History of TCM

History of Traditional Chinese Medicine

A brief history of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China and in Canada. Do you know how it began? Read on to discover!

Traditional Chinese Medicine in China

As with many other ancient cultures – Chinese medicine likely began long before there were any written records. People from the Shang dynasty (1600 to 1046 BC) were quite religious. They believed disease came from being cursed, upsetting an ancestor or an evil demon entering the body. Typically, treatments involved soothing ancestors with ceremonies or expelling the demon. Back then, people turned to Shamans – mediators skilled in communicating with ancestors – who in turn spoke with Shang Ti (their deity) for guidance. The medical classic, the Huang Ti Nei Ching (Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) was written to unite ancient medical experience and theory into one collection. It explained the body’s anatomy and functions, blood and circulation, physiology, pathology, diagnosis and treatment. It also contained knowledge of acupuncture, moxibustion and the use of herbal medicine. These ancient writings describe a medical theory that focused on the circular movement of qi (氣, energy) and xuè (血, blood). Disease was understood as a deficiency or stagnation – preventing the proper movement of qì or xuè – which resulted in an imbalance of yīn(陰)and yáng (陽).  It detailed a being’s health, and lack of, was intimately connected to the natural environment, including the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). This text had a vast and profound influence on successive generations of medical practitioners and scholars. It has continually guided Chinese medicine’s clinical application.

Throughout the Western Zhou dynasty (beginning in 1046 BC), imperial doctors were divided into four sectors: diseases, sores, dietetics and veterinary. The dietetic practitioner was elevated to an elite position. Nutritional therapy had a huge impact on following generations. The Chinese Materia Medica contained many kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats. Today, specialized nutrional texts dating from the Tang dynasty, entitled Medicine Amidst Food and Culinary Therapies, are still published in China.

During the third century AD, Wang Shuhe organized the theories of pulse reading into China’s first comprehensive work on pulse reading. It summarizes the pulses into 24 types, and presents the relationship between the pulse, physiology, and pathology. This systematized the theory and method of pulse reading – one of the outstanding achievements of Chinese medicine.

In the Tang Dynasty, Sun Simiao’s (540 to 682 AD) extensive work brought many theories together. He researched and understood each aspect of Chinese medicine, including physiology, pathology, diagnosis, treatment, herbs, prescriptions, and other essential theory. He had a deep understanding of internal and external medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, acupuncture, massage, Qigong, alchemy, and dietetics. He explained herbal medicine fully including instructions for the correct time to collect and process over 200 types of herbs. He also believed that women have a special physiology and wrote a collection of treatments and prescriptions specifically for women and children.

The printing press was invented during the Song Dynasty which allowed large quantities of Chinese medical texts to be printed and distributed. Chinese medicine continued to develop, and experts emerged. Various schools of thought, with varying academic tones, came into existence and brought about many new viewpoints.

Traditional Chinese Medicine in Canada

Chinese medicine in Canada began with the notable immigration of Chinese workers during the establishment of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s. Initially, the use of Chinese medicine was kept to the Chinese community. However, it spread quickly and is now popular amongst Canadians. In 1985, the first school of Traditional Chinese Medicine opened its doors to the general public in Canada. Since then, acupuncture has become quite well-known in Canada and in 2008, British Columbia became the first province to reimburse acupuncture treatments as part of its Medical Services Plan. The regulation of Chinese medicine in Canada is importantly becoming more rigorous even though it is still in its early stages. The first legislation of acupuncture was introduced in Alberta, Canada, in 1988, which quickly spread to other parts of the country. Today, five provinces in Canada have sanctioned the regulation of Traditional Chinese Medicine as a health profession with five corresponding provincial Colleges of TCM created. These self-regulated Colleges have established professional practice standards and ethical codes to be adhered to. National licensing examinations for various professions within the field of TCM (herbalist, acupuncturist, TCM practitioner, etc.) have been administered since 2013.

Why is TCM growing so rapidly in Canada? I believe there is a desire to return to more holistic and traditional practices, moving away from ‘big pharma’ and the conventional medical establishment. There is room for all sorts of viewpoints, and each serves their purpose. In my observation, I see many folks preferring more nature-based medical solutions. I believe one of the largest drives for this is because Chinese medicine includes you and your spirit when examining your ailments, not just basing diagnoses off presenting symptoms. Taking this holistic approach is empowering and gives the patient a say in their healing.


In looking at traditional treatment from Eastern and Western cultures, humans had a long history of creative imagination about the inner and outer self. As with most forms of traditional medicine, the roots stem from philosophy, logic, and beliefs of the civilization which lead to a perception of health and dis-ease. In comparison, a traditional Western medicine doctor might be interested in body weight, height and symptoms during an examination; a doctor of Chinese medicine looks at a patient holistically. The Chinese medicine process involves the four pillars of diagnosis – looking, listening, touching and asking – providing key indicators of harmony, balance and energy of the patient. From this information, two patients with the same symptoms might be treated very differently because it comes back to the individual. If you have yet to experience acupuncture or see a TCM practitioner, I encourage you to give it a try! As with most things in life, once will give you a taste but three to four sessions are where you can expect to really feel the medicine working within. Why not choose today to make a choice that could positively affect the rest of your life.

Interested to find out more about how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can

improve your health? Call us (403) 520-5258 or book a consultation today!


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France H, Rodriguez C. Traditional Chinese medicine in Canada: An indigenous perspective. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 Apr 21];