There are fundamental differences in traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the western medical system. With some understanding of Chinese culture and philosophies, it may help one to see through and start to appreciate the value of TCM.
Western medicine treats infections by targeting the microorganisms directly, whether preventively, with antibiot ics, or making use of the immune system through vaccines. Traditional Traditional Chinese medicine has a “macro” or Yin-Yang balance view of disease. For example, one modern interpretation is that well-balanced human bodies can resist most everyday bacteria and viruses, which are ubiquitous and quickly changing. Infection, while having a proximal cause of a microorganism, would have an underlying cause of an imbalance of some kind.
Chinese Medicine does recognize the importance of nutrition and exercise and reducing stress in maintaining a healthy immune system (and thus preventing infection). It also faces problems with antibiotic resistance caused by overuse of chemical agents and the high mutation rate of microorganisms. Pharmaceutical treatments also sometimes have side effects, the most severe of which are seen in regimens used to treat otherwise fatal illnesses, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer, and antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS. The traditional treatment would target the imbalance, not the infectious organism. Consequently, there is a popular saying in China as follows: “Chinese medicine treat humans while western medicine treat diseases.”
The holistic approach of traditional Chinese medicine makes all practitioners generalists. Western medicine has general practitioners who dispense primary care, but increasing reliance is placed on specialists who have expertise in treating only certain types of diseases.
Another important difference in Eastern and Western medicine is that every traditional Oriental diagnosis is individual and unique. Two persons with the same symptoms may receive completely different treatments because the cause of their “imbalances” may be different. Oriental medicine looks for the “causes” of the disease, not necessarily treating the symptoms directly.
A Chinese medicine practitioner might give very different herbal prescriptions to patients affected by the same type of infection, because the different symptoms reported by the patients would indicate a different type of imbalance, in a traditional diagnostic system.
Contact with Western culture and medicine has not displaced TCM. While there may be many sociological and anthropological factors involved in the persistent practice, two reasons are most obvious in the westward spread of TCM in recent decades. Firstly, TCM practices are often very effective, sometimes offering palliative efficacy where the best practices of Western medicine fail, especially for routine ailments such as flu and cancer, apoplexy, allergies, and AIDS, and managing to avoid the toxicity of chemically composed medicines. Secondly, TCM provides the only available care when resources are inadequate to import Western medical technologies.
The attitude towards traditional Chinese medicine and pharmacy across the world is changing. A large number of specialists in TCM have been invited by countries in Asia, Europe, America and others to give lectures on TCM or to conduct activities in TCM therapy and scientific research. In China, among the foreign students in natural sciences, those who major in traditional Chinese medicine accounts for the highest percentage. World Health Organization has established 7 collaborating centers of traditional medicine and pharmacology. International training centers have been set up in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Xiame to train TCM personnel from over the world. Colleges of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture have been founded in France, US, Italy and Australia. An institute of TCM theoretical research has been set up in the Munich University of Germany. Cooperation in TCM has been established between China and Japan, the United State and Germany.