Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) is a term coined by the founder of the National University of Natural Medicine’s Chinese Medicine Department, Heiner Fruehauf, PhD. The major emphasis of this form of Chinese medicine which distinguishes itself from “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (TCM) is the great attention paid to the classic medical texts of Chinese medicine, many written several thousand years ago. It is from this perspective that all of what we now designate as “Chinese Medicine”, acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicine, Tui Na, Qi Gong, Tai Ji and many others arose. Prior to the Cultural Revolution that occurred in China under Chairman Mao, Chinese medicine was seen as backwards by many in power and great effort was made to abolish this 5000 year + tradition. While the intentions seemed to be for better standardization of medicine and to become more like “The West”, much of the historical knowledge was lost.
Before the cultural revolution, a classical Chinese medicine practitioner not only used a given combination of herbs/and acupuncture points for a given condition, but they also paid great attention to diet, season, constitutional differences, and many other factors that were critical in determining the most direct and appropriate route of treatment for suffering. Even in the current era of a more liberal post-Mao China, much of the attention to “The Classics” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Shang Han Lun, The Mai Jing, etc) has waned; indeed, in most TCM universities, there is a slow but steady erosion of time spent studying these seminal texts as can be seen in various school’s catalogue of courses over the years.
The effectiveness of Chinese herbology has not been scientifically welcomed over time and still remains to be an open practice without as much documented results as most western scientific medicinal research. However some medical practitioners are still using some of these traditional herbs hundreds of years after they were found and claimed to have significant medicinal properties. Herbs can be collected from many natural sources such as roots, leaves, stems, flowers, tree bark or seeds. They often use basic spices like cinnamon,ginger, licorice and most commonly Ginseng. These herbs can be prepared and served in many different ways. Most common is to be made into a tea and taken by the patient. These herbs can also put into capsules, made into a liquid tincture, or prescribed in granules or powder form.
There are over 6000 estimated plant species,1000 plus uses of animal products and over 100 raw minerals used all under the general term of “herbs”.
In most cases, classical Chinese medicine practitioners designed specific combinations of different herbs for certain patients. This combination would evolve and change as symptoms lessened or changed. Each batch was made to be taken in succession over a long period of time in order to fine-tune its benefits and to slowly realign the body’s natural energy flow.
To explain the common phenomena of certain changes in the body both during life changes and when dealing with disease, there were symbolic elements used. Fire, earth, water, metal and wood are the five elements used to connect the natural world with the human body. Each element is associated with a different season, and different organ network. For example, the water element mixed with winter cold relate to kidney, bladder issues.
The historical origins of classical Chinese medicine date back over 2000 years. Written language started in China in the 13th Century BC, so many of these practices even pre-date written history and are considered “legendary”. Classic Chinese medicine is deeply rooted in Eastern philosophy.
During the Shang Dynasty (1778-1122 BC), most of these medicinal practices were done by shamans who were mediators between the patient and the historical ancestors and/or evil spirits. Many illnesses are attributed to imbalances between humans and the heavens, earth or spirit.
The Chou period entered a time of regional warring as centralized control lessened. However, during this time of great war, great ideas also blossomed. It was at this time that a great medical document was written. Huang di Nei Jing was the first writing of historical methods that had been passed down from before. Its title translates as “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” and is considered one of the most important medical documents ever written, as well as being the first. This began a different focus on what were the causes of illness and its connection to the flow of energy in the body as it came to be understood as medical and less involved in the “spirit world”.
The basis of Chinese philosophy was that the human body is like its own tiny universe that coexists within the larger physical universe. Within these are two opposing and complementary forces called the Yin and the Yang. When these two forces become unbalanced within the body it creates an environment for disease and is suggested to be kept in balance to support healthy body function.
Another major concept in ancient Chinese medicinal beliefs concerned a vital energy that flowed through the body called Qi or Chi. This “life force” was believed to link all things and their surroundings. It is founded on a very basic principle – when Qi is flowing, it leads health, well-being, and sustainability. When your Qi isn’t flowing or is in disharmony it tends to result illness, disease, suffering, or even death.
These historical concepts behind Chinese Medicine continue to be validated by modern research; modern research and understanding of molecular biology and physiology continue to deepen the tradition of Classical Chinese Medicine applications and potential benefits.