Classical Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine Terminology

When describing Chinese Medicine many terms are used which may not only be unfamiliar to Western patients, but misunderstood by Chinese medicine practitioners as well. This results in a detracted ability to properly relaying information on the topic of acupuncture to patients and Westerner medical practitioners. Westerners, by and large, tend to interpret things concretely and not conceptually. As a result, misunderstandings of concepts can occur. Lack of understanding of common terms associated with Chinese philosophy and medicine can lead to a void of understanding resulting in an uncomfortable feeling of angst. In many cases, this leads to the inclusion of new age and other concepts being introduced to at least in part assuage this feeling.

One of the most prominent of these concepts is the term Qi, or Chi. The term Qi has been used in China for over two thousand years and retains numerous conceptual layers of meaning that cannot be expressed through the use of a single word. The most authoritative translators of classical Chinese literature, such as Paul Unschuld, forgo replacement of the character as having a single connotation and limit themselves to a transliteration of the character. Unfortunately this does little to arrest the incorrect assertions of the character’s usage and meaning.

The use of the term Qi in Chinese philosophy and medicine, though widespread, is lacking in an historical basis for its translation as “energy”. A cursory review of a Chinese dictionary illustrates this concept with respect to Qi in which several hundred usages are presented. None of these have the connotation of “energy” as it is expressed in the West. An excellent presentation of this approach is provided through the Demystifying Qi series of videos from the Association for Traditional Studies. Though readily accepted as “energy” and presented as such in most programs of study in Chinese/Oriental medicine in the United States, we actually do a disservice to our patients and throttle interactions with Western medical practitioners through this incorrect association. And, with respect to ourselves, we create an impediment for increasing our understanding within a field which retains many nuances of Qi . Sadly, in most cases the common presentation of Qi as “energy” is more of an illustration of our ignorance than of our knowledge on the subject.

In the coming weeks we will be adding additional sections to our website discussing the effects of acupuncture in western terminology and the known vectors of treatment results. Models used to describe some of the effects of acupuncture will be briefly discussed and related to western medical terminology and counterparts where available.

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