How to Understand the Basics of Chinese Medicine

Ginger is a popular herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Ginger is a popular herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)  has deep roots that reach back over 2,000 years. There are many influences that can be credited with the development of TCM. The Communist revolution, Europeans and the Japanese all have influenced how TCM has evolved.

These influences created changes in the way that TCM has been practiced. This explains why there are two terms associated with these practices: Traditional Chinese Medicine and Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM). Both of these terms are recorded in history as being associated with Chinese medicine. The terms are interchangable at times but in general, TOM is used as a reference to the practice of Chinese medicine up to early in the 1900s.

Until this time, there was great growth associated with Chinese medicine. But as Western medicine’s influence grew, it also experienced a decline. As a result, training in TCM became more limited.

In 1928, Chairman Mao’s leadership formed the Communist party of China. In 1949, this newly formed party took over. There were very little to no medical services available and the Communists greatly encouraged the utilization of Chinese remedies. These remedies were inexpensive and accepted by the Chinese. Plus, the country people of China already had the skills that were needed in order to practice this type of medicine.

Yang Shao suggested that Traditional Chinese Medicine be made popular and be given scientific credibility in 1940. As a result, facilities were opened in China that now investigate, provide and educate in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

When ties to China were opened in the 1970s, Chinese Medicine gained popularity in the West. However, in China, both Western and Chinese medical practices have been in effect since the late 1800s.

According to Chinese medicine, there is a theory that five elements govern everything in the universe. They are five natural elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

In order to understand the fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine, one must have a basic understanding of these elements. Each element is associated with a season of the year and relates to particular organs and senses in the body like color, taste and sound.

Here is a breakdown of the five elements and their associations:
The wood element relates to the season of spring and the gall bladder and liver in the body.


The fire element relates to early summer, and the small intestines and heart.

The earth element relates to late summer, the spleen and the stomach.

Metal is the element associated with autumn, the large intestine and the lungs.

The element of water relates to winter, the bladder and the kidneys.

Western medicine separates the mind from the body. It is different in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The beliefs of TCM say that every organ has specific functions in the body and mind. For example, TCM believes that the liver plans for the body and stores anger, at the same time, the gall bladder is involved in making decisions.

When one consults with a TCM practitioner, they will be asked dozens of questions. The answers to these questions are clues that will help the practitioner to determine where imbalances in the body lie and how best to approach treatments for an internal cleanse.

For example, they may inquire as to what you do for a living and what stressors are associated with your career. They will ask what your diet consists of and what issues are causing you problems.

Most people fall into the category of a particular element. For example, an aggressive person may be described as one who demonstrates a “wood” personality. However, according to TCM, each person displays all of the five elements at varying times.

Chinese medicine harmonizes the mind and the body and provides internal cleansing to restore health. It is a more holistic approach than Western medicine. More and more practitioners can be found in the West who practice TCM.

Leave A Comment...