Chinese medicine is most commonly explained based on the concepts of ‘Energy’ circulating within a system of ‘Meridians’. This ‘Energy-Meridian Theory’, introduced by Georges Soulié de Morant in the late 1920s, was the biggest translation error carried out in modern history befalling acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
– Acupuncture is a physiological medicine and subject to scientific principles. It is not a believe system or primitive medical practice based on esoteric or metaphysical concepts –
De Morant popularized acupuncture in France through clinical practice, publishing papers, and writing books on acupuncture. His works were translated into other languages and published throughout Europe. Although his contribution to establishing acupuncture and Chinese medicine throughout Europe were considerable, his erroneous translations and creation of a metaphysical theory as the core concept of Chinese medicine are still taking their toll to this day.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine were studied, researched, and practiced in Europe throughout different episodes from the 16th trough the 19th century. The most detailed and first-hand, early account of Chinese medicine was provided by the Dutch physician Willem ten Rhijne in 1683. In his work he describes Chinese medicine as a physiological medicine based on the concepts of nerves, vessels, and blood circulation (Jing Luo). He traded information on Western medicine for an explanation of the concepts of Chinese medicine during his stay in Asia.
The creation of the term ‘Meridian’ by Soulié de Morant was not only a mistranslation unfaithful to the underlying Chinese concepts, it also reintroduced Chinese medicine to the West as something appearing more like a metaphysical concept or believe system than a physiological form of medicine explainable in the concepts of modern science. The same holds true for his translation of the term ‘Qi’ into ‘Energy’. Qi literally means ‘Vital Air’ and refers to the circulation of nutrients (including oxygen) within the body. Unfortunately, to this day, these errors have been widely promoted in the West, as noted by P. Unschuld (1998).
This misrepresentation of these basic concepts has kept Chinese medicine on the fringes of conventional care and has led to uncertainty amongst scientific communities and the general public as to how viable medical therapies Chinese medicine and acupuncture actually are. It has caused difficulties for acupuncturists across the world to explain their therapeutic approaches to patients and other healthcare providers. And in my opinion it even presents a substantial challenge for most acupuncturists to fully understand the basic concepts of their own trade.
Further, it has made it almost impossible to produce viable studies on acupuncture recognized by the scientific community. With this vague system of energy and meridians rather than a true and correct understanding of Chinese physiology (which is essentially the same as that of Western medicine) it is no wonder that no solid research can be conducted. Standardization of physiological concepts and clinical strategies is the backbone of evidence-based Western medicine today and should be the same for Chinese medicine. One, if not the most important textbook in Chinese medicine, the Hunagdi Neijing, was intended for this exact purpose. Written around 475-221 BC, it has been the fundamental doctrinal source for Chinese medicine for more than two millennia.
Chinese Medicine meets every scientific standard the great French physiologist Claude Bernard established as the foundation of Western medicine in 1865. It is unfortunate that almost a century later this semantic mistake causes Chinese medicine to be viewed as being metaphysically based and founded on impossible, or at best, incomprehensible, physiological ideas (D. Kendall, 2002), rather than the same physiological and anatomical concepts Western medicine is based upon.
Not only is Chinese medicine exceptionally efficient to restore health and well-being, it also offers a unique and fascinating view on human physiology and insight into bodily function that would be very inspiring to many Western medical practitioners and scientists.
Therefore it is important for every practitioner of Chinese medicine as well as the governing organizations to realize the consequences of Soulié de Morant’s misconception so that a true integration of Chinese medicine into the Western medical system can be achieved. This would not only enable us to conduct viable research that would greatly benefit our healthcare system, it would also allow for Chinese medicine to take the place in Western societies it really deserves.