Chinese Medicine is probably one of the oldest and most popular systems of medicine in the world today and is used by over a billion people for primary health care. Over the last 4,000 years it has spread throughout the east from China to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia and in more recent years to the Soviet Union and the west. The export of Chinese herbs from China now amounts to £10 billion.

Chinese medicine developed from an extraordinarily inventive culture whose technological developments were thousands of years ahead of much of the rest of the world. We are told that Edward Jenner discovered how to inoculate against smallpox at the end of the 18th century, but the Chinese were already inoculating against smallpox in the 10th century AD. We are told that William Harvey discovered the circulation of blood in 1628, but the Chinese had already beaten him to it by 3,000 years. Many other Chinese discoveries and inventions are equally impressive: these are well documented in Joseph Needham’s, epic seven-volumes ‘Science and Civilisation in China’.

It was out of this very advanced and creative culture that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine emerged. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing) dated around the 2nd century BC, is the most comprehensive collection of early Chinese medical texts. The book is written as a dialogue between the Yellow Emperor and his physician Ch’i Po, who together explore the nature of the human condition, illness, ageing and the theoretical framework of Chinese medicine. Ch’i Po speaks of Chinese medicine being rooted in the Daoist philosophy of change, growth, balance and harmony, and outlines the principles of  Yin and Yang and the Five Phases. He describes the organ systems and the meridian network along which acupuncture points are located, together with reference to a number of herbal formulas and their actions. Amazingly, these records also contain details of pathology and physiology which provide the theoretical foundation for Chinese medicine today.

Throughout Chinese history physicians have published many classical medical texts, for example Zhang Zhong Jing who wrote the Treatise on Colds and Fevers (Shang Han Lun) in 200AD, Li Shi Zhen published the Compendium of Materia Medica (Ben Cao Gang Mu) 1596 . The later was written over a period of 30 years in 52 volumes; it lists 1,893 medicinal substances including 374 previously undocumented substances.

Although acupuncture and Chinese herbalism has been practised throughout Chinese history, it was not until the establishment of the People''s Republic in 1949, that there was a resurgence of interest in it at a national level. It was Chairman Mao who said that Chinese Medicine was one of the China’s ‘great treasures’ and should be preserved, of course it also made sense for China to use a system of medicine that was not only effective but also affordable to maintain the health of it vast population. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), traditional Chinese medicine was given new opportunities to develop. Today acupuncture and Chinese herbalism is used extensively in China in a hospital-based system with facilities for treating acute as well as chronic conditions. The national policy is to use both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine side by side.

In Britain, serious study of traditional acupuncture did not develop until the 1950s. It was a handful of dedicated homeopaths, osteopaths and naturopaths who were the first to study this oriental medical system, either from existing sources in Europe such as the Jesuits who had visited China or from direct contact with teachers and schools in Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere.  

There has been a steady increase in the number of professionally trained practitioners in the UK, from just a handful of qualified acupuncturists in the 1970s to over 2,500 currently registered with The British Acupuncture Council (BAC).

Stephen Lee is a member of the BAC and has been practising acupuncture since 1984 and Chinese herbal medicine since 1991 in Northampton.


Abington Park Clinic    Acupuncture    Chinese Herbal Medicine    Northampton    Northamptonshire