During its course of development spanning a couple of millennia, TCM has kept drawing and assimilating advanced elements of natural science and humanities. Through many innovations, its theoretical base covered more ground and its remedies against various diseases expanded, displaying unique characteristics.
First, setting great store by the holistic view. TCM deems that the relationship between humans and nature is an interactive and inseparable whole, as are the relationships between humans and the society, and between the internal organs of the human body, so it values the impacts of natural and social environment on health and illness. Moreover, it believes that the mind and body are closely connected, emphasizing the coordination of physical and mental factors and their interactions in the conditions of health and illness.
Second, setting great store by the principle of harmony. TCM lays particular stress on the importance of harmony on health, holding that a person's physical health depends on harmony in the functions of the various body organs, the moderate status of the emotional expression, and adaption and compliance to different environments, of which the most vital is the dynamic balance between yin and yang. The fundamental reason for illness is that various internal and external factors disturb the dynamic balance. Therefore, maintaining health actually means conserving the dynamic balance of body functions, and curing diseases means restoring chaotic body functions to a state of coordination and harmony.
Third, emphasis on individuality. TCM treats a disease based on full consideration of the individual constitution, climatic and seasonal conditions, and environment. This is embodied in the term "giving treatment on the basis of syndrome differentiation." Syndrome differentiation means diagnosing an illness as a certain syndrome on the basis of analyzing the specific symptoms and physical signs collected by way of inspection, auscultation & olfaction, inquiry, and palpation, while giving treatment means defining the treatment approach in line with the syndrome differentiated. TCM therapies focus on the person who is sick rather than the illness that the patient contracts, i.e., aiming to restore the harmonious state of body functions that is disrupted by pathogenic factors.
Fourth, emphasis on preventative treatment. Preventative treatment is a core belief of TCM, which lays great emphasis on prevention before a disease arises, guarding against pathological changes when falling sick, and protecting recovering patients from relapse. TCM believes that lifestyle is closely related to health, so it advocates health should be preserved in daily life. TCM thinks that a person's health can be improved through emotional adjustment, balanced labor and rest, a sensible diet, and a regular life, or through appropriate intervention in the lifestyle based on people's specific physical conditions. By these means, people can cultivate vital energy to protect themselves from harm and keep healthy.
Fifth, simplicity. TCM doctors diagnose patients through inspection, auscultation & olfaction, inquiry, and palpation. In addition to medication, TCM has many non-pharmacological alternative approaches such as acupuncture and moxibustion, tuina (massage), cupping and guasha (spooning). There is no need for complex equipment. TCM tools, for example, the small splints used in Chinese osteopathy, the spoons used in guasha, or the cups used in cupping therapy, can draw from materials close at hand, so that such treatments can spread easily.