We date the history of traditional Chinese medicine back to the second century BC, as there are no clear records dating beyond that. While the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046) recorded descriptions about disease, there is no record of what medical techniques they used. The earliest Chinese medicinal writing that has been discovered has been dated to 186 BC. It is called the Recipes for 52 Ailments, and includes herbal medicines, lancing, cauterization, chanting spells, and includes cures for snake bites, warts, and demon possession (what we now understand as mental illness).
The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon is the first clear cut medical thesis. The text mentions acupuncture and moxibustion in order to manipulate the yin and yang, and they are described similarly to how we practice them now. It was within this paper that Qi was described. TCM practitioners believe in various kinds of Qi, and thus use various techniques in order to manipulate it. Two of the manipulations that are frequently used are cupping and acupuncture. Additionally, fire cupping was practiced throughout Egypt and the western world before the days of Christ. However, it is unknown whether the east and west shared medical knowledge.
As the first known text, the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, it has long been the most influential, however it is not the only. Additionally, Benao Gangmu and The Treatise on Cold Injuries are considered essential to TCM practitioners. Both of these texts deal with herbs and drugs. The latter being published near the end of the Han Dynasty around 220 AD and authored by Zhang Zhongjing. The Treatise on Cold Injuries was the first known paper dealing with herbal and drug medicine. However, the most important work on drugs and herbs was The Bencao Gengmu. This text was written by Li Shizhen in the midst of the Ming Dynasty. Li Shizhen was a doctor, and at one time he was an official with the Imperial Medical Bureau of the Ming Empire. He reviewed the dynasty’s collection of medical texts and discovered numerous inaccuracies. With every change of empire, the texts were written and republished and this resulted in a variety of contradictions.
Li Zhizhen used his medical knowledge to compile accurate information and organized it in a logical manner. While he composed a number of papers, his greatest and most detailed was Bencao Gengmu, in English this is known as Materia Medica.
Considered the great achievement in science of the Ming era, Bencao Ganmu was the most detailed and exhaustive text on traditional herbal medicine. He described and classified hundreds of different types of herbs, as well as medicinal animal parts and medicinal minerals. Also included were information regarding physics, geology, as well as other topics.
TCM is still used in China today, and has now spread to the Western world…with some of the most common procedures including acupuncture. And although cupping has been around for many years, since the Olympics in 2016, the treatment of cupping has become more popular.