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History of Chinese Medicine

by Tony Reid

The history of Chinese herbal formulas begins with the Han Dynasty (202 BCE to 220 CE). The Han Dynastic period represents a time of relative stability and uninterrupted cultural development. Prior to this time China had endured several centuries of continuous instability, referred to as the Warring States Period, which was ended by the First Emperor of China, just 20 years prior to the beginning of the Han dynasty. Much of what we now regard as essential Chinese culture developed and was formally recorded during this period.

Many of the herbal formulas that were devised during this time are still highly respected by Chinese medical scholars and are commonly used in clinical practice to this day. The single most famous book of herbal formulas was written at the end of the Han Dynasty and represents the culmination of 400 years experience in this stable cultural setting.

Formulary of the Tai Ping Welfare Dispensary Bureau’ (tai ping hui min he ji ju fang) Collections of medicinal formulations compiled by Chen Shi-wen et al., in 1151

Silk scrolls from Ma Wang Dui 168 BCE Herbal therapies for the treatment of 52 diseases (wushi’er Bingfang)