Herbs and Pills –Project on the History of Eastern and Western Medicine – Yuchen

—-Project Initiation and Goal

While thinking about Traditional Chinese Medicine or Eastern medicine in general, many people would picture the acupuncture needles sticking out on the skin surface and a room with mysterious smell of herbal medicine. Many would even argue that Eastern medicine has no basis in science, and the proclaimed effects of herbal medicine or acupuncture are merely placebo effects. While thinking about Eastern medicine, however, many would perhaps picture an operating room occupied by high-tech equipments and surrounded by doctors holding scalpels.

During the past summer vacation, I attended a summer school and took graduate level courses in medicine/ pathophysiology and human nutrition. In our class on medicine, we had the opportunity to visit a hospital in downtown Boston. We observed an ongoing operation in the catheterization lab and used B-ultrasound to examine a patient’s heart. We also learned about various diagnostic techniques and treatment methods for different diseases and health conditions.

While taking in all the knowledge on Western medicine and admiring the effectiveness of medication and surgery, I reflected back on my Chinese upbringing and my past interactions with Eastern medicine. I believe that both Eastern and Western approach to medicine have their own merits. Without a doubt, Western medicine is more widely-accepted and practiced in many countries. Western medications target specific pathways or molecules of the body to treat symptoms; surgeries directly fix defects. The approaches are backed by scientific evidence; they are direct and specific. Eastern medicine, on the other hand, values the balance of the entire body and the interactions between different circutries within the body. It has existed for thousands of years and could be considered an ongoing clinical trial.

This independent study aims to examine the origins of Eastern and Western medicine, their fundamental principles and practices, their development throughout history and their current states–the new advances and the controversies– as well as their interactions with each other. I would also like to explore the similarities and differences between the two, as well as the possibility of peaceful coexistence between the two systems of medicine in the future.

Below is a link to an amazing BBC documentary on the science of Chinese medicine acupuncture. The documentary begins by presenting a patient who goes through an open heart surgery. Instead of general anesthesia, the doctors use acupuncture to control the patient’s sensation of pain. The patient is awake during the entire surgery. Later in the documentary, scientists use MRI machine to analyse the brain’s responses towards different depths of needling in acupuncture. The result of the study proves that shallow needling would activate the pain-sensing region of the brain, deep needling in acupuncture actually deactivates that region.

In this documentary, I see promising potentials of collaboration between Eastern and Western medicine. But first, I would like to fully grasp the history of these two seemingly distinct systems.


Work Cited:

Sykes, Kathy. Clarissa Pinkola Estes Workshops on Audio, King Institute, www.learnoutloud.com/Free-Audio-Video/Education-and-Professional/Medical/The-Science-of-Acupuncture/79503.




4 thoughts on “Herbs and Pills –Project on the History of Eastern and Western Medicine – Yuchen

  1. sabrina.schoenborn

    Yuchen! I am so excited about this independent study! Looking at the origins of Western & Eastern medicine sounds incredible and well need. I’m curious about your opinion on this before you start your project. it may be interesting for the next blog to write about how you feel about both Western and Eastern medicine and compare it to how you feel after this study. Do you think they can peacefully coexist? Really interesting idea and study and I’m so excited to see where you take it!

  2. nscavalieri

    I am not a very educated person when it comes to ANY type of medicine so I am genuinely intrigued where this study ends up going! I agree with what Sabrina said in recommending that you share your personal thoughts as a before and after to show how your views have changed throughout the process of this study.

  3. Alina Zhao

    This is such an interesting topic! Even though I am not a huge med/bio person, I have always been curious about the theory behind Chinese medicine and the potential combination of Eastern and Western medicine. I am really intrigued by the example you mentioned of using acupuncture as a way of almost disabling the body’s pain detection. I think it would be a good idea to include more examples like this where modern technology is used to uncover the mystery behind Eastern Medicine. Also, I am curious: do you have a personal preference between Easter and Western medicine?

  4. ninayichenwei

    This is such an interesting topic worth exploring! My own experience could relate to the contrary views of Eastern and Western medicines. My grandma is a fairly conservative member in my family who advocates for traditional Chinese medicine, herbs treatment, and massages. My mom, however, is a doctor who studies and practices Western treatment. I often witness disagreements among them when one of our family members become sick. I would love to learn more about the origins of both Eastern and Western medicines and analyze if these two ways of treatment could coexist. It would also be great if you could discuss ways to help loyal advocates of one branch of medicine to better understand the ideology of the other.


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