The root of traditional Chinese medicine

We always say that traditional Chinese medicine has a history of thousands of years. The history of traditional Chinese medicine should start from the Stone Age. But in fact, the system of the traditional Chinese medicine we inherit today was rooted at the Eastern Han Dynasty.

The Eastern Han Dynasty

The Eastern Han Dynasty existed from AD 25 to 220. It was a period with glorious achievements of culture, literature, and technology.

In the dynasty, the education of Confucianism was flourishing. The conflicts between two Confucian schools came to an end, and the Confucian ideology that dominated the dynasty was inherited by later dynasties.

Buddhism was introduced into China, and it would deeply influence all aspects of Chinese society in later centuries. Taoism, the first native organized religion of Han Chinese people, also appeared in grass roots.

Around the beginning of the second century, a eunuch named Cai Lun developed the technology of papermaking with cheap materials, and made it possible to use paper widely. Paper would completely take the place of bamboo and wooden slips as the material of daily writing in China after two hundred years.

Because of the booming education of Confucianism, young Chinese people liked to have parties and discuss politics. If they wanted to rescue an honest man, they would sit down in front of the royal palace for submitting their appeal or go to a prison for requesting collective imprisonment. The first student movement occurred in the history of China.

Classic books of traditional Chinese medicine

“Huang Di Nei Jing” (Huang Di’s Classic), “Nan Jing” (Eighty-One Questions of Huang Di), “Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing” (Shen Nong’s Classic about Herbs) and “Shang Han Za Bing Lun” (Treatise on Cold Damage and Miscellaneous Diseases) are called four classical works of traditional Chinese medicine. The authors of the first three works are unclear, but they had had been compiled to books in the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Zhang Zhongjing and Hua Tuo

Zhang Zhongjing, the author of Shang Han Za Bing Lun, who lived in late second century and early third century, was called medical sage by Chinese people. However, his name was not recorded by any history book, but was firstly mentioned by Wang Shuhe, a medical official who wrote a specialized book about the diagnosis of pulse decades after the death of Zhang Zhongjing.

(The shrine of medical sage in Nanyang, a city in Henan province)

Hua Tuo, the contemporary of Zhang Zhongjing and another excellent practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, was clearly recorded in the history book written in late third century, and was also recorded in another book written in the fifth century. The story of Huo Tuo could be recorded in history books, mostly because he had social interactions with political characters, including Cao Cao, the most powerful man at that time. Huo Tuo eventually offended Cao Cao and was killed. No one had the courage to protect his book, so he had to burn the book by himself. Zhong Cang Jing, a book with the name of Hua Tuo, is not a genuine book written by Hua Tuo.

The milestone of Chinese medicine

We can say, the system of traditional Chinese medicine, including theory, methods, recipes, and medicinal materials, was eventually established in the Eastern Han Dynasty. The history of Chinese medicine has a milestone in the period. Later the therapists of traditional Chinese medicine basically followed the system created in the Eastern Han Dynasty. During two thousand of years, there were a lot of new ideas about traditional medicine. But the practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine never tried to break the system, until a lot of Western missionary hospitals were built in China in the late 19th century.

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