London CCMUK

Chinese Medicine in the UK

Chinese Medicine in the UK

The origins of the European encounter with Chinese medicine can be traced back to the 16th century when King Manuel I of Portugal appointed Tomé Pires, a Portuguese apothecary involved in the spice and medicine trade in Malacca,  as the leader of the first diplomatic mission to China. Over time, other explorers and missionaries gathered academic books on medicine and herbal medicine that covered TCM theory on syndrome differentiation, treatment and prevention.


Michal Boym, a Polish Jesuit missionary, contributed to this knowledge exchange by writing the “Flora Sinensis” in 1652, which introduced Chinese medicinal plants and authored “Chinese Pulse Medical Theory”. The Western explorers’ journey of discovery in the East and China can be seen as an academic interaction between Eastern and Western scholars. The achievements of Chinese herbal medicine and the medical system were transmitted to the Western world through the letters, diaries and travel notes of missionaries, doctors, pharmacists, diplomats and the flower or tree species carried in their postal packages.


In 1838, medical missionaries in China established an academic community, The Medical Missionary Society in China, which identified Chinese Materia Medica as its first key research project. The significance of research on this topic was reiterated by successive chairmen of the association. The director of the Department of Pharmacy of Union Medical College pioneered analytical chemistry methods to study Chinese herbal medicines in the 1930s, verifying 414 species of plants in “Materia Medica for Famine Relief Famines”. This paradigm continues to influence TCM research today.


In the 1970s, acupuncture became popular in the UK, leading to increased exchanges between China and the West. Acupuncturists in England initially used acupuncture and moxibustion to treat diseases, but some felt the need to learn Chinese medicine theories and use more advanced Chinese medicines. In the 1980s, many Brits travelled to China to learn acupuncture and Chinese medicine, as domestic Chinese medicine practitioners went to the UK to practice medicine. Since the 1990s, traditional Chinese medicine has been known by the British public. Organisations such as the Association of Chinese medicine and the college for imparting knowledge of Chinese medicine have been established accordingly.


The current major professional associations of Chinese medicine and acupuncture in the UK include AACP: Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists, ATCMA: Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture UK, BA: The Acupuncture Society, BAcC: British Acupuncture Council, BMAS: British Medical Acupuncture Society, FTCMP: Federation of Traditional Chinese Medicine and RCHM: Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine.


TCM education organisations in the UK take three main forms: acupuncture majors in publicly funded colleges such as Lincoln College, private colleges of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and TCM professional research institutes.