In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Chinese Medical Literature and Information Retrieval
  • Data Sources
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Collections of Ancient Chinese Medical Texts
  • English Translations of Medical Texts
  • History
  • Images
  • Basic Theory
  • Acupuncture
  • Traditional Medical Formulas
  • Herbology
  • Diagnosis
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine in Modern Transition

Chinese Studies Traditional Chinese Medicine
Ka-Wai Fan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0039


Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an ancient medical and health care system that still forms an important part of diagnosis and treatment systems in China. It embraces several therapeutic approaches, most notably acupuncture, herbal therapy, massage, Tai Chi, and Qigong. Most Chinese people believe in TCM, and it is widely used in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and among Chinese people living overseas to treat diseases or to strengthen the body. Furthermore, TCM has gained increasing global recognition for its role in the prevention and treatment of disease, and investment in professional TCM medical services has increased substantially in Western societies. The integration of TCM and modern biomedicine is also an important issue in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and increasingly so elsewhere. As a result, mainstream research on TCM is largely based on contemporary biomedical evidence-based approaches. There is still, however, a considerable body of medical professionals who remain unconvinced of the broad efficacy of TCM. The medical methods and treatments mentioned in this article are not intended to help a reader diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

General Overviews

TCM is an integral part of Chinese culture based on an ancient philosophical system that expounds a particular view of the body and nature. It also embraces a very wide range of traditional therapeutic practices. Ma 2010 introduces Chinese culture and TCM and explains the relationship between them through the course of Chinese history. Qin 2006 provides a thorough introduction to TCM in Chinese, and Beinfield and Korngold 1992 and Kaptchuk 1983 do so in English. They are essential starting points for those new to TCM. Chen 1991 is an important book discussing TCM theory from a scientific perspective. Practitioners require some knowledge of the historical literature of TCM in Classical Chinese, and Ma 1990 and Zhang 1998 are the most useful introductory guides to this vast field. Duan 2004 is a comprehensive introduction to the Classical Chinese required for reading historical TCM literature.

  • Beinfield, Harriet, and Efrem Korngold. Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. New York: Ballantine, 1992.

    Written by two TCM practitioners, this book is divided into three parts: “Theory” (chapters 1–6), “Types” (chapters 7–12), and “Therapy” (chapters 13–15). A general introduction to Chinese medicine, it emphasizes the differences between Chinese medicine and modern biomedicine and the difference between philosophy in the East and that in the West.

  • Chen Hua 陳華. Zhongyi de kexue yuanli (中醫的科學原理). Xianggang, China: Shang wuyin shuguan,1991.

    Uses modern science to analyze and explain the scientific principles of the basic concepts and theories of TCM. It is divided into eight categories: the doctrines of yin and yang, five elements (wuxing), zang xiang, the main and collateral channels (jing luo), etiology, diagnostics, medical treatment, and medicine and formulas. This work attempted to modernize TCM.

  • Duan Yishan 段逸山. Yi guwen (医古文). Taibei: Zhiyin chubanshe, 2004.

    Used extensively in China as teaching material, the contents are comprehensive. It is in two parts. Part 1 provides introductions to and annotated passages from important premodern TCM texts. Part 2 introduces the basic knowledge of Classical Chinese required for studying TCM, including vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, exegesis, rhetoric, and collation and general knowledge about ancient Chinese culture.

  • Kaptchuk, Ted. The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. New York: Congdon and Weed, 1983.

    A popular introduction to TCM for laypersons. It provides a guide to the theory and practice of TCM, including reviews of scientific developments in the study of acupuncture and herbal medicine. A discussion of the possible adverse effects of these therapies is also included as well as an exploration of how Chinese healing can be used together with modern biomedicine.

  • Ma Boying 马伯英. Zhongguo yixue wenhua shi (中国医学文化史). 2 vols. Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 2010.

    A comprehensive introduction to the history of medicine in Chinese culture. Rich in content, it is an important work for understanding Chinese medicine from a cultural perspective, covering the cultural background to the origin of TCM and its historical development; the influence of philosophy, religion, and politics on TCM; and TCM’s relationship to the environment, customs and habits, and cultural upheavals.

  • Ma Jixing 马继兴. Zhongyi wenxian xue (中医文献学). Shanghai: Shanghai kexue jishu chubanshe, 1990.

    An authoritative work on historical TCM literature, it introduces the full scope of the different types of premodern books on TCM. It provides an in-depth explanation of the transmission and versions of the most important TCM classics and discusses the writing style, script, collation, and methods of content analysis of premodern TCM works.

  • Qin Bowei 秦伯未. Zhongyi rumen (中医入门). Beijing: Renmin weisheng chubanshe, 2006.

    The first edition was published in 1959, but this book remains a must-read for beginners in TCM. A brief introduction to Chinese medicine, the book is divided into four chapters on theory, law, medical formulas, and medication.

  • Zhang Canxia 张灿炠. Zhongyi guji wenxian xue (中医古籍文献学). Beijing: Renmin weisheng chubanshe, 1998.

    An extremely good book in terms of structure and content, this is an important work for those beginning TCM research. Its content includes the origins, titles, form and style of writing, content, compilation, and annotation and editing of the most important premodern TCM works, distinguishing between real and forged texts.

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