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Traditional Chinese Medicine History

Recent History of Chinese Medicine

The recent history of traditional Chinese medicine saw the integration of new techniques with ancient understanding. This integration process continued until the 19th century, when the Opium War of 1840 turned China into a semi-colonial society. Western colonial powers derided traditional medicine as primitive and outdated.

The Communist party came to power in the mid-20th century, bringing much turmoil to China; however, the Communists saw the need to promote traditional Chinese medicine to avoid dependence on the West.


A great need for traditional doctors arose since there were far too few Western-trained physicians to serve the huge population: only 10,000 Western-trained doctors were available to serve 400 million people.

Traditional Chinese medicine began a course of revival that continues today. Many Western-trained physicians and scientists in China started to conduct research on acupuncture, moxibustion, and herbal medicine, and a gradual integration of the two systems began.

In 1945, an acupuncture clinic opened in a Western hospital in China for the first time. Since then, traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine have been practiced side-by-side in Chinese hospitals, sometimes by a physician who has been trained in both fields.

For example, a cancer patient might receive radiation to treat a tumor then be sent to the herbal department for formulas to strengthen his immune system and normalize his blood count.

Since the 1970s, Chinese hospitals have trained students from more than 100 countries in the principles of traditional medicine.

Interest in traditional Chinese medicine was sparked in the United States in the early 1970s when New York Times reporter James Reston experienced an acute appendicitis attack while in China.

His report of receiving acu­puncture to relieve his post-operative abdominal pain brought an awareness of this system of healing to the general public.

Since then, acupuncture and herbal medicine have gradually taken hold in North America. With more than 10,000 practitioners and an increasing number of schools of traditional Chinese medicine, this ancient system has taken its well-deserved place in the Western world.

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


Bill Schoenbart has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 1991, when he earned a Masters degree in TCM. He teaches TCM medical theory and herbalism at an acupuncture school in California, and also maintains a clinical practice.

Ellen Shefi is a licensed massage technician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered dietitian. She operates a private acupuncture practice, has assisted in developing acupuncture protocol, and has contributed to a national research project funded by the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. She is a member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the American Herb Association, and the Oregon Acupuncture Association.