200 Years of Eastern and Western Medicine and Science
200 Years of Eastern and Western Medicine and Science – Comparison of Developments between 1800-1900
Thesis Statement: The period between 1800-1900 marked the evolution of Eastern and Western science and a significant cultural exchange that laid the foundation of modern day globalized science.
The purpose of this paper is to trace the development of science and medicine across two centuries in both the East and the West. The timeframe that has been selected for the study extends across the 19th to the 20th century which is a very important time for both fields since it encompasses the development of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the contributions of Marie Curie to modern science and medicine respectively in the West while it marks the spread of the Eastern Ayurvedic Sciences to other corners of the world along with Chinese herbal remedies, acupuncture practices and diets . It will attempt to make a comprehensive comparison of the medicinal practices of the Eastern and Western countries in order to better highlight the developments and advances made in each mode of treatment along with the expected health benefits across history. The evolution of the medicinal practices from the 1800s to the 1900s will help gauge the extent of scientific development that has been made in this area.
Science and medicine – two important branches which contributed significantly to the development of culture and knowledge and the overall well-being of humans – advanced across two distinct spectrums in the West and the East between the 19th century and the 20th century. It is necessary to compare the Western and the Eastern approaches to medicine in an entirely objective fashion for the purpose of further analysing the validity of traditional techniques used in Oriental medicine like acupuncture and the inherent benefits of modern medicine in the West. Medicine to some extent falls under the purview of science in both the case of Eastern and Western medicine, and so any significant developments in the medicinal field were viewed as an achievement of science. Medicinal research and the discovery of new forms of scientific treatment in the Western and Eastern countries were vital for the progress of society and to ensure the health. New breakthroughs in the field of medicine, as far as Western nations are concerned, follow a pattern of hypothetical deduction while the Eastern countries prefer the inductive method. In the West, the usual approach is to cleanly separate the health from the disease while in the East, health is considered to be a balanced state in contrast to disease which is viewed as an unbalanced one. Medicine in the West has always been developed with the intent of bringing about some form of change within the framework of the environment. The Eastern nations, however, choose to promote the method of adaptation to the environment.
Even though both the East and the West have their own process of advancement in terms of science and medicine, it is crucial to compare the two approaches. However, there are several potential problems when contrasting these two diverse yet fundamentally overlapping approaches. It is very likely that the same kind of terminology may be applicable to totally different facts. In fact, the modes of learning as well as teaching science and medicine bear little similarities between the Eastern and the Western countries. The evaluation of the treatment methods also cannot be compared between the two approaches. However, the fact remains that both are devoted to ensuring a healthier lifestyle for people in the East as well as the West and contributing to the well of scientific knowledge that has been amassed from the history of both the countries .
Despite their differences, it would not be entirely possible to understand the Eastern approach without first getting to know the basic Chinese concepts of medicine and vice versa. Since both relate to the same field of knowledge, it is necessary to chart the course of progress for both Western and Eastern medicine in order to get a better idea how modern medicine came to be as it is now. The understanding of one form should not be limited to simply medicine but must cover all the adjacent forms of knowledge, such as the concept of the micro universe living within a larger macro universe; the notion of anatomy; the inherent duality of the Chinese concept of yin and yang; physiology and its development in Chinese medicinal traditions; the presence of the concept of equilibrium among the five elements; therapeutic advantages of Chinese medicine, the idea of pathophysiology determined by the internal and external insults and the formation of preventive medicine, among others.
3 Eastern Science in 1800-1900
The focus of Eastern science, at least in the early part of the 19th century, was on natural studies. Ruan Yuan, one of the most famous evidential scholars in China, contributed heavily to the field of natural studies when he published the Biographies of Astronomers and Mathematics. This was a major milestone for Eastern science since the Biographies contained the summaries of the works of 280 astronomers and mathematicians, including thirty-seven Europeans. The trend of natural sciences continued till the 19th century in China since Ruan Yuan’s work received four supplements. In 1849, the collection was finally enlarged and reprinted, featuring new techniques such as the Jade Mirror of the Four Unknowns and Yang Hui’s Calculation Methods .
Ruan Yuan maintained that astronomy and mathematics were valuable aspects of classical education but he was sceptical of the validity of numerology and fortune-telling, both of which had earlier occupied seminal positions in the realm of traditional Chinese sciences. Moreover, Ruan criticized three new findings by Michel Benoist as he found the views to be unacceptable – the sun is stationary, earth and heaven are round in shape, and planets follow elliptical paths. Instead, Ruan actively sought a fusion of Chinese and European mathematics based on common shared conceptions. In case of astronomy, he looked for a predictive, accurate computational method that would follow enhanced techniques instead of cosmology.
The 19th century was a time of immense scientific progress in China. Published in the year 1802, Wang Lai’s Mathematical Studies contained equation theories along with the determination of the nature of roots. He was the first mathematician in China to note whether equations possessed both positive and negative roots. He was responsible for listing the different forms of cubic and quadratic equations and jotting down what roots they have. Another eminent Chinese scholar, Jiao Xun, focused on the laws of mathematical operations in the classic Computational Methods in Nine Chapters and formed a symbolic algebraic science of his own with the help of the ten “celestial stems” for arithmetic operations . The priority of textual criticism in the field of Chinese mathematics was openly discredited by Wang Lai and Xiang Mingda. The latter, in fact, chose to work on the expansion of trigonometric functions.
Ruan Yuan oversaw the compilation and editing of the massive Qing Exegesis of the Classics. Published in the year 1829, this scholarly collection focused on evidential scholarship and encompassed a large number of works on mathematical, astronomy and natural studies .
The 19th century also marked the entry of European missionaries in China. These missionaries were not only tasked with recruiting new members from the East to the Church of England, but also focused on gathering relevant knowledge. They gathered book written in Chinese and managed to put together an impressive library of collections. The missionaries held supervisory roles in different presses in Northern China such as Shanghai which turned into the publishing mecca of missionary activities. South China was finally penetrated in the 1830’s by the missionaries as well as their Protestant presses. Some of the Western missionaries in China were highly versed in medicine such as Peter Parker, Bridgman and Karl Friedrich August Gutzlaff. Bridgman in 1838 began work on Chinese Chrestomathy, a dictionary based on Cantonese and he included seventeen sections, including scientific materials on the human body, mathematics, mechanics, mineralogy, geography, zoology, medicine and botany. Therefore, the interaction of Western and Eastern sciences had already begun by the mid-19th century .
In 1852, Wang Shixiong published the notable scientific work, Warp and Weft of Warm and Hot Factor Diseases. The basis of this work was the treatise on cholera which was finished by Wang following his treatment of cholera cases during an epidemic. He was able to synthesize the heat factor materials in the Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor with fresh medical texts derived from the Qing . The impact of Western medicine on the Eastern practices is evident from the fact that Wang acknowledged the helpfulness of Hobson’s anatomical depictions of human physiology and female reproductive organs in order to improve diagnosis. In fact, Wang published warp and weft a year after Hobson’s publication of Treatise on Physiology appeared in the market. However, Wang did not follow Hobson’s ideas per se; rather, he subordinated new information to the conventional therapeutic regime which was based on the circulation system tracts that mapped moxibustion and acupuncture on the branch and main conduits of qi in the body .
Song Zhaoqi in 1878 presented the writings of Qing medical authors on heat factor disorders as a particular southern tradition, different from the northern traditions connected to cold factor disorders, in Discriminating Examination of Southern Diseases. This sort of demarcation of illnesses unique to south or north China indicated that cold damage therapies were unsuitable for illnesses which were prevalent in the southern part of China. In the 20th century, however, Zhang Binglin and other late Qing radicals rejected the Inner Canon of Wang in favour of heat factor therapies, which were believed to be superior by Zhang in comparison to Western medicine for the treatment of febrile illnesses . On the other hand, cold damage disorders were identified with what Western physicians termed typhoid fever. In the discussions concerning warm versus cold factor illnesses, germ theory was added and physicians in China increasingly explained the wasting away of the natural vitality of the human body in terms of gonorrhoea and tuberculosis.
Xu Shou in “Discussion of Medical Studies” felt that Western remedies were more suitable for external medicine while Chinese therapeutics worked better as internal medicine. Xu was a proponent of the synthesis of Chinese and Western medicine. He believed that this was the only way for Chinese medicine to make breakthroughs that would surpass the ancients .
4 Western Medicine in 1800-1900
Western medicine in the 19th century involved a precise understanding of the human anatomy, coupled with the concept of important forces, centred on the nervous and haematological systems that seems now to bear a greater resemblance to the ancient concept of ‘humours’ rather than contemporary models. Biochemistry or endocrinology had not yet fully developed. The binary notion of sexual determinism gained prominence, in which differences between men and women governed every aspect of health, physiology and social behaviour. The body was defined to be a closed system of energy.
In the 1830s and 1840s, transmission of diseases was mainly considered to be a matter of inherited susceptibility, based on location and climate. Infections which were air-borne and water-borne were usually accepted. The 1848 edition of Domestic Medicine by Buchan gave a list of general causes of illness and though their accuracy was questionable, it was still one of the authoritative texts of the time .
Treatments tended to rely mainly on a ‘change of air’ along with laxative and emetic purgation and bleeding by leech or cup to remove any impurities present in the body. The range of medication which was employed was rather limited and the people believed in the power of prayer. The death rates for the male sections of the population were often aggravated by toxic substances and occupational injury while women suffered due to violence and childbirth .
Scientific developments in the West in the 19th century significantly contributed to the understanding of diseases and health since experimental research led to development of new knowledge in the fields of pathology, histology and microbiology. By the end of the century, a new understanding of biology had thus come into being, ushering in a fresh emphasis on fresh air and rigorous hygiene. Shared utensils and unwashed toilet seats began to be avoided actively by society due to the deep-rooted fear of invisible contagion. The discovery of new devices around the 1900s helped prevent the spread of infections through telephones and the communion chalice.
The invention of anaesthesia in the later part of the 1840s revolutionized the process of surgery in the West. Anaesthetics allowed surgeons to perform more advanced operations along with conventional amputations. Specialized surgical techniques and instruments were followed with mixed results since unsterilized equipment often led to deadly infections.
At the end of the 19th century, in 1895, came the invention of one of the most important aspects of medical science – the X-ray. Discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen, it became a symbol of medical advance via the power of scientific instruments .
5 Comparison and Impact
The comparison of Western and Eastern science and medicinal practices between the 19th and 20th century brings to light numerous differences but none of them are so prominent as the fact that Western medicine or allopathy happens to be a branch of empirical science that developed across this period while Chinese medicine is more rooted in traditional culture.
Eastern medicine was earlier limited to the Eastern countries only and it had developed over the course of 5,000 years. Rooted in traditional practices, Chinese medicine was the only known source of treatment for the people in the 19th century and it was not until the 1850s that the practice spread to other nations. They had to protect themselves against epidemics and Chinese medicine seemed to be the viable option. The growth of population throughout history has also been a result of Chinese medicine. Eastern medicine, therefore, happens to be a set of practical skills that target an entire range of disease, from the common cold to more vital ones like heart diseases and tumours .
In contrast, Western medicinal science focuses on removing the symptoms with the help of direct methods. Chinese medicine focuses on a dialectical analysis of the entire human body, where it is seen as a collection of interrelated and interconnected systems. Therefore, the practice of Chinese holistic treatment was prevalent in the 1800s and showed great potential in treating complex illnesses.
Western medicine in the 20th century did not understand or recognize the existence of energy channels within the human body since anatomy was unable to prove it. Eastern medicine, on the other hand, corroborates the presence of energy channels within the human body along with proper acupuncture points even though they tend to remain invisible to the naked human eye. In case of the Chinese people, however, cherishing the Chinese medicine practices had a cultural aspect for it happened to be the manifestation of the ancient Chinese culture in areas pertaining to human health. Chinese medicine followed the Yin and Yang principle in the 19th century as well as the philosophy of mutual subjugation and generation.
In Chinese medicinal tradition, the traditional concepts experienced resurgence in the 1800s. Any matter was believed to have a spiritual side as well as a physical side. In order to form a complete entity, both sides had to work together in harmony. This concept was similar to the idea of ‘humours’ prevalent in Western medicine where it was believed that imbalances of the humours within the human body was the cause of illnesses and it was necessary to form a state of equilibrium in order to cure any condition in the human body. Mental illnesses were also believed to result from chemical imbalances which led to the inhuman treatment of mental patients in the 1800s.
This dichotomy between Eastern and Western medicine brings to mind the ironic folk saying – “People seeking treatments in Western [allopathic] medicine usually die knowing the exact reason why; People seeking treatments in Chinese medicine usually live not knowing exactly why” .
Both Eastern and Western medicine and science underwent considerable development in the 1800s. Progress was made in both the fields and the two modes of medicine broke out from their traditional moulds in order to better serve health and well-being needs in society. People in the East were no longer limited to traditional Chinese medicine and even though it was still the most preferred form of treatment, Western medicine had already started to gain traction. The West also opened up to the idea of acupuncture, herbal remedies and other common remedies which were popular in the East. Therefore, a cultural exchange took place in the period between 1800 and 1900. However, individual developments in both science and medicine were still going on in both cultures which would later contribute to the revolutionizing of the entire health system across the world. This knowledge sheds lights on the critical developments in science over two centuries in the Eastern and Western cultures and the foundation these developments laid for the exchange and adoption of approached between them.
This paper sought to evaluate the development of scientific approaches and methods over a 200 year period between the 1800s and 1900s in the Eastern and Western cultures. Through this comparison, it would sought to highlight that these two centuries were significant in the degree of modernization of science in both, the East and the West, as well making a significant exchange and adoption of approaches between the two. For this analysis, the following primary and secondary sources were evaluated:
Primary Sources (Chronological order)
Yuan, Ruan. Huang Qing jingjie (Qing exegesis of the classics. 20 vols. Taibei, China: Fuxing, 1892.
Ruan Yuan is amongst the most renowned scholars of 19th Century China. This source is a reprint of the 1829 collection of works by Yuan, including Biographies of Astronomers and Mathematicians, Jade Mirror of the Four Unknowns and Yang Hui’s Calculation Methods. This colletion, initiated by Yuan, is one of the most comprehensive sets of mathematical, astronomical and natural science approaches and techniques available during the time.
Xun, Jiao. Diaogu ji (Collected writing from the Studio of Engraved Bamboo). Daoguang, 1821-1850.
Jiao Xun was a prominent Chinese mathematician and scholar who lived during the mid-1800s. This text noted his development of symbolic algebraic science and computational methods, including a critique on the mathematical calculation methods described in the classic Computational Methods in Nine Chapters. This text is a collection of works from 1821 to 1850.
Shixiong, Wang. Wenre jingwei (Warp and weft of warm and hot factor diseases). Shanghai: Qianqing tang, 1863.
Wang Shixiong was the most reputed medicinal scholar during the late 1800s. This text is a collect of his own works such as Warp and Weft of Warm and Hot Factor Diseases and a critique and analysis of others including Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor. Wang was one of the first Chinese scholars to review and include the works of Western scholars such as Hobson and his Treatise on Physiology.
Secondary Sources (Alphabetical order)
Brandt, Allan M. "Emerging themes in the history of medicine." Milbank Quarterly 69, no. 2 (1991): 199-214.
Allan M. Brandt is an expert in medicinal history and is Amalie Moses Kass Professor of History of Medicine - Harvard Medical School. In addition, he has a joint appointment at the Department of History on Science, Faculty of Arts and Sciences - Harvard University. In this journal article, Brandt reviews recent essays on the history of science.
Brunton, Deborah. Medicine Transformed: Health, Disease and Society in Europe 1800-1930. Vancouver, Canada: The Open University, 2004.
Deborah Brunton is a lecturer in the subject of History of Medicine - The Open University, and is Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of Medicine - University of Glasgow. In this book, she presents a collection of essays on the history of medicine in Europe, between the years 1800 and 1930.
Elman, Benjamin A. On their own terms: Science in China 1550-1900. London, UK: Harvard University Press, 2005.
IARC. "Some Traditional Herbal Medicines: A. Introduction." IARC Monographs . 2003. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol82/mono82-6A.pdf (accessed March 25, 2014).
The International Agency for Research on Cancer or IARC is an agency of the World Health organization or WHO which specializes in cancer research. The Agency publishes monographs that are aimed at providing the international medicine fraternity with insights into possible cancer treatments. This particular monograph introduced the reader to the history of traditional herbal medicines, including Chinese, Japanese and Indian.
Jingwen, Wang. "An important difference between Chinese and Western medicine." The Epoch Times. May 16, 2011. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/health/an-important-difference-between-chinese-and-western-medicine-55986.html (accessed March 24, 2014).
Jingwen Wang is the editor at The Epoch Times, a leading global daily Chinese newspaper that is now published online in 21 languages and is available in print across 335 countries. In this article, Wang provides readers with a modern day perspective on the differences between then Chinese and Western approached to medicine, with quotes and comments taken from experts in the field.
Tsuei, Julia J. "Eastern and Western Approaches to Medicine." Western Journal of Medicine 128, no. 6 (1978): 551-557.
Julia J. Tsuei is the founder of the Graduate Institute of Traditional Medicine at the School of Medicine – National Yangming University, Taiwan. She has also established foundations in Honolulu and Taipei for the integration of contemporary and traditional medicine. In this journal article, she provides an in-depth view of the differences and commonalities in the Eastern and Western approaches to medicine.
Walker, Kenneth H. "Chapter 1: The origins of the history and physical examination." In Clinical Methods: The history, psychical, and laboratory examinations, by H. K. Walker, W. D. Hall and J. W. Hurst, 5-21. Boston: Butterworths, 2005.
An expert in clinical methods and medicinal history, Kenneth Walker provides an extensive discussion on the origins of the physical examination in the Western culture, beginning from Hippocrates, the father of the medicinal profession, to Riva Rocci in 1896, until current clinical methods in the US.