A Comparison between Chinese and Western Medicine

Modern medical science is highly analytical and by reducing the body to its component parts, it devises appropriate therapy based on experimental studies of bacteriology, physiology, and pharmacology along with clinical research. Practitioners of modern medicine concentrate on identifying the disease by isolating it to a single cause, then healing that specific area of the body. The proper medicine cannot be prescribed if the illness is unknown or undecided. The drugs used in treatment are composed of synthetic and chemical substances and surgery is employed as a principal tool. Moreover, medicines are prescribed without consideration of the patient’s constitution and life style, or of environmental factors such as climate.

Chinese medicine in contrast is intertwined with philosophical and metaphysical view of life based on comprehensive whole-body treatment. The Chinese physician does not need to know the name of the illness in modern medical terms. Rather, he pays special attention to the patient’s subjective complaints or conformation and prescribes a holistic treatment on a subjective basis. In short, while modern medicine relies on accurate diagnosis by naming the disease and its causes, Chinese medicine stresses the patient’s reactions and approaches the treatment of disease from the standpoint that each individual is unique.

A leading authority on Chinese herbal medicine, Dr. Yakazu Domei, lists the following differences between Chinese and Western medicine:

Chinese Medicine
1. Philosophical
2. Synthetic
3. Holistic
4. Internal
5. Conformational
6. Empirical
7. Hygienic
8. Individual
9. Preventive
10. Experiential
11. Humoral
12. Subjective
13. Natural sources

Western Medicine
1. Scientific 2. Analytical
3. Topical
4. Surgical
5. Heteropathic
6. Theoretical
7. Preventive
8. Socialized
9. Bacteriological
10. Experimental
11. Cellular
12. Objective
13. Synthetic analogs

Chinese medicine regards the universe as an organism and man as a microcosm of the universe. Western medicine views the human body as a machine or mechanism made up of component parts and develops its theories from this assumption. These different assumptions have created or led to the differences between Chinese and Western medicine.
From the above description it is evident that Chinese medicine is holistic in approach. For example, if a patient’s eyes are red, a Western doctor will use lotion to wash the eyes while the Chinese physician will regard the disorder as ” overthriving fire” and try to reduce the fire in the patient by having him take such fire-dissipating agents as coptis or gardenia. Another example is the treatment of itching skin, a condition related in Chinese medicine to the vitality of the liver, making the liver the focal point for treatment. The Western physician would more than likely use a dermatological lotion to cure a skin ailment, focusing on the specific symptom rather than its cause.

(Excerpted from the 2nd edition of Traditional Chinese Medicine textbook “Chinese Medicine English”)