Chinese medicine books are what you need to support studying acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. But you’ll need them even if you concentrate on 5 Elements theory and its acupuncture.
Modern ‘Chinese’ medicine is what began in the 1950s when MaoTseTung demanded modernisation of the ancient systems and practices that had continued for thousands of years.
Many of these ancient practices were jealously guarded by families, with their knowledge handed down through the generations. Realising they had to conform or perish, many such families fled, some to Taiwan, others to Europe or America.
I attended lectures in 1980/81 given by Dr John Shen who moved to New York. By then in his 80s he was brought over to London annually for some years. He had studied with his father, trained as a ‘Western’ doctor, and used Chinese medicine during the Chinese/Japanese war to treat many Chinese with tuberculosis before antibiotics became available.
He subsequently worked with Dr Leon Hammer, a psychiatrist in New York, promulgating his somewhat idiosyncratic system of pulse diagnosis, now taught in many acupuncture schools.
There are many other traditions which draw on the basic text, the Huang di Nei Jing. Both Korea and Japan, for example, have rich traditions of traditional medicine with Chinese roots. This means there are many books in Korean and Japanese which describe their own sophisticated medical traditions and give us other ways to understand the ancient texts.
I studied in China in 1982/83 and was amazed by the number of really excellent books on Chinese medicine in Chinese lacking any translations into English.
Increasingly Chinese medicine books are now being translated, some more ably than others. At the same time, modern Chinese authors are writing new texts, many of them now in English.
Western Authors and Publishers of Chinese medicine books
Several publishers noticed the growing demand for books on Chinese medicine and commissioned new books from Western authors.
Although most new Chinese medicine books are in English or translated into it, there are excellent practitioners in France, Italy and Germany writing in their own languages.
This means that there is a wealth of good texts to study. The problem is, where to start?!
Studying Chinese Medicine Books Alone?
Even if you have the best textbooks, (for which you’d need a lot of money to buy them and plenty of time to study them) it would be hard work. Textbooks are really for reference, and mostly assume that you are studying under experienced lecturers. Good teachers can guide you through the wealth of information, but to learn pulse diagnosis, how to do acupuncture, and how to design herbal formulae, you really need live teachers dealing with real patients.
However, the ideas behind Chinese medicine, though very different from those of Western medicine, are not so hard to appreciate if you come at them with an open mind.
And I’m convinced that many practitioners of other traditions, including doctors of Western medicine, who understand the basic ideas of Chinese medicine, will find real benefit. That knowledge will make their own practices more enjoyable and of more use to their patients. And it’s by no means just about which foods help and which don’t!
My Choice of Chinese Medicine Books for Reference and Study
I have the second edition, published in 2005. It has 1200 pages, so is not a light read. Giovanni Maciocia died in 2019 having written many other major textbooks which elucidate more arcane corners of Chinese medicine.
They are all well written, well referenced and are considered authoritative. Though he learned acupuncture first in the UK he eventually became honorary Professor at the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese medicine, Nanjing, China.
If you’re so interested in Chinese medicine, perhaps you should learn the history of the great schools of acupuncture and the remarkable people who set them up. Buck includes a lot of detail. I’m glad I never had to sit exams in this. Reading it will enhance your respect for this great tradition.
This gives an approach from the Japanese tradition. You may think it a bit unworldly and impractical until you’ve been practising for 20 years when you’ll find yourself intensely interested in it – as also in other Japanese authors on the subject.
This is not modern TCM Theory! This comes from a parallel tradition, which the Huang Di Nei Jing (see next book) mentions. I trained first in this tradition under the Westerner who revitalized it, Jack Worsley.
The book is by some of his first students, all of them now more experienced and practised than he was when he taught me. Although it’s not difficult to explain (see my page on 5 Elements acupuncture) it takes a while to learn to practise it effectively. While there are far fewer ‘facts’ to learn than with TCM theory, as in the books mentioned above, learning to put 5 Elements into practice takes a lot of work and doesn’t suit everyone.
Pub Univ of California Press. This is the most detailed modern translation of this number one source text for Chinese medicine. Easy to read? No! But you may be consulting it for the rest of your life. However, I wouldn’t buy it if you are just starting out as a student.
So, you ask, is that all?
Certainly not! There are thousands of good texts in English, and more in Chinese and other languages. But if you want a reference library, the above would form a good basis.
And you may ask, why are none of my books in the list! Well, for a start I wrote them for ordinary people, not students, though it seems many students find them useful. But in any case, we list them at the foot of every page on this site!
Your Opinion on essential Chinese Medicine Books?
Having compared my list with yours, are you offended that I’ve omitted your favourite text? For example, Ted Kaptchuk’s The Web that has no Weaver?
Or perhaps you disagree with my choices!
Do let me know – there’s a space at the bottom of the page for your contribution!