Classical Chinese Medicine


Classical Chinese medicine represents one of humanity’s richest and uninterrupted streams of traditional knowledge. It is a highly sophisticated clinical system that offers a real alternative for the serious health care needs of our time. The 21st century will see a return to the time-honored values of living in harmony with nature and the essence of being fully human. This journey toward genuine health and wholeness is precipitated by the present blossoming of the traditions of holistic medicine, with Chinese medicine blazing the trail. 
–Heiner Fruehauf, PhD, LAc, Founding Professor, College of Classical Chinese Medicine, National University of Natural Medicine


Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) has been created over thousands of years through the direct experience and observations of doctors and scholars, both in and outside of China. It is rooted in the classical medical texts of ancient China, particularly the Yellow Emperor's Inner Cannon (Huangdi Nei Jing) and the Classic on Cold Damage (Shang Han Lun). In comparison, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the form of Chinese Medicine most familiar to Western society, was created by the Chinese government in the mid-20th century as an amalgamation of a handful of lineages. TCM is generally suspicious of the ancient philosophies and gives more importance to the modern scientific method. Though these two forms of Chinese medicine use similar types of treatments - acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, bodywork, herbal medicine, diet, lifestyle modification - CCM and TCM see the world and the human body differently. The following table illustrates some of these differences and helps to clarify the foundational concepts of CCM.


Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM)
  • Naturalist philosophy (Daoism)
  • Synthetic approach - studies relationships, embraces complexity
  • Based on experience
  • Body is a microcosm that exists within and reflects the macrocosm
  • Understood through symbols and metaphor
  • Body is primarily functional in nature
  • Body-mind-spirit medicine
  • Physician strives to better and transform themself
  • Health is defined as maximizing vitality
  • Diagnosis based on subjective observations of the physician
  • Individualized diagnosis - every person is different
  • Individualized treatment - every treatment is slightly different
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
  • Pragmatist philosophy (Confucianism, materialism, communism)
  • Analytical approach - studies things, eliminates complicating factors
  • Based on experiments
  • Body is a separate entity
  • Understood through narrow and specific definitions
  • Body is primarily material in nature
  • Body (mind) medicine
  • Physician strives to uphold the professional standards
  • Health is defined as the absence of disease
  • Diagnosis based on objective findings and labels, often from Western medicine
  • Standardized diagnosis - people are categorized
  • Standardized treatment - same treatment for same condition

If you would like a more in-depth examination of the differences between CCM and TCM please see Chinese Medicine In Crisis: Science, Politics, and the Making of “TCM”, an article written by Heiner Fruehauf, where he elucidates the history and political environment surrounding the creation of TCM as well as drawing comparisons between the classical and modern approaches.