The Need for Evaluation and Modernisation of the Theoretical Corpus of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Thomas Ots / Michael Hammes
Lecturer in Chinese Medicine at the University of Graz, Austria / Technical University Munich, Dep. Of Neurology, Munich, Germany

Students of Chinese medicine face a wide range of theoretical postulates. In clinical practice the question arises which of these theories actually relate to human biology and which represent cultural constructions.

Present literature from China gives no help. Teaching materials from China show reluctance in the analysis of theories, even in cases where a specific theory contradicts other parts of the theoretical corpus. E.g., the theory of five shu-points contradicts the meridian theory and the continuous circuit of qi. Western students of Chinese medicine who take the theoretical corpus of TCM as granted tend towards an alternative kind of medical practice in opposition to an integrated approach. No common language exists for the translation of one medical system into the other.

In this seminar, Dr. Hammes and Dr. Ots will discuss a few practical tools for the analysis and evaluation of Chinese Medicine:

Historically and transculturally oriented medical anthropology serves as the wider frame of this phenomenological approach. Historical studies reveal the variety of contradictory theories and practices in Chinese medicine. The analysis of the culture-specific process of knowledge transmission in China helps to read between the lines, i.e. which theory is taken literally and which theory should be understood more in a metaphorical way. Like in any other medical tradition, certain aspects of traditional Chinese medicine are outmoded. They are merely of medical historical interest, they should no more influence present medical practice.

Phenomenology is understood as the experience of bodily perceptions and the interpretation of these perceptions as existential ground of knowledge. Phenomenological analysis helps to differentiate speculative cultural constructions from medical views that are grounded in perceivable biology.

The immediate outcome of this combined approach is a modernized and enlightened Chinese medicine. It further builds the basis for an integrative medicine, merging the best of views and practices of different medical traditions. Last not least, phenomenological analysis is a useful tool at the first stage of planning in the clinical research of traditional Chinese medicine.

Key-words: Analysis of traditional Chinese medical theories, epistemology, phenomenology, medical history medical anthropology, transcultural comparison, integrated medicine.