Why Chinese medicine is heading for clinics around the world

By David Cyranoski

Choi Seung-hoon thought he had an impossible assignment. On a grey autumn day in Beijing in 2004, he embarked on a marathon effort to get a couple of dozen representatives from Asian nations to boil down thousands of years of knowledge about traditional Chinese medicine into one tidy classification system.

Because practices vary greatly by region, the doctors spent endless hours in meetings that dragged over years, debating the correct location of acupuncture points and less commonly known concepts such as ‘triple energizer meridian’ syndrome. There were numerous skirmishes between China, Japan, South Korea and other countries as they vied to get their favoured version of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) included in the catalogue. “Each country was concerned how many terms or contents of its own would be selected,” says Choi, then the adviser on traditional medicine for the Manila-based western Pacific office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

But over the next few years, they came to agree on a list of 3,106 terms and then adopted English translations — a key tool for expanding the reach of the practices.

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