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Traditional Chinese Medicine History

Through trial and error, the ancient Chinese                                      developed medicines from indigenous plants.
Through trial and error, the ancient Chinese developed medicines from indigenous plants.

The history of traditional Chinese medicine can be traced through archaeological excavations extending back millions of years.

Primitive people spent most of their time on basic survival: hunting, locating and preparing plants for food, building shelters, and defending themselves. It's easy to imagine that over time, they'd have sampled most of the local plants in their search for food. In time, an oral record evolved that identified those plants that made good food, those that were useful for building, those that had an effect on illness, and those that were poisonous. Through trial and error, a primitive form of herbal medicine and dietary therapy was taking shape in China.

Fire also played a central role in their lives as a source of warmth, fuel, and light. As they huddled around fires, it was only natural that our ancestors would discover the healing powers of heat. Those powers would have been especially evident for cold, damp ailments such as arthritis, for which heat provides immediate relief. This was the origin of the art of moxibustion, the therapeutic application of heat to treat a wide variety of conditions.

These ancient people must have experienced a variety of injuries during their rugged lives. A natural reaction to pain is to rub or press on the affected area. This hands-on therapy gradually evolved into a system of therapeutic manipulation. People discovered that pressing on certain points on the body had wide-ranging effects. They began to use pieces of sharpened bone or stone to enhance the sensation, and acupuncture was born.

As Chinese society developed a written history, documenting the powers of medicine moved from an oral to a written system. Find out more about early documentation of traditional Chinese medicine on the next page.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatment, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see: