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Wisdom of the Ancient Orient
The structure of the Canadian health care system is an ever-changing institution which tries desperately to match the care they provide with the values they hold true. Health care providers have begun to take a holistic approach to care, trying to ensure an individuals health, not only physical, but emotional, psychological and interpersonal. The technology, quality and availability of care are at its highest levels ever, yet people are still unsatisfied with the current system. If the problem isn t with the availability and quality of health care, then where does it lie? Medical practitioners have applied their holistic philosophy in all areas of health care, except the actual treatments themselves. They are treating a disease or illness as something which must be treated and cured, rather than something which one must strive to prevent. The act of treating a disease or an illness, in traditional Chinese medical practice, is like digging a trench long after the battle has begun. Oriental medical practices are founded on the philosophy of yin and yang which emphasises the importance of universal balance and harmony. Their method of treatment is a truly holistic one in that the idea of healthy living is deeply embedded into every aspect of their culture through this philosophy and through the long medical history of the Chinese people. Oriental medicine prescribes a continuous intake of the proper nutrients through herbal use to regulate the bodies internal yin and yang, creating a harmonic balance of mind, body and soul.
The origin of Chinese medicine is traditionally associated with three legendary Emperors; Fu Hsi, Shen Nung, and Huang Ti.
Fu Hsi became Emperor in 2852 b.c. He is said to be responsible for the most profound accomplishment in the history of China, the text I Ching. Thought to be the oldest book in Chinese history, it contains the foundations of all Chinese philosophy in the doctrine of yin and yang.
Shen Nung is the second of the three emperors responsible for Chinese medicine. He is credited with the authorship of the text Shen Nung Pen Ts ao, translated Shen Nung s Herbal which describes the properties of over three-hundred herbal medicines. He is thought to be the first herbalist, and the father of herbal medicine. His rule ended in 2697 b.c., not surprisingly since he was rumoured to have poisoned himself several hundreds of times testing his herbal concoctions.
The third emperor, Huang Ti, reigned from the year 2697 b.c. until 2595 b.c. Among other things, such as the invention of the chariot, currency and cloth clothing, Huang Ti is credited for authorship of the Huang Ti Ne Ching, translated, the Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine, the most important and earliest work in Chinese medicine. It indicated that the Chinese of the time recognized the circulatory system as the bodies means of nutrient distribution.
These three texts undisputedly are the foundations of all modern Chinese medicine, however, as one Professor of Anthropology, Eugene Anderson put it No serious scholar questions the mythological nature of the three emperors. Fu Hsi is said to have the body of a snake, Shen Hung sinply means devine farmer, and the Yellow Emperor is equally improbable. The Shen Nung Pen Ts ao, in reality was written in the Han dynasty (206b.c. -220 a.d.) and the earliest fragments of the Nei Ching date back to only 200 or 300 b.c. It is more probable that they are the works of early herbalists who wanted their writings to gain immediate respect and attention so they credited their work to highly revered and respected individuals.
It was under the Han dynasty that the classical doctrine of Chinese medicine was formed, primarily based on the works of Chang Chung Ching (born c.158-166) and Hua To (born c.136-141). He was the first to associate certain symptoms with an appropriate treatment. His major accomplishment is the authorship of the Shang Han Yun, a text held in the same esteem as the Nei Ching. The text describes the stages of a developing disease and measures to take in the treatment of these stages. His text is still widely used today by modern herbalists.
Hua To was the most skilled surgeon of the Han dynasty. His main interest was in the study of drugs. He was the pioneer in the use of anaesthetics, antiseptics, anti-inflammatory ointments, and anthelmintics. He also observed that physical exercise improved digestion and circulation and strengthened the body. Based on these findings, Hua to originated a series of exercises modelled after the bear, the stag, the crane, the tiger and the monkey. These movements greatly influenced another aspect of Chinese culture, the martial arts. Before Hua To s time, the martial arts was a field concerned with the controlled swinging of limbs for combat purposes, and had no emphasis on breathing control and anatomy. Although he never published any work, Hua To s circulatory exercises constitute an important aspect of Chinese culture not usually associated with medicine.
Some time after the fall of the Han dynasty, many Chinese territories were reunified under the rule of the Sui and Tang dynasties (590-906). During this time of political stability, a rapid growth and development of Chinese culture and economy occured. Many milestones in the medical sciences occurred during this time. In fact, the institution was reorganized completely at this time and the study of medicine was to be approved by examinations under the control of the T ai i Shu, translated as The Grand Medical Service, formed in 642. This is one of the earliest known examples of organized teaching of medicine under state control. As Richard Hyatt put it, This was the golden age of the Tang dynasty, the era when Chinese medicine reached it s zenith.
It was during this time that the ever modified Nei Ching, the most important and earliest work on Chinese medicine, took the format we have today. It is divided into two parts, the Su Wen comprised the first nine chapters of theory, and the Ling Shu, containing nine chapters of practical knowledge. After these two parts is found information on the organs, which was added much later. Also, during the Tang dynasty, two of the nine scrolls were lost, and thus, the Nei Ching must be looked at as a composite work which has suffered many modifications throughout it s existence.
The year 821 saw the fall of the Tang dynasty and the rise of the Northern Sung dynasty (960-1126) from which the philosophy of Buddhism and Zen came about. This was closely followed by the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) of Mongol rule. China was wrought with death and destruction. The population dropped from 100 million to 60 million over these 400 years and this dealt a devastating blow to Chinese tradition and culture. A peasant revolt ended the Mongol rule and established the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The new dynasty was eagre to re-establish the intellectual and ethical values of old China, and for a short time, they did just that. However, 400 years of Mongolian rule had diluted Chinese culture to a point they could not return from. There was one great work that originated from the Ming dynasty. Li Shih Chen (1518-1593) wrote the Pen Ts ao Kang Mu, are one of the most important texts in Chinese medicine. The book was not only a catalog of pathology and therapudies, but also a source book of modern natural science, classifying minerals, vegetables and animal products, and also holds accounts of technological, geographical, cosmological, and philosophical information.
The Ch ing dynasty (1644-1911) was another period of foreign rule for China. The Manchus ruled China for 250 years and never assimilated into Chinese culture. The Manchu authority was a constant target for Ming loyalists and revolutionaries and Chinese society was constantly torn between north and south. Tradition and culture, at this time, was worn so thin that when Protestant missionaries introduced Western medicine, it took a strong foothold in Chinese society. This is something that would probably not have occurred had the Chinese medical system not have already dissolved due to the many political and cultural upheavals through Chinese history.
By the turn of the century traditional medicine began to lose favor among the culturally elite who travelled and studied abroad. The teaching of traditional practices halted one by one and by the 1950’s, only eight traditioanl schools remained. Traditional medicine is still very much used in the orient today, as many are not persuaded by the modernest movement, howeverr, it s place in Chinese society today is dwarfed by it s previous presence in old China.
The basics of the Chinese medical sciences is founded on the ancient doctrine of yin and yang, found in the I Ching. According to this doctrine, there are two opposing forces which govern the Universe. These two forces, called yin and yang, are to remain in a constant harmonic balance for the Universe to remain in a state of rightness. The basic theorems of yin-yang philosophy are as follows:
1. Infinity divides itself into yin and yang.
2. Yin and yang result continuously from the infinite movement of the universe.
3. Yin is centripetal. Yang is centrifugal. Together they produce all energy and phenomena.
4. Yin attracts yang. Yang attracts yin.
5. Yin repels yin. Yang repels yang.
6. The force of attraction and repulsion between any two things is proportional to the difference in their yin yang constitution.
7. All phenomena are ephemeral and constantly changing their yin yang constitution.
8. Nothing is solely yin or yang; everything involves polarity.
9. Nothing is neuter. Either yin or yang is always in excess.
10. Yin and yang are relative. Large yin attracts small yin. Large yang attracts small yang.
11. At the extremity of their manifestation, yin produces yang and yang produces yin.
12. All physical forms are yin at the center and yang at the surface. (Hyatt p.33)
For the Chinese, the yin yang philosophy is a cornerstone of their medical practices. They view the body as a micro-universe and therefore, it too must have a harmonic balance of yin and yang. If at any time the condition of the body becomes too yin and not enough yang, or vice versa, disease arises. This simple concept is the fundamental theory behind the prescription of herbal medicine.
The Chinese view all foods as medicinal, and all medicine as foods. They closely monitor their nutrient intake as to regulate yin and yang levels in their body. This they do with the concoction and decoction of herbal teas and soups, which in theory, have an all encompassing effect on the body, improving mind, body and soul.
In diagnosing a patient, an herbalist recognizes, based on physical appearance and the history of the complaint, how much yin or yang a body has, and decides, based on ancient Chinese practice, what herbal mixtures will balance the levels. In the case of chronic diseases, where a person is actually suffering symptoms of a disease, an herbalist uses a classification system for diagnosing the disease based on symptoms. The three classifications given to disease are as follows; water diseases, blood diseases, and chi diseases.
The water disease category includes all diseases involving the retention of water, urinary and excretory systems. Symptoms include swelling, unusual urinary and bowel movement, or sweating. Of the three categories of disease, the water category is thought to be the easiest to cure.
The blood disease category encompasses all those conditions associated with the circulatory system. These diseases are looked at more seriously than diseases in the water category, however, in all but the most stubborn of cases, improvements are seen shortly after treatment begins.
Diseases of the chi category are the most serious and most difficult to cure of all diseases. Chi may be defined as one s life force, an energy that flows through all living things. Diseases in this category involve schizophrenia, Parkinson s disease, and all those diseases which affect the nervous system. In most cases, the problem is so difficult to define and pinpoint that an herbalist will leave the curing process up to the patient. Even the great masters have failed to completely cure such a disease.
There is a remarkable resemblance in ancient Chinese practice and modern thought. The Chinese concept of disease resulting from an imbalance of yin and yang is very similar, if not exactly the same as the modern idea that sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems must be in harmony, or the body is left open to the contraction of disease. Another similarity to ancient Chinese knowledge and modern thought can be found in the text of the Yellow Emperor, The Nei Ching. It states that the human body can be protected from disease by adapting to the external environmental changes. Sickness must be cured before it surfaces by proper rest, diet, work, and by keeping the mind and heart at ease, states the Nei Ching. It also contains descriptions of a circulatory system, knowledge which was not discovered by the western world until the late 16th century a.d. Another modern idea known very well to the ancient Chinese was the concept of psychosomatic disorders as we can see in this passage from the first part of the Nei Ching, the Su Wen: We must know how to determine whether a disorder is caused by perverse energy coming from the outside (e.g. wind, cold, dampness, heat, dryness), or by emotional stress. Psychic disturbances, like perverse energies, con give rise to muscular disorders and all sorts of illness.
Individuals in the Canadian health care system speak of taking a more holistic approach to health care, yet the basis of the care itself is of such a specific nature, that is treating the disease rather than the person, that the idea of incorporating holistic views seems contradictory. Almost every aspect of Chinese culture as we know it today has come to being through thousands of years of growth from a single foundation, which is the yin yang philosophy. The basic principals of the yin yang philosophy are that in order for the universe to function properly, there must be a harmonic balance of yin and yang within. Chinese medicine uses this premise as the basis for all its practices. It emphasises a continual regulation of internal energies through use of specific nutrient intake as prescribed by a knowledgeable diagnostician. Canadian individuals do not have a single history or cultural background to build a health care system upon. In fact, unlike the Chinese, health care is a relatively singular aspect of our culture and only when Canadians realize that health care is not a service to be provided to them when they get sick, but is an individual, ongoing process, to be kept in mind at every meal of every day. They must realize also that is not the sole responsibility of the Canadian health care system to change itself inside out while the public do nothing. What people want is better health care, but if there were less people getting sick, the level of care would rise anyway. So, what people should be striving for is healthier living, and they should look the ancient Chinese for their example.
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