A Westerner’s Pilgrimage – The Professional Sector

Alternative_Medicine.jpgLast week we discussed the Popular Sector of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This week we continue to trace my pilgrimage through the Chinese medical system as I leave the Popular Sector and move to the Professional Sector. The Professional Sector is populated by those healing professions that have organized themselves in such a way as to receive formal recognition by providing a viable service to society. Examples include osteopathic and allopathic physicians, chiropractic and naturopathic practitioners. My choice was to enter the sector by seeking the help of a Chinese herbal pharmacist.

Having done no more than a little background reading on the subject of Chinese medicine, I felt awkward talking to the store clerk trying to speak in the vernacular–asking for an herb to increase the vitality of my eyes. Contrary to my Western expectations, the clerk did not ask me one single question about related signs and symptoms. While I attributed this protocol to her expertise, in retrospect I realize that she may have assumed that knew exactly what I was talking about. In fact, the latter would be in keeping with the Chinese tradition in which family members may take responsibility for many aspects of a patient’s medical care.

Next, the clerk led me to a collection of dried chrysanthemums. While listening to her explain the preferred method of decoction for the flowers, I gazed at the package she’d handed me, focusing on the words “for liver vitality.” I knew from my cursory background reading that she was simply using a different approach called “systematic correspondence” to interpret my symptoms.

Systematic correspondence is not uncommon to the Professional Sector. As an evolutionary descendant of “magic” correspondence,” this idea reflects the Chinese culture’s tradition of basing “its understanding of the relationships between all phenomena on the empirical evidence that indicated that much in the surrounding world is dualistic or complementary in nature.” (Unschuld, 55) A superficial interpretation would focus on its expression in the Chinese yinyang concept in which yin roughly denotes characteristics of cold, dampness and interior origin, while yang reflects those of hot, dry and exterior. Specific to my situation, sickness in the eyes is considered to be symptomatic of a liver abnormality. Dr. Ted Kaptchuk elaborates, stating “When the whites appear unclear or turbid, it is a sign of Dampness.” (Kaptchuk, 339) It is the philosophy of systematic correspondence that distinguishes the Professional Sector from others.

To learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine visit that National Library of Medicine at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/chinese/chinesehome.html.


Unschuld, Paul U. Medicine and China: A History of Ideas (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985)

Tony Brown, BA, EMT

Tony Brown, BA, EMT, graduated cum laude from Harvard University. He served as an EMT in the US Army stationed in Germany.
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