Chinese medical traditions developed from 2852 B.C. to 220 A.D. The Chinese believed in a world spirit, the Tao, and a cosmic balance between two opposing forces, the Yin and the Yang. The dichotomy of yin and yang was seen everywhere in the Chinese world — female was yin, male was yang; darkness was yin, light was yang; attributions of yin and yang were applied to all things.
Yin, yang, and the Tao also influenced the practice of medicine. Chinese physicians determined which parts of the body were yin or yang, and interactions between yin and yang organs in the body affected the overall balance and health of an individual. Sickness was caused by the imbalance of yin or yang. The reason that yin and yang were important in treating the health of an individual was because all people were part of the Tao, and the Tao was part of all people.
The Chinese believed that the Tao entered into a person’s body with every inhalation of the lungs and with every ingestion of food from the earth. Imbalances of yin and yang which caused illness were treated with herbal medicines, acupuncture, moxibustion, and massage therapies.
Chinese ancestor worship also strongly influenced the development of medicine. The spirits of the dead were seen as being still connected with living family members in a very vital way, and must be honored and respected. It was forbidden to mutilate a dead person’s body, which meant that anatomical dissection also was not allowed.
Chinese doctors had to treat and diagnose illnesses using only external evidence. They developed a keen eye for details of outer disease symptoms, and learned to read pulses not only from the wrist, as in Western medicine, but also from a variety of different areas of the wrists, head and feet, with each area being associated with the condition of a particular part of the body such as the stomach or spleen.