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Table of Contents
REVIEW ARTICLE
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 108-111

The history of traditional Chinese medicine in Britain, c.1750-2018


Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Date of Web Publication8-Jan-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Christopher Ryan Pearse Cavin
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
UK
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_36_18

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  Abstract 


This paper discusses the genesis and transference of Traditional Chinese Medicine from China and Asia to Europe. It looks specifically at the ways in which TCM was initially discovered and how it reach medical circles in Europe. It also looks at the reasons why it became popular in the historical context and specifically at the presence of TCM in Britain. Finally, this paper briefly traces the booms and slumps in the popularity of TCM and its place in modern medical practices in the Uk and Europe.

Keywords: Acupuncture, kaempfer, medical discourse, teale, traditional chinese medicine


How to cite this article:
Cavin CR. The history of traditional Chinese medicine in Britain, c.1750-2018. Chin Med Cult 2018;1:108-11

How to cite this URL:
Cavin CR. The history of traditional Chinese medicine in Britain, c.1750-2018. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2018 [cited 2019 May 22];1:108-11. Available from: http://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2018/1/3/108/249581






  Introduction Top


“The most obvious purpose of this operation is to allow the escape of fluid of oedema or anasarca through the skin, or of the blood when specifically accumulated; but, from an idea that various disorders arose from a kind of subtle, acrid vapour pent up, it had recourse to, for the purpose of giving this vent, by the Chinese, from time immemorial. From China, the practice spread to Corea (Korea) and Japan where it has for ages been very common.[1]

–Dr. John Ellington, M. D, F. R. S, On Acupuncture and its uses

In recent years, Traditional Chinese Medicine has gained increased popularity in the UK as a valuable form of medicine often used alongside with or as an alternative to mainstream medical practices. The above quote is drawn from a British doctor's article published in a volume on practical medicine in Britain. The author – Dr. Ellington – was a distinguished Professor of Medicine at London University and a practicing physician at St Thomas's Hospital. In his review, he discussed the different uses of acupuncture which he claimed was a valuable therapy for treating a range of illnesses including tetanus, gout, rheumatism and fevers.[2] In addition to acupuncture, Ellington also commented on the use of different herbs and their functions to balance the body based on Chinese texts. However, the medical discourse on these treatments in the British context increased in the late nineteenth century long after the initial reports of their uses and efficacy centuries before. The purpose of this paper is to trace the historical origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Britain, its historical popularity and its place in modern medicine. This will be achieved by examining three key areas. The first will trace the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine and how it spread into European medical circles from the East. The second will discuss its uses in Britain throughout the following centuries as Traditional Chinese Medicine therapeutics began to be debated in medical discourse. The third section will then look at the case of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Britain in the present day and its significance in modern medicine.


  The Spread of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Europe and Britain Top


The ultimate irony surrounding the spread of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Europe and Britain is that its uses were first noted not in China but in neighboring Asian countries. The benefits of Chinese medical practices had been known in these areas for some time and these were picked up through the colonial expansion of European countries. Two medical officers of the Dutch East India Company – Ten Rhyne and Engelbert Kaempfer- first noted the use of needles as a therapeutic practice in Nagasaki at the end of the seventeenth century where they served in the new company settlement.[3] Each related accounts of thin needles puncturing the skin to alleviate different symptoms and gave it the Latin term “acupunctura” meaning “puncturing with sharp objects” from which the west derives the names acupuncture.[4] These individuals also provided accounts of procedures and herbs used in Eastern medicine based upon the 'Chinese map of the body' and the understanding of “energy channels” based on major bodily organs.[5] The experiences of these colonial employees provided the first insights into Traditional Chinese Medicine as each provided detailed writings on these practices.[6]

Economics and colonial trade subsequently fostered interest in Chinese medicine as the European fascination with the East increased demand for products and practices from these countries. The reports brought back by physicians like Rhyne became widely available and wealthy individuals sought out these niche practices for several reasons. One reason was that Chinese medicine and trade products from the Orient seemed exotic and fashionable to European high society.[7] In fact, this process had been common in Europe for centuries where the social elite's interest in medicines from the New World and the East had introduced substances which remain common today. For example, tobacco had traveled through trade with the New World colonies to Iberia where it had originally been a decorative plant. In the early seventeenth century, medicinal uses of tobacco had been theorized upon but the excessive costs of importing had isolated use to European elites. Jean Nicot – the French ambassador to Lisbon – sent seeds to the French court where Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother, made the drug famous. The plant was considered at the time to be useful in a range of ways including suppressing toothache or minor pains and ironically, as a cure for ailments of the lungs.[8] The later dissemination of tobacco followed after the royalty and nobility of Europe made it popular and its cultivation was monopolized in the American colonies. The spread of Chinese medicine followed on in a similar way as procedures such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies became popularized by those capable of affording them which filtered down to lower classes as it became more common.

Medical knowledge and the growing fascination with Traditional Chinese Medicine also provided the basis for its spread in Europe. France and Germany where the key geographical centers for its spread in Europe. Interests then grew in line with colonial expansion into the Far East which increased the range of herbs and Chinese medical practices available for inspection by European physicians.[9] By the early nineteenth century, this interest had spread to Britain where physicians began to discuss the usefulness of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The process through which Traditional Chinese Medicine reached Britain was therefore complex. It began with a knowledge exchange of Chinese medicines which traveled from China to its neighboring countries. This formed the point of contact through which early colonial powers learned of these medicines and fostered the knowledge exchange from Asia to Europe. When these accounts reached Europe they then became popular among wealthy Europeans and as medical curiosities. Finally, as the European presence in Asia grew and a wider range of Chinese medicines became available it spread from its spheres of influence in Germany and France before moving on to other European states.


  Traditional Chinese Medicine in Nineteenth Century Britain Top


Despite the dissemination of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Europe over these years it only enjoyed a brief popularity in Britain until the early nineteenth century. J. M. Church initially published an entire volume relating to Chinese techniques in 1821 which constituted the main British interest with at the time.[10] In fact, physicians had even tried to blend Chinese medicine practices with recent technologies including – to varying degrees of success-electricity.[11] However, several competing factors combined to prevent its popularity in Britain in this period. First, the British failed to fully open-up China to trade, and most of the interior was inaccessible until the mid-nineteenth century.[12] This limited access to the entirety of Chinese remedies and procedures. Second, most physicians who took an interest in these foreign methods did so out of self-interest rather than any centralized drive to understand or assimilate these practices. As such, most studies were carried out without any popular backing by the general medical community. Third, and perhaps, most importantly, medical attitudes toward medicine were changing. Before 1800, physicians in Europe had been inclined toward experimenting with and accepting medicines from outside of their local spheres. This was partly reflective of the fact that many were unsure about the efficacy of European medicine.[13] However, this period also marked the rise in new western medical theories including “cellular physiology and pathology” as well as the rise of scientific and medical advances.[14] These advances included the distillation of morphine and later the invention of the hypodermic syringe which added to an increasingly “scientific” and “Westernized” view of medicine in Europe.

In the second half of the century, interests in Chinese medicine were briefly renewed in Britain. The medical journal The Lancet published an article by a Dr T. Teale in 1871 entitled “On the Relief of Pain and Muscular Disability by Acupuncture.” Here Teale described it as:

A method of treatment which, though boasting of great antiquity, and capable at times of doing good service, seems in a great measure to have dropped out of use, or at any rate to be at present day but little employed…It has however, been for years a favourite traditional practice at Leeds Infirmary…When it does succeed, the relief it gives is almost instantaneous, generally permanent and often in cases which for weeks and months have run the gauntlet of the treatment without benefit.[15]

Like Ellington, Teale was a distinguished physician who was elected as a surgeon by a popular majority at Leeds General Infirmary in 1833. In addition, he served there as Lecturer of Anatomy and Physiology which showed that he was willing to embrace the new western understandings of physiology while still experimenting with Chinese medical practices. Teale provided an apt summary of British medical opinion at this time which is demonstrated in this excerpt. It was considered antiquated and not entirely effective, but in cases where it was successful it often brought about long-term relief for ailments when new western medicines had failed. The nineteenth-century experience of Chinese medicine therefore varied. The earliest decades were met with instances in which physicians embraced practices but again this focused upon acupuncture. Many other procedures of medical knowledge on Traditional Chinese Medicine remained unknown as Britain still did not have complete access to China until the mid-nineteenth century. This limited physicians to the practices already disseminated in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Furthermore, the nineteenth century marked a new belief in western medicine and the quickly progressing scientific ideas and technologies. The late nineteenth century witnessed a brief revival in some of these methods which is demonstrated in the intermittent mention of Chinese medicine in journals. However, this was limited and those who did use these often did so as a last resort or considered such practices to be antiquated.


  Britain's Modern Experience With Chinese Medicine, 1950–2018 Top


It was not until the latter half of the twentieth century that Traditional Chinese Medicine began to return to medical attention in Britain. Mainstream medical journals started to publish articles on Chinese medical treatments in the 1950s and 1960s.[16] A group of British doctors visited Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou to observe acupuncture procedures, and these were once again brought back – this time directly – to Britain.[17] This was paralleled by the works of Felix Mann who pioneered the revival of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Britain. Mann was a German born acupuncturist who moved to Britain and authored the first comprehensive text on the subject in the English language. Since 2000, Traditional Chinese Medicine has subsequently become well-established in the UK and acknowledged as a legitimate branch of complementary medicine. Over one million adults claim to have used some form of Chinese medicine as an alternative to mainstream treatments. This is particularly prevalent in cases of chronic pain or where western medicines have failed to provide relief from ailments.[18] This has also been matched by the increased acceptance of Chinese medical practices as legitimate sciences in the academic field. Students can now study toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University of Westminster. Furthermore, some of the most prestigious universities in the UK have began associations for study and knowledge exchange in this field. Kings College London have, since 2012, headed the Good Practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine Research Association. This is the first European wide attempt to study the various uses of Chinese medicine with a particular focus on discovering new drugs which may be derived from “age old” herbal remedies used in China.

In conclusion, Traditional Chinese Medicine has enjoyed a long and colourful history in Britain and Europe. Its dissemination also followed in several distinct phases influenced by trade, empire, medicine, and technology. Initially, its introduction grew from the knowledge exchange created by colonialism which brought foreign medical practices to the attention of western physicians. It then grew in popularity until the early nineteenth century. However, the new interest in “scientific” medicine and the growth of new medical philosophies its use was intermittent as it died down before becoming more popular in the late nineteenth century before once again fading until its revival in the mid-twentieth century. Since then, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been an important medical branch for the cure of long-term ailments which western medicine has failed to treat.


  Bibliography Top


Primary sources

  • Forbes J, Tweedie A, Conolly J. The Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine: Comprising Treatises on the Nature and Treatment of Diseases, Materia Medica and Therapeutics and Medical Jurisprudence. Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea; 1867
  • Kaempfer E. Natural, Civil and Ecclesiatical History of the Empire of Japan. Paris: Gosse and Neaume; 1729
  • Ten R. Dissertation de Arithride: Mantissa Schematica. Amsterdam: Bentley & Co.; 1683
  • Teale T. On the relief of pain and muscular disability by acupuncture. Lancet1871;1:567-70.


Secondary works

  • Bivins R. Acupuncture, Expertise and Cross-Cultural Medicine. Hampshire: Palgrave Publications Ltd.; 2000
  • Chan K, Cheung L. Interactions between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Orthodox Drugs. London: Taylor Francis; 2000. p. 105
  • Leung PC. A Comprehensive Guide to Chinese Medicine. Hong Kong: World Scientific; 2003
  • Saks M. Professions and the Public Interest: Medical Power, Altruism and Alternative Medicine. London: Routledge; 1995
  • Sessa A. Cigarette Smoking and the Kidney. Basel: Reinhardt Druck; 2000
  • Unschuld P. Traditional Chinese Medicine: Heritage and Adaptation. New York: Columbia University Press; 2013.


Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Forbes J, Tweedie A, Connolly J. The Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine: Comprising Treatises on the Nature and Treatment of Diseases, Materia Medica and Therapuetics and Medical Jurisprudence, Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea, 1867. p. 56.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Forbes J, Tweedie A, Connolly J. The Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine: Comprising Treatises on the Nature and Treatment of Diseases, Materia Medica and Therapuetics and Medical Jurisprudence, Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea; 1867. p. 56.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Bivins R. Acupuncture, Expertise and Cross-Cultural Medicine. Hampshire: Palgrave Publications Ltd.; 2000. p. 48.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Unschuld P. This Latin term provided the origin from the modern word acupuncture. Traditional Chinese Medicine: Heritage and Adaptation. New York: Columbia University Press; 2013. p. 88.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Bivins R. Acupunture, Expertise and CRoss Cultural Medicine. Hampshire: Palgrave Publications Ltd.; 2000. p.48.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Kaempfer E. Natural, Civil and Ecclesiatical History of the Empire of Japan.1729. and Rhyne T. Kaempfer dedicated two chapters to Chinese medicine in Japan while Rhyne produced several treatises on the subject. Dissertation de Arithride: Mantissa Schematica. Amsterdam: Bentley & Co.;1683.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Bivins R. Acupunture, Expertise and Cross Cultural Medicine. Hampshire: Palgrave Publications Ltd.; 2000. p. 48.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Sessa A. Cigarette Smoking and the Kidney. Basel: Reinhardt Druck; 2000. p. 4.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
Chan, K. Interactions between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Orthodox Drugs. London: Taylor Francis; 2000. p. 53.  Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.
Chan, K. Interactions between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Orthodox Drugs. London: Taylor Francis; 2000. p. 53.  Back to cited text no. 10
    
11.
Including attempting Electro-Acupuncture. See Chan. K. Interactions between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Orthodox Drugs. London: Taylor Francis; 2000. p. 53.  Back to cited text no. 11
    
12.
Unschuld, P. Traditional Chinese Medicine: Heritage and Adaptation, New York: Columbia University Press; 2013. p. 88.  Back to cited text no. 12
    
13.
Unschuld, P. Traditional Chinese Medicine: Heritage and Adaptation, New York: Columbia University Press; 2013. p. 88.  Back to cited text no. 13
    
14.
Saks M. Professions and the Public Interest: Medical Power, Altruism and Alternative Medicine. London: Routledge; 1995. p. 143.  Back to cited text no. 14
    
15.
Pridgin Teale T. On the relief of pain and muscular disability by acupuncture. Lancet1871;1:567.  Back to cited text no. 15
    
16.
Saks M. Professions and the Public Interest: Medical Power, Altruism and Alternative Medicine. London: Routledge; 1995. p.143.  Back to cited text no. 16
    
17.
Leung PC. A Comprehensive Guide to Chinese Medicine. Hong Kong: World Scientific; 2003. p. 270.  Back to cited text no. 17
    
18.
Chan K. Interactions between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Orthodox Drugs. London: Taylor Francis; 2000. p.53.  Back to cited text no. 18
    




 

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