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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) describes the medicine of China or East Asia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Japan. The TCM originated more than 2,000 years ago and is based on the principle of yin and yang. It includes medicines, acupuncture and the warming of acupuncture points. Massage and physical exercises such as Tai Ji (also called Tai Chi) and Qi Gong are just as important as a diet based on the principles of Yin and Yang.
Note: The TCM is still only scientifically recognized to a limited extent and is therefore considered a complementary or alternative form of therapy.
Brief overview of TCM
We have summarized important facts about TCM for you in this short overview.
- definition: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the more than 2,000 year old medicine of China and East Asia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Japan. The basis is the principle of yin and yang. The TCM includes medicines, acupuncture, the warming of acupuncture points, massage techniques, physical exercises such as Tai Ji (Tai Chi) and Qi Gong as well as a diet based on the principles of Yin and Yang.
- application areas: The TCM has a very wide range of applications. However, their effectiveness has not been sufficiently scientifically proven to date.
- diagnosis: Visible and externally recognizable symptoms are used for the diagnosis: For example, coating and texture of the tongue, posture, face color and the pulse.
- Threat to animal species: The TCM is said to play a part in the threat and extinction of many protected animal species, since animal products are used in many of their medicines. In Germany, due to strict legal requirements, it is very unlikely that legally acquired medicines will help to endanger endangered species. Nevertheless, when purchasing TCM medicines, you should check the ingredients thoroughly and, if necessary, ask the distributor critically. If the ingredients and origin cannot be clearly determined, you should not buy the product.
What does TCM mean?
Several thousand years ago, the ancestor cult was at the center, and people believed that demons cause illness. So doctors were at the same time ghost seers and expeller of demons. Epidemics were just as much a work of the demons as the permanent wars of the respective rulers.
Today's TCM has little to do with demon belief; Yin and Yang and the life energy Chi are forces, but not creatures. “Corresponding medicine” paved the way for today's TCM: not demons, but the charisma of nature is therefore also decisive for humans; the microcosm represents the macrocosm. Man has to live in harmony with the stars, his food, with heaven, earth, fire, water and air. This is the basis of Yin and Yang and the TCM.
Confucianism also transferred this harmony to the social order, which means that the hierarchy of authoritarian China corresponded to the balance in nature. The then ruling class represented this medicine as the only permitted one. This was another reason why the Communists initially persecuted the doctors until Mao rehabilitated the survivors.
Medicine in China was influenced by Confucianism, Buddhism, in Japan by Shintoism, but above all by Daoism. Dao (Tao) means right way, method or principle. Daoism assumes that there is a principle that permeates the entire universe, an absolute cosmic law. The Dao cannot be defined because it means the origin and union of all opposites.
The pathway theory, according to which the organism is traversed by a system of pathways, is of particular importance for Chinese medicine. There are approximately 380 acupuncture points on these, through which various biological processes can be specifically influenced.
Many other models shaped the physiological and pathophysiological foundations of Chinese medicine, for example the zang-fu theory (organ system theory), the theory of the six layers or the five phases of change.
The healing methods of traditional Chinese medicine are medicines, acupuncture and the warming of acupuncture points. Massage techniques and physical exercises such as Tai Ji and Qi Gong as well as a diet based on the principle of Yin and Yang are also included.
TCM is controversial in Western science. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, recommends acupuncture for at least twenty diseases, and research in recent decades has shown, for example, that medicinal plants used in TCM directly kill cancer cells, such as Brucca Javanica and Aconitum Camichaeli. However, anyone who questions the concept of yin and yang will not be able to do anything with Chinese medicine.
The concept of yin and yang
Yin and Yang literally denote the shady and the sunny side of a hill and expand the two opposites of all phenomena. Chinese philosophy recognizes two aspects in all things in the universe: the law of unity and opposites. Cold-hot, slow-fast, calm-moving or difficult-light.
These opposites are in constant motion, growth in one area leads to weight loss in another. With this increase and decrease, the TCM explains physiological processes and diseases. Human life is therefore a physiological process of movement and change - that is, of yin and yang. For example, storing nourishing body fluids uses functional energy, yin increases, and yang decreases.
In short: If the yin and yang are relatively balanced, the person is healthy; if one displaces the other, he becomes sick. The black contains the white, both are mutually dependent. Interactions of the macrocosm take place in the microcosm and vice versa. Chinese medicine also assumes a life force called Qi; If Western doctors don't recognize this concept, they can hardly get involved in Chinese medicine.
In this theory organs are centers of physical functions and not anatomical units; Fu organs are used to absorb and excrete food, while Zang organs such as the heart, liver or lungs build up the body.
Insomnia, for example, indicates a sick heart: From the perspective of the TCM, the heart controls sleep. When the Yang Qui comes to rest, you fall asleep. When the Yang starts to flow again, you wake up. Yin deficiency with too much heart fire manifests itself in irritability, insomnia, a dry mouth, a reddened tongue, but also in forgetfulness.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is considered excessive liver yang, mental activities such as thinking or worry are also assigned to the liver. Dizziness or headaches, on the other hand, result from kidney weakness. According to TCM, the kidneys produce the marrow that flows through the brain. With weakness, the kidneys no longer produce enough of this marrow.
This yin and yang construct is generally valid - from colds to leukemia, and from heart failure to shock.
Traditional Chinese medicine wants to prevent diseases such as acupuncture, herbal therapy, nutrition and Qi Gong. In China, being a good doctor means that patients don't get sick at all.
On the diagnostic level, the classic Chinese doctors had no possibility of laboratory diagnostics and therefore paid much more attention to visible and externally recognizable symptoms: the coating and the nature of the tongue, the posture, the color of the face and the pulse diagnostics.
Manual therapies of TCM
Manual therapies include Chinese massage (Tuina-Anmo), cupping (Ba Guan) and scraping (Gua Sha). Cupping creates a vacuum on the surface of the body with the help of cupping glasses; from the perspective of the TCM, this sets blood and qi in motion.
Traditional medicine and endangered animals
The extinction of animal species for Chinese medicine is a global problem today. The horn of the rhinoceros, almost everything from the tiger, but also pond turtles and buffalo penises are considered remedies. Millions of seahorses are landing on the Chinese market, and since a middle class is growing there today that can afford these things, even “everyday” species are facing the end. The slogan is circulating among conservationists: "If you want to see endangered animals in China, go to the pharmacy." In addition to animal species, this problem also affects some plant species that are threatened due to high demand. Do you need these components in the TCM?
TCM has been using wild animal ingredients to cure diseases for millennia - almost every animal in southern China is a food and medicine. The importance that these animals have in mythology plays a special role. Turtles and tigers are important in China, for example, because they lived alongside the Feng bird and the dragon of creation.
Animal species are assigned to the Yin and Yang forces and harmonize with plants, elemental states or minerals. The use of such body parts for TCM has serious consequences for wild animals today. In China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, the population is growing and the economy is expanding. This means that TCM customers are increasing, and secondly, an increasing middle class has the money to buy the often expensive products. Naturopathic treatments in Europe and the USA, esotericism and New Age also demand these products. The pressure on already endangered animal species is increasing, and former “common species” are disappearing to a dizzying extent.
The TCM uses around 1,500 animal and 5,000 plant species. Animals are particularly threatened when they are considered strong like bears or tigers, as long-lived as snakes, as tough as pangolin or as potent as rhinos and deer. These powers, attributed to animals, are said to pass to humans when they eat them.
Seal penises containing “dragon pills”; the horn of the saiga antelope serves the same purpose as rhinoceros and since the end of the Soviet Union the world population of these animals has therefore decreased by 90 percent. Millions of seahorses dry in the pharmacies in Southeast Asia. Poaching for TCM has become a billion dollar business.
Illegal medicines can be found not only in China itself, but also in the Chinese quarters of the world, as well as in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan and Japan: pills from the tiger, powder from raccoon, Indian wild cattle or the civet. Koreans illegally shot bears in Alaska, highly organized gangs kill tigers in India's national parks and white rhinos in South Africa.
The rhinoceros horn is said to help against insomnia, anxiety, fainting and cramps; the musk of the musk animal against cholera, abdominal pain and restlessness; the scale of the pangolin against blood build-up, stiffness and swelling; Seahorses are said to cure impotence, bladder weakness and debility. Snakes are said to increase potency because their bodies are reminiscent of a penis. It doesn't matter whether a species is threatened or not: pharmacies make no distinction between a common water snake or a rare king cobra.
All TCM companies in Germany reject products from protected animals; this also applies to most TCM organizations in China. But the black market is booming. The musk deer, a type of deer, is popular, for example, because of the scent glands of the males. A kilogram of musk in China brings in tens of thousands of euros.
Due to strict regulations, it is unlikely here in Germany that legally acquired medicines will actually promote the extinction of endangered animal species. Nevertheless, when purchasing TCM medicines, you should check the list of ingredients very carefully and, if necessary, critically review them. If in doubt, you should not buy the product.
In China's popular belief, the tiger is considered a panacea: its stomach is said to relieve stomach cramps, its eyes help against epilepsy, malaria and fever, its whiskers, toothache, testicular tuberculosis and its penis cure potency problems. The fat supposedly protects against dog bites, the brain against laziness and pimples, even the feces supposedly help against alcoholism. The bones help against the "cold illness" rheumatism according to Yin and Yang. Disassembled into individual parts and sold as a medicine, a tiger brings in up to 300,000 euros.
In India the tiger is sacred, the goddess Durga rides on it. Nevertheless, it was the most popular trophy of the Maharajas and Mughal emperors. The tiger plays no role in the traditional medicine of India, Ayurveda. This is probably one of the reasons why the southern Chinese subspecies of the tiger is extinct, while India has the largest population of tigers in the world. But it is also bad for them: Serious studies have shown that only 1,500 tigers live in Indian national parks instead of 3,500 officially stated. Indian corruption and the Chinese market go hand in hand. An organized animal mafia poached the tigers in the reserves of India and delivered them to the pharmacies in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
Around 1900 there were around 100,000 tigers. At first it hit the smallest subspecies in Bali. Their habitat had to give way to cities and fields, and the prey disappeared. The Caspian Tiger was once widespread: from Turkey to Iran to Afghanistan. Stalin had him persecuted as a "common pest", and pesticide-contaminated cotton plantations destroyed his habitat in the forests around the Caspian Sea. The last Java tiger died in the 1980s, and around 2010 genetic analyzes showed that the last South Chinese tigers in China's zoos were all hybrids.
This leaves two subspecies in Southeast Asia, the Bengal tiger, the Siberian tiger and the Sumatran tiger. They are all extremely threatened. Today there are only 3,500 tigers left in the wild.
Any trade in parts of tigers and rhinos has been banned in China, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan since 1993. As the tiger is becoming increasingly rare, poachers are providing replacement: they kill lions in South Africa.
According to the TCM, bear bile helps against liver and biliary problems, eye diseases and fever. In fact, it contains ursodeoxycholic acid, which dissolves gallstones. It can also be made artificially. But according to Jinbou, the transference theory, the properties of an animal are transferred to the sick, and therefore the demand among the people can hardly be satisfied with a synthetic substitute.
Many thousands of collar bears live in farms in China to tap their bile juice. These farms do not correspond to species or animal protection. The bears live in tiny iron racks and the farm operators remove the bile juice through catheters. The animals suffer from colic and abscesses, and their organism collapses because they need the bile to digest them. Bears often bite their paws from pain and lack of irritation. Wild catches also serve to "refresh" the stocks.
In traditional TCM pharmacopoeias, rhinoceros is considered a remedy for headaches, fever and inflammation. On the other hand, it never played an important role as a sexual enhancer in TCM. The horn of the rhinoceros consists primarily of keratin, the substance of hair and fingernails. Keratin from ground horns, hooves, hair and feathers is used in Europe for hair rinses, shampoos and perms. Scientifically speaking, nail biting serves the same purpose as eating rhino.
All five rhinoceros, the Indian rhinoceros, the Java rhinoceros, the Sumatran rhinoceros in Asia, and the white and black rhinoceros in Africa are directly threatened with extinction. The last black rhinos are monitored around the clock, and the rangers engage in battles with high-tech poachers. They sawed off the horns of rhinos to make them "worthless", but poachers even killed such animals and robbed the stumps; Thieves invaded natural history museums and stole rhinos that had been preserved there, and the rhinoceros populations were declining rapidly: there were around 100,000 animals of black rhino around 1900, today there are 1,500 left, and the subspecies recently died out in West Africa; the white rhinoceros reproduced in private farms in South Africa, the northern subspecies, once widespread in Sudan and Congo, is now only present in two zoos with a few specimens.
The Java rhinoceros is probably the most endangered species of large mammals with 30 to 40 animals, and there are only a few hundred of the Sumatran rhinoceros. The Indian rhinoceros has a stable population, but it is 80 percent concentrated in the Kaziranga National Park in Assam; its survival is thanks to a highly efficient ranger force and the Assamese, who regard the rhinos as a national sanctuary.
The main import country for rhinoceros is Vietnam today, from there the horns reach China and the other countries of Southeast Asia. In Vietnam today there are circulations that have only marginally to do with TCM. The horn is said to cure cancer and prevent the hangover after a night of drinking. This is primarily lifestyle: a drink with dissolved rhinoceros powder costs around $ 1,000 and is therefore perfectly suited to show off your wealth. An average horn of five kilograms achieves around 280,000 euros, more than gold or cocaine.
The import, trade and possession of rhino is punished in Vietnam with up to seven years in prison. But that doesn't deter the rhino mafia, and rarely is anyone convicted of violations. The black market is largely open: rhino is sold on the Internet and in street shops.
The turtle's death
Turtles play an essential role as witnesses of creation in the Chinese tradition. At least 114 drugs contain turtle shells. The cartilage tortoise's back shell, for example, is said to cure fever.
Turtle shells are designed to promote yin, strengthen bones, stimulate the heart and relieve menstrual pain. Many believe that turtles increase potency: the round-headed neck that the turtle pulls back is reminiscent of a penis.
Local turtles are usually turtles and market vendors offer native species such as the Chinese soft turtle. However, some species are said to have special healing abilities, are offered under their own name and are correspondingly expensive: The three-stripe hinge turtle, for example, is said to cure cancer, one of which fetches up to a thousand dollars. Today it is “commercially extinct”, it is so rare that it is no longer worth looking for and catching. Traders are evading related species that are now on the brink of extinction.
Marsh and soft turtles, which were still ubiquitous 20 years ago, are extremely rare today. China now imports turtles from New Guinea, the United States and Brazil, from India as well as from Bangladesh. The Indian turtles therefore decreased by 90 percent in a decade. Today, every fourth turtle species worldwide is acutely endangered.
What to do?
Every third inhabitant of the world uses TCM, including 80 percent of Chinese outside of the big cities. Sales of TCM drugs are estimated at 6.9 to 23 billion euros. Animal products are largely traded outside of the official market. In addition, mostly finished products are traded on the official market, while the Volksmarkt compiles the ingredients separately for the recipes.
The Chinese government acted against the extinction of species in the pharmacy. Eating endangered animals has meant up to ten years in prison since 2014; this applies to panda bears as well as gold monkeys or Chinese pangolins. Anyone knowingly buying illegally hunted animals can count on three years behind bars.
Medicine would have to offer alternatives in the world's most populous country. It has developed for thousands of years and has proven itself in many ways. The use of animal parts is often custom, but not a mandatory standard.
Unfortunately, serious TCM doctors in China often swear by the “original” of animal origin instead of using synthetic agents; For example, 75 percent of the healers surveyed thought that bile from bears was more effective than artificial ursodeoxycholic acid, and supporters of analogue thinking hardly believe that Viagra really stimulates an erection, unlike turtles.
In addition, rare wild animals not only serve medical purposes, but their consumption is also a status symbol. He has always been, but the middle class is growing, and the number of people who can afford such status symbols is expected to triple by 2022. With a population of over 1.35 billion people, no animal species can handle this. It only helps a change in consciousness.
Lo Yan-Wo, the President of Chinese Medicine and Philosophy, specifically opposed the processing of endangered animals into medicines: In medicinal ointments, for example, herbs are crucial, and turtle shells only serve as binders. Instead of tiger bones, cattle bones could be used, instead of the horn of the rhinoceros, the horn of the domestic water buffalo, the musk of the musk animal could be replaced by artificial preparations as well as bear bile. Antelope horn and the horn of domestic goats made no difference from a medical point of view. Pangolin, geckos or deer antlers can all be replaced by plants.
But with increasing demand, these animal and plant species, which are still common today, could soon be among the threats. From an ethical point of view, the mass use of animal raw materials as a whole should be reconsidered, and not only in the TCM. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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- Platsch, Klaus-Dieter: The five phases of change. Edition, 2008
- Anhalt, Utz: Ethnomedicine - Asian healing methods and the other side of species protection; in: Wiebke Ahrndt / Peter-Rene Becker / Andreas Lüderwaldt / Hartmut Roder (ed.): Asia - continent of contrasts; Phiilp von Zabern, Mainz 2006
- Altherr, Sandra: Traditional Chinese medicine and international species protection; in: Chinese Medicine / Chinese Medicine, Vol. 25, Issue 4, page 200-213, 2017