Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Roots of Modern Practice Charles Buck Publishers: Singing Dragon, London (2014) Hardcover: 352 pages ISBN: 978-1-84819-159-4 RRP: £36.00
(Reviewed by Dierdre Murphy, Vol. 8 No. 3)
This book in many ways reads as a compelling tale, holding your attention as you observe how the progress and advances in Chinese medicine were impacted by warfare, political strife and peace, as well as Buddhist and Taoist influences. One waits with anticipation to see how the various challenges, such as treatment of epidemics and febrile diseases, will be met. Beginning with an insightful foreword by Barbara Kirschbaum, followed by the author’s introduction, this history takes the reader from the pre- Han era in clear chronological order through the various dynasties up to the early 20th century. Over the course of seven chapters, it explores in detail the significant historical figures and their contributions to the development of Chinese medicine.
While the author has included a few of his personal interpretations and speculations, they are clearly identifiable as such. The author acknowledges that he only scratches the surface and some of the major historical classics such as the Nei Jing and Shang Han Zha Bing Lun do not get the coverage they deserve due to shortage of space and coverage by other authors. While this may disappoint some, the inclusion of comprehensive information on the less well-known figures and their contributions has merit. One gets a clear idea of the sheer extent of written works, both extinct and extant, relating to this medicine. We also get a glimpse of the impressive contributions by some key figures such as those of Sun Si Miao, whose work included diverse topics from infectious diseases to gynaecology, and ethics. Similarly we see the emergence of energetic acupuncture and the contributions of Bian Que and Hua Tuo, famed for his acupuncture, surgery and anaesthesia during the Han dynasty.
Of particular interest are the revelations that challenge the viewpoint that Chinese medicine is limited to treating less serious conditions and that it is a lightweight unscientific option when compared to modern biomedicine. The author brings to the fore some of the knowledge and practices that are usually seen as hallmarks of the latter and not attributed to Chinese medicine. There are numerous examples of this including the achievements in areas such as forensic medicine, vaccination, anatomy, and the work of Ge Hong who is credited with the first clinical description of smallpox.
What some may find surprising are the influences of the traditional medicine extending beyond China to impact Western medicine and modern-day healthcare. However, in reading this text one is struck by the resonances with present-day circumstances and the same issues that perpetuate the diverse incarnations and undulating status of Chinese medicine. We currently see the same co-existence of different schools of thought, spectra of practitioner training and competencies, varied regulation, competition and misunderstanding.
The thematic style allows one to follow the progression of the various aspects of Chinese medicine, such as clinical practices and theoretical approaches, and its evolution into a systematic and professional medicine with education not only through apprenticeships, but also on a large scale in state sponsored training schools.
This is an accessible book which will appeal to nonpractitioners who have an interest in the origins and background of Chinese medicine, and it has particular significance for students and practitioners. Those who appreciate that their initial training in this medicine is but the start of a journey, and may have little or no prior knowledge of the material covered within the book, are presented with a window into how knowledge was acquired and developed and its relevance in clinical practice today. This allows the practitioner reader to experience a sense of connectedness to historical physicians.
Readers will gain an awareness of how comprehensive and solid the bedrock of Chinese medicine is and of its possibilities both clinically and in terms of the future development of the medicine itself. A valuable asset to any practitioner’s or student’s bookshelf, this history portrays Chinese medicine as an evolving tradition of professional medicine, developed by intelligent and rational thinkers.
Not only is this book an interesting and highly informative read, it has much to contribute in its own right to the future story of Chinese medicine practice. A significant question for today is whether or not the Chinese medicine profession can have any impact, not merely in securing the existence of the medicine but doing so in a way that its full potential can be appreciated and exploited. The opinion of this reviewer is that this narrative, combined with emerging high quality research evidence, has a significant role to play in establishing a more positive perception of the validity of Chinese medicine and its role within the bigger realm of international healthcare. By empowering practitioners in particular with the knowledge of the rich tapestry and true potential of this very effective medicine, it engenders a sense of respect and responsibility to truly understand and develop the work of those giants on whose shoulders we all stand and in whose footsteps we now walk.
(Reviewed by Dierdre Murphy, Vol. 8 No. 3)
Deirdre Murphy is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. She is currently chairperson of the Acupuncture Foundation Professional Association (AFPA) in Ireland and in her second year of the MSc in Advanced Oriental Medicine at the Northern College of Acupuncture.