Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Scientific?

Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Scientific?

Many people asks and questions this:  is traditional Chinese medicine scientific?   It’s interesting that even Wikipedia states:”TCM theory and practice are not based upon scientific knowledge….”  Well, it’s understandable why Wikipedia says so.  After all,  it is drafted by some people who might have their own understanding of Chinese medicine.  Let’s explore this a bit…

To answer this question, we first need to understand the term “Science”.  Google search says: “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”   More or less that’s what it is, agree?

If something is called scientific,  it means it’s true and never needs to be changed.    Traditional Chinese medicine theory has been existing for more than 5000 years and have been observed and experimented by real people with different health situations.   If you really study TCM with your whole heart, you will realize that it is based on very systematic and complete study of physical and natural world.  The following chart tells you the co-relationship of human organs -very in line with nature.

Jin-Shui-Mu-Huo-Tu (5 element chart)

By ClickTCM


Exactly the same diagnosis and treatment theory that have been applied thousands years before remain unchanged:  same 8 Syndrome Diagnosis (Yin-Yang, Exterior- Interior,  Lack -Excess,  Cold-Hot)( 阴阳表里虚实寒热。) through Look,Listen,Ask, and Pulse methods.

TCM dianosis process

TCM diagnosis process: Look-Ask-Listen-Pulse

Why Are There Different Treatments of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

However, there are indeed big differences among practitioners due to a lot of factors.  There are mainly two types of main differences.  One is due to the different treatment direction.  Like hiking, to get to the same destination,  there might be different directions or ways, some might be shorter than the others .   As there are so many types of TCM treatments such as cupping therapy, acupuncture, herbal prescriptions and each practitioner might be strong in particular treatment,  it’s not surprising that you find some TCM practitioners are better than others.   The other type is due to each person’s TCM knowledge.   TCM contains a wide portfolio of diagnosis and treatment methods and most core materials are documented in ancient Chinese character which not all people can truly understand, and require years of dedicated study and clinical experience.  The TCM practitioners who have studied this complicated and profound Chinese medicine will get different opinion or results depending on how long they really studied,  how is a person’s inner feeling and observation/grasping capability (悟性), how good is their interpretation and understanding ability  of ancient Chinese characters,  what kind of teachers they have followed or learnt from, etc.   A lot of factors affect whether a practitioner is good one or not.   Also due to the wide portfolio,  a limited human being can never be able to grasp all the aspects.

Learning and Practising

Is Western Medicine more Advanced or Scientific than Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Even though western medicine might be advantageous at surgical treatments, it should really be called `technology` instead of science.   It has been around for only several hundred years.   Very often you hear one scientifically proven medicine statement gets corrected or lab tested medicine gets off shelves in a few years.  Testing on rats?  Do you know rats are crawling close to ground and are more “yin”,  which is hugely different from human being, who are more “yang”?   Yes, with technology development, more tools are invented to test and monitor, such as MRI, blood test.  But please remember they are just testing to see whether anything looks abnormal but it can never really tell you what is causing any of such abnormalities.   If a root cause is not understood,  how can you expect the problem to be cured?  It’s common sense, isn’t it?

By saying that,  I have no intention to belittle western medicine practitioners.  On the contrary, I respect them a lot.  Comparatively they have much better attitude and morality towards life and patients.  I understand their hard work and great sense of responsibility behind all the practices.  But unfortunately, I have to say the direction of western medicine as a whole is a problem:  focusing on local and micro level – small cells, instead of holistic and macro level-human system.  From anatomy point of view and for surgical purposes,  western medicine might be great or advantageous.   But as for the overall health solution, western medicine is definitely heading towards the wrong direction.  This is my and few TCM doctors’ belief.

Is or Should be Traditional Chinese Medicine Standard?

Let me ask you a simple question:  are all the people standard?  Have you heard the saying that every person is created unique?   That`s why we have DNA testing, right?    If every person is different,  why you give him the same standard medicine and shouldn`t they be diagnosed and treated according to his own body situation?      Traditional Chinese Medicine is very standardized based on specific diagnosis.   If you just call blood test or MRI test are standard,  it`s almost the same to ask a robot programed just to treat patients according to the test index.   Think about it.     Every person has his own spirit and his own dietary habit or his own health history , that`s why TCM applied comprehensive 8 Syndrome Diagnosis by Look, Listen, Ask and Pulse` (望闻问切“) and sometimes with some hand pressing or feeling to really understand a person and his health problem.   We should really say that the ancient TCM diagnosis theories and treatment methodology are standardized, but the treatment for each person is not and shouldn`t be standardized.    Of course there is another factor  that every TCM practitioner might possess different scope of knowledge or capability which might still be a challenge in TCM world.

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