Should Chinese Medicine Be Modernized?

Reading through my Chinese Medicine news feed, I came across this article – China to further modernize Traditional Chinese Medicine. Here’s their description of what modernizing means for the medicine.

“In modernizing TCM, efforts will be made to improve standards, study new applications and standardize planting, production and processing of medicinal herbs, according to the report of the center, which is under the Ministry of Science and Technology.”

This doesn’t sound too bad, actually.

I can understand the wisdom in standardizing planting, production and processing of herbs. Unfortunately, standardization too often means bringing everything down to the standard of the least excellent instead of bringing everything up to the standard of the most excellent! If they are going to standardize the herb industry they need to take care to:

  • Make sure the integrity of biological systems is maintained, or where already damaged, improved. The energetic quality of the herb is certainly impacted by its environment. In ancient times, these herbs grew wild – in harmony with their surroundings. The best quality of many herbs is still found in their wild counterparts! In standardized cultivation, one should do the best they can to replicate that environment – even if it harms yields.
  • Follow traditional guidelines in harvest and processing of herbs.  Some, like Heiner Fruehauf, are devoted to making sure this takes place.  If in the Materia Medica an herbs is meant to be mix-fried until yellow, don’t char it. If it is meant to be processed in salt water, process it in salt water. Perhaps contemporary research methods don’t pick up the difference between one processing method and another – but don’t kid yourself into thinking that the sages that developed this medicine were stupid. Their guidelines were precise and developed over centuries of testing. Respect that.
  • Use the implementation of standards to ensure the elimination of heavy metals, pesticides and non-edible products from the herbs.

Unfortunately, this isn’t likely to be all “modernization” has in store for Chinese medicine in China.

If history is any measure, it will almost certainly entail the purging of important information from the official canon and redoubled efforts to justify Chinese medicine from a Western scientific standpoint. Further, practitioners with diverse (yet vital and functional) theoretical standpoints, diagnostic methods and treatment principles may be forced to embrace the standard despite the fact that it is not clinically more effective. This, so the line goes, is the only way that Chinese medicine will be accepted into the mainstream.

If that’s what it takes to be accepted into the mainstream – I’ll take the tributaries.


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

View all posts by Eric Grey - Website: