Alternative Medicine Systems in China

In China there is profound treasure. Marco Polo brought back small portions of it. For centuries traders carried bits of it out along the silk road. Still today there is more treasure that we can borrow from China to enhance our world. An aspect of China's tradition that the West has completely discounted is the health care system. Science has been so busy creating new technologies for treating diseases that we in the West believe that health care and medicine are the same thing. While we in the West have a fantastic and very expensive system based on treating people after they are sick, China has a very inexpensive system of health care based on keeping people well. In China, there is equal availability of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine in hospitals and clinics. In China, health self-reliance and self-care are prominent aspects of the national health care system. A big question we should ask ourselves is: what would it be like if medical care based on natural healing methods-including acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine, along with a strong tradition for self-care-were in place in the United States? In China, Western medicine has been considered a form of alternative medicine for several hundred years. However, until 1919 AD, traditional Chinese medicine, which includes massage, herbal medicine, and acupuncture, was the primary system of medicine. In the 18th and 19th centuries, some Western medical practices were available, mostly through missionaries. In 1919, when the last emperor stepped down, a number of Western medical schools were established in China. Now, the alternative, Western medicine, has been almost completely integrated into China's mainstream system of medical practice, which is still strongly founded in their traditional system. Today, there are few clinical situations in China where either traditional Chinese medicine or Western methods are delivered alone. Most institutions that focus on Western methods typically have acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine also available to reduce pain, mediate the side effects of medications, and support patients with regulation of sleep, bowel disturbances, pain, anxiety, and nausea. The extent to which the Chinese have absorbed "alternative medicine", that is, conventional Western medicine, into their system, is quite remarkable. It is apparent that the Chinese are proud of this collaborative, complementary, and comprehensive model. They have so completely embraced the alternatives to traditional Chinese medicine-surgical and drug based procedures-that all residents of Chinese cities have complete access to both.


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