The 4 Pillars of Prevention Medicine in Ancient China

There are very few books on Chinese Traditional Medicine in English. Because of the significant linguistic and cultural differences between the Eastern and the Western worlds, medical information that is meaningful and even poetic in the original Chinese language, if literally translated, may appear nonsensical or even foolish to a Westerner. The inevitable result was that the Western reader could not entirely relate to what the Traditional Chinese medicine could offer.

Some of these books on Chinese Medicine are written by Western scholars who, even though experts in their own field, knew little about the culture, language, and the medical philosophy of the Traditional Chinese Medicine. Their books only touch matters superficially at best and they are most of the time vague and confusing.

The second category of books on Chinese Medicine were written or translated from classical texts by authors who were knowledgeable in the Traditional Chinese medical field but who unfortunately did not have the linguistic ability to present their material in a form the Western reader would understand.

Fortunately, in the first decade of the 21st century, a new wave of authors of Chinese Medicine emerged. These few authors were raised and educated in a Chinese environment, trained not only in Chinese Medicine, but also in Chi Kung, Tai Chi and other martial arts, and proficient in English at the same time. Because of their bilingual background, they were able to explain the ancient healing art in a comprehensible way for the Western reader.

According to these authors, the four pillars of the Traditional Chinese Medicine used for both prevention and treatment are: energy healing, healing with foods and herbs, tissue manipulation and bone fixing.

All these healing arts were based on the yin / yang principle of duality and the theory of the five elements. In order to maintain or achieve health, the harmony of the Yin and Yang principles is essential, as well as the harmony among the five types of processes known as the five elements.

Energy Healing

The two main Energy Healing arts in China are Chi Kung and Acupuncture.

Chi Kung

In 527BC the Venerable Bodhidharma went from India to China to teach Buddhism. At the famous Shaolin monastery, he developed a system of exercises known as the Eighteen Lohan Hands. This system later developed in two directions, the famous martial art Shaolin Kung Fu, and Chi Kung, the system of exercises for developing vital energy.

In the 2nd century BC, a famous physician emphasized the indispensable importance of prevention medicine and health science. He devised s system of Chi Kung exercises called “Five Animal Play” which express the movements and spirit of five animals: tiger, deer, bear, monkey, and eagle. His disciples who practiced these exercises daily not only lived to be ninety, but their teeth were strong, and their senses keen even at an old age. These exercises can be practiced by anyone, without any medical knowledge.

Today, Chi Kung energy exercises are incorporated in both martial arts and Chinese medical therapies. One of the martial arts, which evolved in a therapeutic and preventive healing art, is Tai Chi. Kiko, the Japanese version of Chi Kung, evolved with the contribution of Usui Sensei in Reiki.

Chi Kung has two different meanings. In a modern, narrower context, it refers to the therapeutic approach whereby the therapist channels chi (vital energy) to the patient. In its wide meaning, it is a term covering all therapeutic methods that utilize the harmonizing of the chi flow to restore health.


In the 7th century, the first acupuncture manual “Fundamentals on Acupuncture” was published. In 1026, the illustrated Classic of Bronze Statue Acupuncture was published. Two bronze statues of the human body expertly perforated with acupuncture points were also made. One of them is guarded in a secure place in Tokyo.

The same way our blood travels in our body through arteries and veins, the energy travels continuously through meridians. There is a set of 12 primary meridians flowing to the major internal organs, and a set of 8 secondary meridians. From them are derived meridian extensions, muscle meridians, collaterals, and sub-collaterals. The basic principle is that by manipulating the energy flow in these meridians, health can be restored.

The primary meridians are divided in 6 yin and 6 yang meridians corresponding to the yin and yang internal organs. Also, they were divided according to the five element theory in: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth.

These meridians exist inside the body, but they have points of connection with the energy outside the body. These special points are called acupuncture points. Chinese physicians restore the yin/yang balance, or the harmony between the energies of the five elements inserting needles in these points.

The number of energy healing methods has increased from that time. The term of energy healing covers in our days not only Chi Kung and Acupuncture, but also Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Johrei Mahicari, Quantum Touch, Bioenergy, and many others.

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Healing with foods and herbs

For centuries, most of the ancient civilizations have known that ordinary foods contain powerful healing properties. In the 5th century BC, the first text of herbology, The Great Herbal Classic of Shen Nong was written. In the 7th century, the New Herbal Pharmacopedia appeared, which became mandatory for the practice of medicine in China and Japan. Thousands of traditional remedies have been confirmed by modern Chinese experiments.

This healing art is based on the understanding of the properties of each food, and the way it is prepared, from the point of view of their Yin/Yang qualities. This is established based on:

  • the five food flavors (pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, salty), corresponding to the five elements,
  • the influence on one of the 10 organs (from the Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view),
  • the five energies of food (cold, cool, neutral, warm, hot) – do not confuse with the temperature of the food,
  • the five movements of the food (out, up, neutral, down, in).

It is important to know the energies of the foods, because different energies act upon the human body in different ways.

At the same time, the practitioner has to understand the body type condition of the person according to the Yin/Yang and the Five Element theory, and to find the origin of the disease in the imbalance associated with one of the 10 organs. Then he/she will suggest certain foods to balance the condition to be treated.

We have to understand that there are no good foods or bad foods. There are good or bad foods for a certain person in certain conditions. This concept goes far beyond the scope of the modern nutrition science.

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Tissue manipulation

Chinese massage therapy is based on the same principles as the acupuncture, but the therapist uses his hands instead of needles to harmonize the energy flow in the patient. It can be applied to a wide range of illnesses. Nevertheless, there are illnesses where the use of this technique is not appropriate (like in skin diseases).

Massage is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Chinese therapeutic approach to cure or prevent diseases. All great Chinese ancient masters used massage therapy along with acupuncture and internal medicine in their practice. Chinese researchers using modern scientific methods have found that massage improves the natural functions of the body. Among others, it stabilizes the amount of white cells in the blood, increases the amount of antibodies to strengthen the immune system, adjusts the right amount of acids and other chemicals in muscles.

In the Inner Classic of Medicine, written 2500 years ago, the four fundamental techniques in massage therapy are described as: an, mo, tui, and na. Some of its essential principles are also laid down. That’s why the traditional Chinese massage technique is also known as Tuina. According to tradition, Bodhidharma extended the techniques to ten: an (pressing), mo(stroking), tui(pushing), na(gripping), cuo (rolling), chui (pounding), gun (rounding), nian (holding), rou (rotating) and dan (springing).

Some of the massage techniques developed in Japan were derived from ancient China. Techniques like Shiatsu and Jin Shin Jutsu are also known as acupressure. Some of these ancient massage techniques are incorporated in modern massage therapies.

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Bone fixing

Unfortunately, some of the bone fixing methods are believed to be lost. This methods were based on the principle that structure and function are reciprocally inter-related, being aspects of the yin / yang duality. Because of this, correcting a certain aspect of the structure helps correcting the corresponding function. These methods would correspond to chiropractic and osteopathy in our days.

More known is the curative aspect of that ancient healing art, used in traumatology. This includes various types of therapeutics for external injuries as well for internal injuries caused by incision, contusion, dislocation, fracture, and violent means. It is known as Die Da, meaning therapy for injuries sustained from falling and from being hit, and it is closely linked to Kung Fu.

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The preventive aspect of all these ancient and modern techniques is based on the fact that there is always a delay between the moment an energetic imbalance occurs in our energy field and the moment that this imbalance is manifested as a disease in our physical body. This delay may range from days to decades, and this is why the connection between the two is not always evident. If we detect and correct that imbalance in time, we can prevent its manifestation as an illness in our physical body.

There is never a question about which one of these preventive methods is the best. The correct question is which one of them, or their combination, is most suited for a person in a specific circumstance. All these four methods work according to the same principles, so they work in synergy and complement each other. This is why it is recommended to use all of them concurrently in order to maintain our health and prevent illness.

There is another aspect to be mentioned. It takes less effort and time to prevent than to cure the same disease. The only requirement is to make prevention a part of our lifestyle.

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