A famous Chinese scholar once observed that a translation is like the back of a piece of embroidery: the threads and colors are there, but the image itself is not. An excellent illustration of this is the Western translation of the practices and intellectual traditions of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), commonly known as “Oriental medicine”. In Asia, one encounters a number of systems of healing based on the principles of TCM. One does not, however, encounter “Oriental medicine” anywhere in Asia. Simply put, there is no such thing as “Oriental medicine” per se. The term is, in fact, little more than a Westernized abstraction, a sort of intellectual short-hand to refer to the varieties of healing arts and sciences developed in Asia from the foundations established by the great scholars and thinkers of Chinese medicine.
Throughout Asia, practitioners pride themselves on their solid foundation within the classical texts of TCM and openly acknowledge their intellectual debt. As an example, the Japanese refer to the practice of herbal medicine as kampo, or “the Chinese method.” Korean acupuncturists, with their highly developed systems of hand acupuncture, always take care to ground their variations in practice solidly in the canonical texts of TCM. For centuries, nothing was so highly prized among Asian practitioners as the Yellow Emperor’s Canon, the foundational text for TCM, or the Shang Han Lun, the primary clinical text. Both of these classical Chinese medical texts are still sought after and in daily use throughout Asia.
Not only in China, but also in Japan, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia, some variation or derivative of TCM is practiced. The curriculum for practitioners has always required study of Huang ti nei ching su wen (Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine), the Shang han lun (Discussion of cold induced diseases), the Jin kui yao lue (Golden Chamber) and the Wen bing xue (Discussion of Febrile Diseases). In China, where the study and practice of TCM has been brought to a very high level of perfection and completion, Ph.D. candidates devote years to these studies and the leading scholars, instructors, and practitioners are never without well-thumbed copies of these canonical medical texts. Even students in the most humble of acupuncture and TCM training programs in China must devote a number of years to these classical texts.
This is why in founding the Texas Health and Science University, formerly known as Texas College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the first school of its kind in the state, we not only included “Traditional Chinese Medicine” in our name, but we also made TCM the very substance of our curriculum. We modeled our curriculum on the programs of study used in the best schools of TCM in China, with great emphasis on the study of the canonical texts of TCM as the key to understanding the proper use of acupuncture and herbs. It seemed obvious to us that there was no other way to teach acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine except by giving our students a thorough grounding in the classics.
Paul C.K. Lin, M.A.; Lic.Ac. (TX)
Texas Health and Science University