Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the third oldest form of medicine, only to be predated by the Egyptian and Babylonian systems of medicine. Its beginnings can be traced back to primitive clans that occupied parts of China around 2200 BCE. After some time, certain individuals within the clan structure became quite proficient at healing other clan members, and they became known as shaman (wu). There is evidence that shows that shaman used various healing practices, such as: moxibustion, herbs, crude acupuncture, and hot stones applied to certain areas of the body. These treatments were effectively applied to cure certain diseases, relieve pain, and alleviate sicknesses.
Since the earliest times, TCM has developed into a very advanced system of medicine, one that has established itself over many hundreds of years through the accumulation of evidence based on clinical observations and research. Over this period of time, TCM has made many achievements, many of which were based on the technological innovations of the time. Some of these accomplishments include:
The production of bronze medical needles during the Shang Dynasty (1700 - 1100 BCE), later to be followed by iron needles, and then gold and silver ones. The use of these metal needles, which were heated up, led to the discovery of the meridians; because the patient was able to trace the heat as it flowed through the channels.
During the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (700 - 256 CE) the emperor ordered the medical system to be organized. He created 3 types of physicians: ones who specialized in internal medicine, physicians for external medicine and nutritionists. Two more accomplishments at this time were the major advancements in diagnostic skills, which incorporated Yin / Yang Theory, and the publication of many medical texts.
As publication technology became more advanced, the number of published texts also increased. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE) the first complete pharmacopeia was published with a collection of 365 different herbs.
Probably the first anesthesiologist was Hua Tuo (110 - 207 CE), who was known for using herbs as anesthesia to perform field surgery.
The last item I would like to mention is the long and successful history that TCM has had in treating infectious diseases on an epidemic level. The pioneer in this field was Sun Sumiao (581 - 682 CE) who treated such diseases as leprosy, small pox, chicken pox, cholera, scarlet fever and measles; mind you, this was way before the West had a clue what was going on.
So, as you can see from this small sampling of history, TCM is quite an amazing system with a long productive history. Below, you can read more about specific areas within TCM and learn about some different techniques used in the treatment room.