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Declining belief in traditional Chinese medicine

There is a new journal of traditional Chinese medicine available on-line: Chinese Medical Times. There have been four issues so far. I didn't expect to find much in it of interest but I was wrong. The articles are well written and I was particularly struck by Matthew Bauer, who contributes a three-part essay called "The Final Days of Traditional Belief?". Parts 1 and 2 have already appeared and Part 3 is due in the next issue.

Bauer is an enthusiast for the traditional system, which he practises. Like others who have written in the past, he is somewhat despondent about the prospects for the ancient art. This may seem surprising in view of the current popularity of acupuncture in many Western countries, but he points out that many practioners use it with little or no reference to the ancient ideas. (I am one of these.)

It is not only practitioners who are going along this route. As Bauer remarks, there are increasing numbers of Western historians who cast doubt on claims for the great antiquity of traditional Chinese medicine, and especially acupuncture. Acupuncture is often said to be 5,000 years old but the earliest medical texts we have come from a tomb that was sealed in 168 BCE and these do not mention acupuncture at all, only moxa and herbs.

This is pretty old, of course, but a lot less than 5,000 years. The romantic view of the traditional system is that it was discovered through intuition by ancient sages.


An instrumental part of these theories then has been an element of faith that the wisdom of the ancient sages was trustworthy and beyond the capacity of later generations to second guess.


But what if this is no longer tenable?


If, as many modern scholars now believe, there was no Golden Age of prehistoric Sages that brought forward the foundations of Chinese culture, then one of the main rationales for following the traditional theories of Chinese medicine is seriously undermined. The very foundation of these theories is inexorably linked to a legendary age now being questioned not only as it relates to traditional medicine, but to the very roots of Chinese culture itself. Is there any reason to believe there was some sort of lost Golden Age in China's deep past? Does the lack of proof of this age took place constitute proof that it did not? Can the legends of the ancient Sages be reconciled with the evidence cited by modern scholars as reason to believe such an age did not exist?


Anyone with more than a passing interest in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture would find these articles well worth reading.

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