Classical Chinese Medicine

A bit of history & philosophy


The practice of TCM and Classical medicine remain rooted in the same yin-yang theory and the cyclical transformations that exist between the five elements but TCM diverges from Classical medicine to allow the influences of western medicine to change its shape by eliminating the spiritual aspect because of it’s ‘mystical or placebo-like phenomena.’

In the Nei Jing (Classical Chinese Medical Text), Qi Bo, the physician, teaches the Yellow Emperor about the ‘Penetrating Divine Illumination’  which means that when the practitioner is able ‘to penetrate[the essence] of the myriad of all things, the result can be perceived as ‘wind that has blown the clouds away.’  In Taoism, the philosophy that Chinese medicine is rooted in, it is said that ‘the Tao engenders one, one engenders two,  two engenders three, and three engenders the myriad of all things.  The implications within the Nei Jing insist that when the spirit/essence resides within the medicine, that this is the superior method of practice and that is treating the ‘whole’ person so that the healing takes place involves transformation.


Heiner Fruehauf writes that, “Classical Chinese Medicine invites you to explore the essence of Oriental medicine from a perspective that goes far beyond the institutionalized phenomenon presently known as “TCM” (traditional Chinese medicine). Since the 1970s, the TCM process of packaging the multi-faceted roots of Chinese medicine into the sterile confines of a highly standardized model has been eagerly absorbed by educational institutions in Europe and America, and is rapidly becoming the dominant face of Oriental medicine today.

Fruehauf goes on to say that while TCM represents the recent marriage between local Chinese resources with the methodology of scientific materialism, Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) remains firmly committed to its ancient roots. CCM is a science in its own right, embedded in the mytho-poetic mode of observing and describing nature, which linked the spheres of macro- and microcosm in ancient China and became preserved in a set of works honored as “the classics.”

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It is important to make the distinction between Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as there is a clear and unfortunate historical departure that takes place during the cultural revolution in accordance with Mao’s political agenda. ‘TCM’ becomes the brand name for a style of Chinese medicine that does not preserve the traditional characteristics of the medicine and is made to conform to western scientific standards; therefore making the name, ‘TCM’, a misnomer.

The most fundamental difference between TCM and Classical Chinese Medicine is the extraction of the spirit from the medicine, which occurred when TCM was established. 

The essence of the medicine is dismissed as ’shamanic, charlatan, and geomancing’ when Mao infers that ‘the theories of yin and yang’, the five elemental phases, the six atmospheric influences, the zang-fu systems, and the acupuncture channels are all illusions that have no basis in reality’. Later, Mao recasts this claim by re-instating Traditional medicine in a way that will fit his agenda. In 1958, his decreeing vision reveals his political motives of Chinese-western integration in the Integration movement . This establishes TCM, a medical system which restrains the ‘wildness’ and ‘feudal’ elements of the traditional art by taking Chinese Medicine out of the hands of the holders of the lineage and assigns it to the control of modern science [Fruehauf].

It is the standardization, the stripping of the essence, and the submission to western influence in order to make progressive political advances, that have popularized TCM and left Classical Chinese medicine in the shadows.