Copyright (c) 2009 Stephen Lau Chinese medicine is one of the most sophisticated medical systems in the world. It has been enhanced through thousands of years of experience and research. Its unique difference from Western medicine is that it focuses on “health” rather than on “healing” because Chinese medicine promotes overall wellness of an individual, as opposed to the approach of Western medicine in treating the symptoms of an illness. As a matter of fact, in ancient China, a physician would not be remunerated for treating his patient who had fallen ill, because it was his first duty to keep his patient from illness. Essentially, Chinese medicine is “heal-all”, while Western medicine is “cure-all.” Another major difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine is that Chinese medicine focuses on plants as remedies. Plants are essential to life. In fact, nearly all the food you eat comes from plants or animals who eat plants. Accordingly, to the Chinese, plants enhance health. In Chinese medicine, the number of plants used as medicines is greater than the number of plants for food. In Chinese medicine, there is not much distinction between a food and a medicine. Even thousands of years before Christ, the Chinese believed that every single plant on earth has its specific function in the well-being of an individual. For this reason, Chinese physicians have always been on the lookout for a remedy in any herbal plant. Not until recent decades and the opening of China to the Western world, little of traditional Chinese medicine was known to the Western medical community. Initially, Western doctors and scientists were skeptical of the potency of Chinese medicine, which is based on herbal cures and remedies. This is not surprising because in the beginning of the 20th century, Western medical science had dismissed even traditional Western plant remedies as folklore medicine – concoctions only for grandmothers but not for professionally trained doctors. With the emergence of the pharmaceutical industry, Western scientists began to focus almost exclusively on chemical drugs to treat different diseases with different symptoms. A case in point is human cancer. In the early 20th century, cancer was relatively unknown, but the number of cancer cases soon began to explode exponentially. With the growth of the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry and the need to validate the potency of these chemical drugs, more research studies have to be conducted. Given that Western medicine aims at treating the symptoms rather than eradicating the causes of a disease, and that chemical drugs often generate many adverse side effects, more new chemical drugs have to be developed to treat those new symptoms. Until fairly recently, after many years of concern at the pervasive side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, is there an interest in Chinese herbal remedies and medicinal foods. Such plants include aloes, garlic, feverfew, and licorice, among others. Another major difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine is that Chinese medicine often incorporates Western medicine into the medical system. For example, in Beijing hospitals, a doctor may carry out surgery in the Western manner with state-of-the-art equipment, while the anesthetist may use acupuncture and herbal preparations for preoperative and postoperative treatments. The Chinese are using the best from over four thousand years of experience to complement Western medicine. Results have proved that traditional Chinese medicine works even though it may not always conform to the current Western scientific theories. According to the Okinawa Centenarian Study, Okinawa, Japan, and Hong Kong are the top three areas of the world in life expectancy. They all share an important common characteristic of incorporating both Eastern and Western approaches to healing in their health care systems. The use of natural or herbal tonics in these populations far exceeds that of North America. Get the best of both Chinese and Western medicine so that they complement each other to give you the best health to enable you to become younger and healthier for longer.


  1. brincks26 says:

    We have lived in Changsha China for 10 months and are taking an intensive Mandarin course at a university here called Central South University. We study every day for 2-6 hours. The students in our class are medical doctors, engineers.. and none of us can understand much. Our teacher says that when they start their majors, they will only hear Mandarin and after several years will understand others. We still can not hold a conversation with strangers unless they know the words and expressions we have learned, which is around 1000 words.
    When I studied Spanish, I was fluent in one year and conversational in six months. So, I do not have problems in general learning languages. I can only speak a little French and can still somewhat understand our Columbian classmate after 12 years not speaking it, but in China after 10 months, I am lucky to understand even basic questions because you can ask the same question many different ways using different vocab and many here include Changsha dialect.

    We are now moving to Seoul, South Korea. I am worried that if I switch to Korean, I will be spending another year focusing on a language and then not be able to converse with or understand others.
    My questions are.

    1. I have heard many expats say that one year in Tokyo and they were able to converse in Japanese. Is this the same in Korea? If not, why?

    2. In Mandarin, even if you know the characters, putting them together makes for different meanings and many times,we can not understand children books and signs. Is this also true in Korean where if you know how to read the syllables, the words are lost because of the combination of syllables?

    3. I have read many blogs that say Korean is just as difficult as Mandarin, but it said you must know 1,500 Korean characters to read a newspaper and this is a lot less than Mandarin. We know now around 1,000 Mandarin characters and are still lost. Our teacher said you need 3,000 Mandarin characters to read a child’s book and I think she is right because we have many Mandarin children books. What about Korean? If you know 1,500 characters, can you understand what you read? That would be wonderful.

    4. Does Korean include different dialects? If it does, does everyone know standard Korean? One of our biggest problems in Changsha is that many people do not understand Mandarin, or choose to only speak the local dialect.

    5. Our main objective is to be conversational about life situations, not politics or medicine or philosophy after one year living in Korea. Is this possible with Korean?

    THANKS for your thoughts and experience!!!!

  2. whats the difference between this?

    lets say I wake up 11am and go to sleep 2am
    so thats 15 hours awake and 9 hours asleep.

    I wake up 9am and go to sleep 12am
    so thats 15 hours awake and 9 hours asleep

    wheres the healthy part?

Share your question or experience here:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *