributions regarding the 365 substances derived mainly from plants. This substance allowed the determination of the function of herb according to Nei Jing. This book ranks the herbs into three different ways superior, average, and inferior in regards to their healing strength. Another great contribution of this book was classification of medicinal herbs by temperature and taste.
Jian dynasty 265- 560 A.DFollowing the Qin and Hang dynasty comes the Jian dynasty 265- 560 A.D, in which it is acknowledged the herbal medical contributions of Tou Yugin, who is recognized by his great collection of many herbal classics: Ben Cao Chien. In addition doctor Tou wrote Yung – San Chian, mainly covers all the herbal secrets to achieve a long life. In addition doctor Tou grouped the herbs into three main categories low, middle and high. This led to the creation of subgroups in relation to the habitat and nature of each individual herb. Furthermore, he included different antidote for toxic drugs and contraindications of some herbal medications. Another important alchemist is Guo Hong 283 – 363 A.D he wrote a book about the alchemic medical chemistry called Bou Po Shi. In this book he left in writing his observations of different interaction of two or more substances he prepared. In order to illustrate an example, he placed sulfur and mercury together and prepared led to carbonate. He also contributed with another important book called Yue Han Fan, in this book he sets examples of the creation of insecticides by using areca seed for the treatment of goiter with tincture of algae and the remedy to rabies bite infection by using the brain rabid dog’s.
Tang dynasty 594 – 669 A.DWorld’s first Pharmacopeia was written during the Tang dynasty 594 – 669 A.D and edited by Emperor Li Chi with the support of 20 scholars. They completed a book named: Tang Hsin-hsin Ben Cao also name “Tang’s Newly Revised Materia Medical” which consist of 54 chapters in which it taking into account 150 herbal drugs, many of which were imported from other countries. This book had a great influence in China’s development of herbal medicine and also in different countries such as Korea and Japan. Therefore, it became a required book in traditional medical schools.
Tang dynasty gave great importance to nutrition and some nutrition books were written. For example a book called Diet Ben Kao, third volume written by Mengseng during 621- 713 A.D. It sets a great example to write more books about nutrition and it clarified the importance of nutritional plants that are able to improve health and longevity. In addition, this book not only offered cured to disease, but also gave food recipes in order to improve poor nutrition.
Sung government 974 A.DCultural interconnection among medical scholars from places such as: India, Korea and Japan was of great significance to the development of herbal medicine as well; since it allowed for further development of cultures by sharing their knowledge. An example of sharing was the fact that Chinese Pharmacopeia had to be translated into many different languages for trading purposes. Sung government 974 A.D sponsored the revision of Chinese Pharmacopeia, Tang Hsin-Hsu Ben Cao. This revision placed 130 drugs new drugs and further classification of drugs was done. As many other books Tang Hsin-Hsu Ben Cao was commissioned by the government. Later on during the 11 century A.D, Tang Chian Mei was the author of 33 volumes Jian Lui Ben Cao. His book has 1558 drugs with marvelous illustrations and different methods of preparations. This book was a model for herbal studies in China and it was replaced 500 years later by Ben Cao Kong Mu. By the 12 century a very well recognized doctor in herbal medicine called Zhang Yu-Su, contributed another very important books to the evolution of herbal medicine called: Herbal Gems, Difficulties in Pharmaceuticals and Introduction to Medicine. Among many of his theories, is the one in which he introduced the concept of a relationship between circulation and Qi and how it could benefit/harm health.
Ming – Chin dynasties 1368 -1911 A.D Next, comes Ming – Chin dynasties 1368 -1911 A.D a well-known physician known by the name Li Shih Chen 1518-1593 A.D, contributed one of the most prestigious book of this time called Ben Cao Kong Mu. This book was not only of great importance to China, but also became very important worldwide! Doctor Li, had a very well rounded knowledge about plants, mainly because spent 30 years traveling and studying all types of plants. During his journey, he investigated from rural areas the benefits of the plants to the people in the area. This allowed him to increase his knowledge of new plants from he also drew illustrations of specimens he found in every journey. His work led to the creation of not only a very important book, but also a detailed encyclopedia of botany, mineralogy, pharmaceutics and zoology which were a great contribution to the herbal medical field.
Furthermore, Doctor Li introduced a very important system of classification in which he divided the 1892 drugs into 16 groups based on an elements such as fire, air or water and even other groups such as cereal, vegetables, warms, cattle and human. When prescribing Li would classify herbs only into four groups based on how popular and the amount of drugs needed. In addition Li’s book was able to fix many pharmaceutical mistakes from previous books. After his book was printed it was taken to different countries and translated to Latin, English, French, German, Japanese and Russian.In addition, it is worth mentioning the last books contributed during the Ming dynasty, which were the following: Be Cao Fa Hsu by Hsu Yung Dung, Gu Fon Ben Cao by Chu Shou, Ben Ca Chi Yao by Wang Lun and Tin Nan Ben Cao.
Chin dynasty 644 -1911 A.D. It was a time in which doctors focused on the improvement of the most important works from the Ming dynasty, an example would be the various works Zhou Xue-Meng, which include ten volumes of Ben Cao Kong Mu Shi-Hui. It has 921 drugs newly discovered and the 11 volume Chui Ya Nai Pin, which were focused on the improvement of Materia Medica and the preservation of medical techniques used in folk prescriptions and techniques.
19th century to Present During the beginning of the 19th century, scientific research in laboratories of countries such as Korea, Japan and Germany have attempted to analyze the properties of traditional Chinese herbs to isolate the ingredients, which they believe can become part of the pharmaceutical companies. Yet, it has been discovered that some herbs cannot be used after the isolation of individual chemicals. For example the herb called: Bai Hua She She Cao. It is scientifically proven to have the ability to prevent infectious disease, but when its ingredients are separated it has no effect for a pathogen. The main reason for this occurrence is, because the plant was not targeting a specific pathogen, but it was actually improving the overall immune system and as a result, it was effective in preventing infection disease.A more recent example of the development of Chinese medicine is the post revolution period of 1911. We would start with the Chinese republic that documented in great details the medical progress. Chairman Mao Zedong had to overcome great opposition for those that wanted to eliminate traditional medicine and thanks to the 1949, Communist Revolution it was possible to declare not only that Chinese Medicine deserves great respect and value, but also declared that it was national treasure. Mr. Mao advocated in order to preserve the respect for Chinese Medicine. The cultural revolution of 1966 recognized barefoot doctors into rural areas to take the place of those doctors trained by the capitalist government.
In conclusion,history shows that the development of Chinese medicine was the effort of many people and dynasties to improve and preserve health. Therefore, to bring a higher quality in health modern medicine should not ignore the great work of Chinese medicine, but instead it should be implemented to Western medicine. Currently, it can be observed a harmonious and slow integration of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine. A great example of the integration of Western and Chinese medicine can be observed in China, where medical students are encouraged to combine them both to bring better results to the community. Integration of pulse and tongue reading used many Chinese people could bring improved diagnosis which could fix the root of many health problems instead of just symptoms.In the western world, herbal medicine sadly has not gained the same status as western physicians. Now days we ca observe that in modern medicine there is little reverence for past healing techniques, it has become a system were the rapid evolution of information results in the consideration of many herbal remedies to be simply out of date. Lack of knowledge about Chinese medicine by the western world has been one of the main reasons why herbal medicine has so little use, but still a great demand. It has been observed that when western medicine is out of source in order to deal with patients who have already tried chemical medicine and yet not found results or improvement demand for herbal medicine is taking place. Perhaps Chinese medicine is the only resource that can bring hope and health to people since man has to deal with disease throughout the past and the future with the ultimate goal of healing.
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