Friday, May 4, 2007


Traditional Chinese Medicine:
A History Revealed- part 1

"How did you get your clothes so clean?...
....Why, it's an ancient Chinese secret!"
Calgon Commercial (circa 1973)

Years ago, a television add parodied the illusion of magic while promoting a cleaning product. Although it was a promotion for a clothes detergent, the skit humorously played on the rediscovered allure the West had for the mysterious orient.

This famous (or infamous) add reflected the remarkable events occurring at the time in the US during the early 1970's. The anti-institutional "Flower Power" decade of the 1960's and its societal effects still reverberated throughout the country. The ongoing Vietnam War served as a backdrop to the pacifist protests such as the disastrous Kent State Massacre. The Watergate scandal was just beginning to unfold and would help to push the entire country towards profound levels of disillusionment.

The timing was just right to introduce "other ways of knowing" as the national consciousness yearned for relief and comfort. It is not hard then to imagine, that when President Nixon took his unprecedented trip to the Peoples Republic of China in 1972 the nations interest and attention turned towards things Chinese.

Enter a president eager to demonstrate effectiveness, a naive western media, and a strained "proletariat" communist party keen on representing its uniqueness, stability, and power to the world. Like a perfect storm, these swirling events coalesced into a golden moment capturing the ever fickle US curiosity.

Here the Chinese delegates, knowingly or not, played an ingeniously subtle card capitalizing on China's long history and presented the concept of a unified "Chinese version" of medicine. It was represented as all encompassing, highly effective, and based on ancient tradition. The West took the bait hook, line, and sinker!

Hence, was born the seeds of our present day conceptualization of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The smoldering embers of public interest of the unknown were fanned into flame as a new wave of popular fascination took hold of the West. There followed a virtual explosion of thought, theory, publications, seminars, gurus, and wise men that promulgated profound universal concepts that professed salvation based on "ancient Chinese secrets". Traditional Chinese Medicine was the panacea to a perceived cold and impersonal Western style of practicing medicine.

However, fundamental misconceptions of Traditional Chinese Medicine fomented then have, for the last several decades, taken a firm grip on the Western imagination, growing and propagating as allegedly factual.

Some of these alleged facts include the impression that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a historically coherent and unified practice, that it is the most commonly utilized medical practice in China, and that TCM is made up of a large body of well researched "alternative" therapies having similar or equal efficacy to modern Western medicine.

That none of these facts bear out under scrutiny underscores the need to discuss what the actual historical record and evidential data reveal.

More in the next post...

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