Acupuncture: Why I Study TCM

I have been interested in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for many years.  I am amazed at the simplicity and beauty of the philosophy and theory of TCM that has been standing tall and firm for thousands of years. I am amazed that our ancestors came to know the invisible meridian system of the human body thousands of years ago while modern science and technology still cannot comprehend it. 

I had numerous encounters with TCM that helped establish my great interest and faith in TCM with respect to both acupuncture and herbology: 

  • When I was about 8 years old, I had an encounter with sumac trees in a mountain. My face became very itchy, red, and swollen. I suffered so much that I could not sleep at night. I tried antihistamine drugs to no avail. Luckily, a local TCM doctor told me that it can be healed by steaming using water boiled with the inner bark of Chinese Fir trees from the local mountains. My father immediately went to get some, and the itchiness and swelling started to fade with only one application!
  • When I was about 10 years old, I often had stomach aches. My mom took me to see an old TCM doctor who was politically persecuted near the end of the Cultural Revolution in China, but who was still allowed to see a limited number of patients in his labor camp. He felt my pulse and was able to give an accurate diagnosis. He also asked if I hurt myself in an accident about 6 months ago. I did have an accident where I fell from a bridge, but I had not told anyone about it. How did he know? After I took his herbal prescription, I rarely had stomach aches again.
  • One day back in Shanghai, I twisted my back when getting up from bed. My back froze up, and I could hardly move. My wife took me to the school’s clinic and I was treated with acupuncture on my back. I was able to immediately get up and walk even though there was still some pain left.  The doctor then applied some herbal seeds on my ears, and my pain was completely gone the next day.

All of these encounters created a personal connection between me and TCM, but I was also intellectually interested in TCM’s philosophy and practice because of my past work experiences.

I previously worked for more than 20 years as an information technology (IT) architect. We often had to solve problems in complex systems that involved many independent elements. The approach we took was to create holistic models of the system and then create holistic solutions based on the models.  I’ve found that TCM’s approach is conceptually somewhat similar to the IT architecture approach, and that further attracts me to study TCM.

Human beings are probably the most complex dynamic system. TCM has established a sound theoretical system that provides a holistic model of human beings and their relationship to the universe. This model is comprehensive yet straightforward enough to understand and has become part of the Chinese language and culture, so that each person can easily relate to it in their daily life. This model explains at an abstract level human physiology and pathology.  A variety of treatment methods based on this model have been developed over the past thousands of years, and they can exist completely without modern technology and are very cost-effective.

The main stream biomedicine has achieved huge progress in its very short history, yet it comes with issues like formidable costs, strong side effects (especially unknown long-term side effects), drug/device dependency, environmental pollution, limited effectiveness for many diseases, and its tendency to treat symptoms rather than the root cause of illness. These problems are demonstrated well in the documentary movies, such as Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare. [1] 

These shortcomings are inevitable due to biomedicine’s mechanical and analytical approach. Yes, we can now see a single cell, even a molecule. Yet it is very difficult to understand how they work together and why. It is like getting into a forest – you can clearly see a single tree, but you can’t see the whole forest. The deeper we go, the more we get lost. 

An integration of biomedicine and TCM would enable us to see the whole forest and also be able to see the individual tree when needed. Although TCM has achieved international recognition and acceptance, the mainstream approach in the U.S. is to give priority to biomedicine and take TCM only as a supplemental alternative. I do hope that in the future these two systems will be used more equally and become integrated so that we can fully take advantage of both systems’ strengths. With this in mind, I want to systematically understand the philosophy and the theory of both TCM and biomedicine, as well as learn and develop my clinical skills, so that I can help people live a healthier life in the most cost-effective way.


  1. The Escape Fire website: – Watch the movie Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare:


Ningjiang Cheng

Ningjiang started transitioning from his successful IT career to his TCM study in 2018. He finished his Master of Science program in Acupuncture at VUIM in 2021, and he is finishing his Master of Science in Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine (MAcHM) while also preparing for his acupuncture board exam. He enjoys nature, likes gardening, and playing table tennis.