For over 3000 years (1200 BC - present), Chinese academics of various schools have focused on the observable natural laws of the universe and their implications for the practical characterisation of humanity's place in the universe. In the Chinese literary and philosophical classics, they have described some general principles and their applications to health and healing:
- Traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes the relationship between human being and the whole nature and the universe. There are observable principles of constant change by which the Universe is maintained. Humans are part of the universe and cannot be separated from the universal process of change.
- As a result of these apparently inescapable primordial principles, the Universe (and every process therein) tends to eventually balance itself. Optimum health results from living harmoniously, allowing the spontaneous process of change to bring one closer to balance. If there is no change (stagnation), or too much change (catastrophism), balance is lost and illnesses can result.
- Everything is ultimately interconnected. Always use a holistic ("systemic" or "system-wide") approach when addressing imbalances.
Traditional Chinese medicine has a uniquemodel of the body, notably concerned with the meridian system. Unlike the Western anatomical model which divides the physical body into parts, the Chinese model is more concerned with function.
The foundation principles of Chinese medicine are not necessarily uniform, and are based on several schools of thought. Received traditional Chinese medicine can be shown to be most influenced by Taoism, Buddhism, and Neo-Confucianism.
There are significant regional and philosophical differences between practitioners and schools which in turn can lead to differences in practice and theory.
Traditional Chinese medicine is largely based on the philosophical concept that the human body is a small universe with a set of complete and sophisticated interconnected systems, and that those systems usually work in balance to maintain the healthy function of the human body. The balance of Yin and Yang is considered with respect to Qi ("breath", "life force", or "spiritual energy"), other bodily fluids, the Five Elements, emotions, and the soul or spirit.