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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 103-107

Brief history of Chinese medicine in France

Graduate of the European University of Traditional Chinese Medicine; Graduate of Chinese-French, Vietnamese Institute of Traditional Medicine, France

Date of Web Publication8-Jan-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Marc Mezard
Director of Sino-Franco-Vietnamese Oriental Traditional Medicone
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_35_18

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In the 17th century, Chinese medicine appeared in France; since then, it never stopped evolving and is applied by French practitioners. Today, acupuncture is widely used in clinic treatment in France.

Keywords: Chinese acupuncture, Chinese medicine, France

How to cite this article:
Mezard M. Brief history of Chinese medicine in France. Chin Med Cult 2018;1:103-7

How to cite this URL:
Mezard M. Brief history of Chinese medicine in France. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 May 23];1:103-7. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2018/1/3/103/249580

  Beginnings of Chinese Medicine in France since the 16th Century Top

The first contacts of the West with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and particularly, acupuncture go back to the 16th century when the Jesuits were admitted to the Chinese Imperial Court [Figure 1].
Figure 1: I Geng Chinese doctor

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In France, the first rapprochement between Chinese and Western medicine dates back to the time of Louis XIV through the Jesuits. A book was published in Grenoble in 1671:

“Les secrets de la Médecine des Chinois” [Figure 2] (The Secrets of Chinese Medicine). For the record, the Chinese angelica was known and used in France in the court of Louis XIV at the end of the 17th century. Popularized under the name of Eumenol, its root was ingested as a decoction. It was used to calm the “vapors,” in other words women's hot flashes.
Figure 2: Chinese medicine secrets

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  Development of Chinese Medicine in the 18Th and the 19Th Centuries Top

The first thesis focusing on Chinese medicine was defended in 1759 by Félix Bridault, in Montpellier. During the 18th century, all the medical professionals interested in Chinese medicine just paid attention to the part which exists also in Western medicine: the pulse, medicinal plants, and the cauterizations. This shows that the medical circle stayed indifferent toward things unknown or new at that time.

During the colonial expansion of the 19th century, appeared the first Westerners truly devoted in the understanding of Chinese culture, for example, through the Taoist classics: Richard Wilhelm who translated “Yi Jing” (Book of Changes).

  Drs. Louis Berlioz and George Soulié De Morant for Acupuncture Top

Dr. Louis BERLIOZ [Figure 3] (1776–1848), the father of the famous composer Hector Berlioz, was a medical doctor, a fact that is not yet widely acknowledged regarding acupuncture in the Western world. Berlioz whose mind was as innovative as his temperament was reserved. He was the first to use acupuncture in his day-to-day practice. He was the origin of the huge but fleeting success acupuncture met with in the 19th century. Up to now, he only made a modest appearance in the History of Music; it is high time to give Doctor Berlioz the rank he is entitled to in the History of Medicine.
Figure 3: Louis Berlioz

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If acupuncture has gained popularity in the 19th century, it was largely thanks to Louis Joseph Berlioz, who publishing his book “Mémoire sur les maladies chroniques, les evacuations sanguine et l'acupuncture” (Thesis on chronic complaints, bleeding and acupuncture) [Figure 4]. In this book, he wrote about the benefits of acupuncture, without developing any theory, but he aroused interest of French people for this new therapeutic method.
Figure 4: Blood evacuations and acupuncture

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For this wake, the fashion is considerable; in a few years, 142 French authors published articles, thesis, or reports on acupuncture; Pelletan, Ampère, and Becquerel discussed it at the Academy of Sciences. Dupuytren spoke of it in his classes; Magendie published articles about it; Laennec then Trousseau and Velpeau despite his skepticism, practiced it more or less. From 1824 to 1830, Trousseau, who had the opportunity to practice acupuncture, wrote: “We ourselves used acupuncture a large number of times, to treat muscular rheumatism, fixed pains, neuralgia, etc. In most cases, we observed that the pain disappeared immediately after the penetration of the needle into the tissue; it is there, from the observations which we have been able to collect, the most noticeable principal phenomenon of the acupuncture.”

Having ceased to practice for a long time, Dr. Louis BERLIOZ died in July 28, 1848, in La Côte-Saint-André where he had always lived. In an odd way, the death of Dr. Berlioz coincided more or less with the first signs of the decline of this Chinese medicine, which he had nevertheless given back to honor. However, it is really from the second half of the 20th century that acupuncture, as a medical practice, spread in the West, just like the practice of Tai Chi Chuan.

Later, the acupuncture has grown popular with Jules Cloquet (1790–1883), a young brilliant surgeon, member of the Academy of Medicine at the age of 36, he was working in the hospital Hôtel Dieu of Paris. He learned from his friend Dr. Bretonneau about the efficiency of acupuncture treatment and decided to try this new therapy and communicated this with the Academy of Sciences in 1824. Up to this period, acupuncture was used as an experimental therapeutic method without any knowledge of theory. His conclusion was very close to the most accepted opinion “Acupuncture works mainly in painful cases no matter where they are located” in the West.

In 1825, Dr. Chevalier de Sarlandière (1787–1838) was the first to use moxa, with acupuncture and electrical stimulation; at this period, acupuncture appeared in the front page of the medical journals and everybody of the society looked for this therapy.

In 1863 was published an important book “La Médecine chez les Chinois” (The Medicine of Chinese People) by Captain Dabry de Thiersant [Figure 5] (1826–1898), the consul of France who lived in China from 1857 to 1871. This book just presented Chinese medicine without making any comments, this is the first real book on acupuncture published in the West.
Figure 5: The medicine of Chinese people

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  Rigorous Study and Practice of Acupuncture and Translation of Classic Traditional Chinese Medicine Works in the 20th Century Top

Although by the end of the 19th century, acupuncture is permanently implanted in France, the rigorous study and practice of Chinese medicine is closely related to the following figures, particularly Mr. Georges Soulié de Morant (1878–1955) and Mr. Nguyen Van Nghi (1909–1999).

Georges Soulié de Morant [Figure 6], the first French acupuncture expert, is the principal promoter of acupuncture in France and the West since 1929. He was indeed the first in Europe to build a theoretical discourse, to make reference to Chinese medical texts, but also, to practice acupuncture.
Figure 6: Georges Soulié de Morant

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He was born in Paris on December 2, 1878. He was very young when he started to learn Chinese language. He made his first trip to China to Beijing as temporary secretary-interpreter for the Hankou-Beijing railway company (December 1901–July 1902). In 1903, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was appointed trainee-interpreter at the Shanghai Consulate (September 1903). He was then appointed as a third-class interpreter in Kunming, where he served from 1907 to 1909.

SOULIÉ de MORANT went on to occupy posts in the central administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until 1917. In 1927, he met at the Bourboule a thermal spa doctor who reoriented his career toward acupuncture. Together, they drafted their first article in 1929, and in 1932, the first hospital consultation of acupuncture was created at the Bichat hospital in the service of Professor Charles Flandin. This is the starting point for the contemporary use of acupuncture in France and in the West. From 1935, Soulié de Morant became a renowned acupuncturist, receiving in his office in Neuilly-sur-Seine a clientele of celebrities: Jean Cocteau, Colette, Maurice Ravel, Vassily Kandinsky. His first two books on acupuncture were published in 1934, but his most important book is “L'acupuncture Chinoise” (Chinese Acupuncture) [Figure 7].
Figure 7: Chinese acupuncture

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The first volume appeared in 1939, the second in 1941, and the complete work in five volumes was published in 1957 after his death. In Volume I of his work on acupuncture, he reported the conditions of his apprenticeship in acupuncture. Upon his arrival in Beijing, he observed during a cholera epidemic, the spectacular effectiveness of acupuncture. This led him to a thorough study of the method and was distinguished by the Viceroy of Yunnan by a “coral globule chiseled which gave rank of academician.” A complaint for the illegal practice of medicine was brought against him by the departmental council of the Order of Medical Doctors and by Roger de La Fuÿe as president of the union of acupuncturists of France. Deeply affected, Soulié de Morant suffered from a hemiplegic attack and died on May 10, 1955. (Sources from: https://www.amazon.fr/L'Acuponcture-Chinoise-Soulié-Morant-George.)

The establishment of acupuncture in France is envisaged through the evolution of the notion of “tradition.” Between the end of the 17th and the 19th centuries, there was a talk in Europe of “Chinese medicine” and “acupuncture.” The expression “Chinese acupuncture” appeared between the 1930s and the 1960s. However, it was not until the 1960s that the terms “Chinese medicine” and then “Traditional Chinese Medicine” [Figure 8] were applied. This article shows that the progressive reception of Chinese acupuncture in French medicine in the 20th century is closely related to the meaning and value attributed to “tradition.” Three moments stand out in the European sources produced during the period of interest. The first is marked by two well-documented publications on the Chinese medicine, where tradition is still opposed to progress, but already perceived as a vestige to preserve (1860–1902).
Figure 8: Medicine and pharmacy among Chinese and Annamese

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The second moment is characterized by the first theoretical and practical diffusion of acupuncture in France, and by the engagement of a dialogue between science and tradition (1930–1950). It is then the opposition between modernity and tradition – where tradition is sacred – that characterizes the third moment. On the one hand, power relations between the conquering West and the resistant Far East (China, Vietnam), and on the other hand, the confrontation between distant forms of knowledge related to Western medicine and therapies.

In France, the first signs appeared timidly around the 1950s. The great upheaval occurred in the 1970s, reaching its peak in the 1980s, with the labeling of “Traditional Chinese Medicine.” It is by analyzing the political context in China and the social context in France that we will understand the success of TCM.

Dr. Chamfrault [Figure 9] (1909–1969) was a professor of Faculty of Medicine of Paris and the founder of French Association of Acupuncture (in 1966). When he was sent as a naval doctor to Tonkin in 1952, he already had a few years of acupuncture practice. Wishing to deepen his knowledge, he collaborated with the Chinese scholar Ung Kan Sam for the translation of ancient medical works, such as Neijing-Suwen (《内经-素问》) in particular and modern, such as Xin Zhen Jiu Xue (New Science of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1951) (《新针灸学》) from Zhu Lian. Thus, will be born the first of the six volumes of the series “Traité de Médecine Chinoise” (Treatise on Chinese Medicine) (1954–1969).
Figure 9: Dr Chamfrault

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The link between Chinese medicine and tradition runs through Chamfrault's work. From the first volume,[1]Treatise on Chinese Medicine” is written in capital letters, and the use of “ancient texts” is presented as necessary because, according to Ung Kan Sam, it is necessary to “drink at the source,” that is to say resort to Nei King (who) reflects the whole philosophical spirit of ancient China.” In the second volume, presenting the “sacred texts,” Chamfrault wished to shape[2] “a true community of traditionalist acupuncture doctors.” Thus, Chinese medicine is clearly related to a past (Chinese antiquity), a place (China) and a theory (Chinese philosophy).

The vision of tradition is identical at Mr. Soulié de Morant and Dr. Chamfrault. However, Dr. Chamfrault insists more on the exploration of tradition than on the balance between tradition and modernity and does not hesitate to criticize Soulié de Morant: Acupuncture is not limited to the existence of 12 meridians, radial pulses, and one energy. Moreover, acupuncture is only part of a medical system: Chinese medicine. However, the contribution of Dr. Chamfrault will collide with the school of Mr. Soulié de Morant, established since the 1930s, and will be welcomed with moderation in the world of acupuncturists. His message will only be of interest to physicians in the late 1960s.

Another prominent figure bringing Chinese medicine to France is Mr. Nguyen VAN NGHI [Figure 10]. Born in Hanoi in 1909, he studied in Vietnam, China, and France. After obtaining his medical degree at the University of Montpellier, he began to practice in 1940. From 1954, he devoted himself mainly to acupuncture based on classical texts: Huangdi Neijing (《黄帝内经》), Nanjing (《难经》), Zhenjiu Dacheng (《针灸大成》), Shang Han Lun (《伤寒论》), and Maijing (《脉经》). He died on December 17, 1999, in Marseille, France.
Figure 10: Dr Nguyen Van Nhi

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He was a doctor, author, translator, and teacher specializing in classical texts of TCM (acupuncture-moxibustion). Many of his works focus on the French translation and analysis of a copy of the Huangdi Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》) dating from the Tang Dynasty. This version of Huangdi Nei Jing differs from those available in China by comments from two doctors of the Tang Dynasty, without whom the old texts are indecipherable.

A leading author in his field, Dr. Nguyen Van Nghi, is considered by many scholars as one of the most important introducers of acupuncture in the Western world. He insisted that Western medicine and TCM are not two separate medicines, but one medicine.

  Current Situation of Chinese Medicine in France Top

Considered as one important alternative medicine, acupuncture is now recognized as an effective therapeutic practice for many conditions (especially chronic and painful diseases) by the World Health Organization, a recognition widely questioned by the French Association for Scientific Information which highlights the potential bias of WHO studies (in particular, not double blind). The scientific community has been studying these methods. Several countries of the European Union (except France and Slovenia) and North America have given a place in their acupuncture care system, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, or Germany through a particular status as Heilpraktiker who are supported by the health system.

In France, the Council of the Order of Medical Doctors recognizes the practice by medical doctors or midwifes who have followed a training of 2–3 years and obtained the DIU (Inter-University degree). However, practice of acupuncture practitioners (nonmedical doctors) is not allowed by this organization even after having receiving a professional training, for this is not recognized as medical training. There are some unions of acupuncturists, such as French Association of Acupuncture and French Confederation of TCM (CFMTC).

Since 1998, there is National Diploma of Traditional Chinese Medicine (DNMTC), a diploma not yet officially recognized in France, it will justify a minimum number of hours in each subject: Tuina, qi gong, acupuncture, and pharmacopoeia. DNMTC is unique to CFMTC.

In 2011 took place the 1st national congress of TCM organized by the CFMTC. This event brought together renowned speakers from around the world. In 2012, this congress was supported by Pan European Federation of TCM Societies (PEFOTS) Medicine and World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (very active European and global organizations). In 2013, it becomes the second largest congress in Europe.

UFPMTC: French Union of Professionals of TCM FNMTC: National Federation of TCM. In France, there are about thirty private schools that teach and train people for TCM.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Chamfrault A, Ung Kang Sam. Treatise on Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture, moxas, massage, bleeding from ancient and modern Chinese texts (Volume I). Angoulême: Chamfrault Publishing; 1964.  Back to cited text no. 1
Chamfrault A, Ung Kang Sam. Treatise on Chinese Medicine. The sacred books of Chinese medicine (Volume II). Angoulême: Chamfrault Publishing; 1957.  Back to cited text no. 2


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7], [Figure 8], [Figure 9], [Figure 10]

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