Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks

Updated July 15, 2004





The Best Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Books
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is an author of international renown and public speaker. He is now editing his first book, Chinese Medicine: Healing Yourself with Herbs, Foods, and Acupressure. Brian practices acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in sunny San Diego, California.

It's been a long time coming, and it's taken me too long to get around to it, but here are the best books about Chinese medicine.

I don't have time to review each of the hundreds of books out there, so here are the most popular and best known ones

If it seems like my comments are a bit harsh, it's mainly because I'm trying to make sure you don't get the wrong book for you. I hope all the authors don't get too mad at me! ;-) All of these books are significant accomplishments, and none of them are bad.

Make use of amazon.com to look inside the books and read positive reader reviews on there to get a good balance. The pictures of the books and links below link directly to amazon.com.


I've not only commented on them, but also designated who they are most appropriate for (laypeople=L, students=S, professionals=P).

If you're a layperson (regular non-professional reader), you don't want to end up with an advanced professional text - it'll just confuse you to no end!

If you are interested in doing research on Chinese medicine, and haven't been through a Masters program in acupuncture and oriental medicine, you'll probably need to read student-level books, not only the basic theory, but also the traditional point and herb functions, and herb formulas. My advice would be to get a well-qualified advisor (an acupuncturist/herbalist who knows classic acupuncture and herbal medicine, perhaps even one who reads directly from the Chinese sources) to help you design your study.

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Books Mainly for the Layperson

Main Focus
To introduce Chinese medicine to patients, and what they can do at home.
L, S
Chinese herbal medicine.
Introduction to health eating and diet therapy. Combines info from many medical systems: Chinese medicine, Western nutrition, Ayurveda, and Macrobiotics.
L, S
A survey of Qigong and Taichi.
Chinese medicine home self-care.
"Do-it-yourself" Chinese herbs.

Comments on the Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Books Primarily for the Layperson

Between Heaven and Earth

  • This is an extensive book, and entertaining with its very detailed patient stories.
  • However, it over-simplifies CM by showing only one aspect of it (the five-phase theory), teaches self-care without warning that you can't treat everything at home safely, doesn't cover acupuncture, and doesn't integrate Western medicine.

Ancient Herbs, Modern Medicine

  • Doesn't cover other CM therapies, but includes short section on home-acupressure (which seems outside its focus).
  • Leaves out significant research.
  • Relies on inaccurate clichés like 'Chinese medicine for chronic diseases, Western medicine for acute diseases'
  • Leans on confusing mistranslations (like 'energy' for qi).
  • Does not warn readers about the dangers of herbal self-medication.

Healing with Whole Foods

  • Makes it seem like veganism, raw foods, macrobiotics, Western nutrition, and Ayurveda are part of Chinese medicine (they're not).
  • Doesn't advise readers to take advantage of trained practitioners for reliable diagnoses and diet plans.
  • Bases coverage of serious diseases like cancer on anecdotal evidence.
  • Doesn't emphasize the risks of trying to cure life-threatening diseases by yourself.

The Healer Within

  • Over-emphasizes self-reliance.
  • Perhaps overestimates the power of these therapies.
  • Presents a view of "energy" medicine that may pose a religious conflict for some readers.

The Complete Book of Chinese Health and Healing: Guarding the Three Treasures

This was my first CM book, so I have a sentimental affection for it... it even guided me toward my college. However, it:

  • May confuse readers with its combination of Chinese medicine, Taoism, Buddhism, and Herbalism.
  • Acupuncture is hardly mentioned.
  • Ignores the potential dangers of self treatment.
  • Ignores Western medicine.

The American Association of Oriental Medicine's Complete Guide to Chinese Herbal Medicine: How to Treat Illness and Maintain Wellness With Chinese Herbs

  • Oversimplifies Chinese herbal medicine.
  • Neglects warnings about the dangers of herbal self-care.
  • Unwittingly perpetuates the use of one herb at a time.
  • Filled with pejorative material from a professional herbal book.

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Books Mainly for the Student

These are books introduced to most students in their Master's programs. They are also appropriate for professionals to refer back to (unless they have photographic memories).

Main Focus

To introduce the philosophy of Chinese medicine (CM) and how it compares to Western medicine.


  • More philosophical than practical
  • Only covers acupuncture theory, barely mentions herbs
  • Gives Western medicine short shrift, and xaggerates the abilities of Chinese medicine.
S, P

This is a translation of an actual modern Chinese medical school text. I didn't give it enough respect during school, perhaps because it was somewhat ignored by our curriculum. But also, its points are poorly organized in the book. It's easier to look up points in the Manual of Acupuncture, or Chinese Acupuncture & Moxibustion (latter book not listed because of its many downsides).

S, P

This is, like the previous one, truer to Chinese medicine than some other texts. It also played second fiddle in our curriculum, but it's the one I trust more and more as time goes on.

S, P
This book came out near the end of my school experience, so it was not integrated into the curriculum either, but it's a much better acupuncture point reference than other commonly used books, has great drawings and diagrams, and even quotes real classic Chinese medical texts in discussions of individual points.
S, P
There's no better reference book for single Chinese herbs in English.
S, P
Likewise, this is the best reference book for Chinese herbal formulas out there.
S, P

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Books Primarily for the Professional

There are many peripheral books which provide detail on various aspects of Chinese medicine, and there are always new books coming out, whether they are creations, innovations, or translations.

I generally agree with thinkers like Bob Damone and Philippe Sionneau that

  • we have a paucity of authentic Chinese medical texts in English, and that
  • we don't know enough to innovate.

If you're a practitioner and disagree, get a tape of Damone's 2003 presentation at the Pacific Symposium, or read the Qin Bowei or Volker Scheid books mentioned below, and see if you're surprised to hear about zang-fu patterns you didn't know existed.

Without even a complete view of zang-fu physiology, pathomechanisms, and pathology, how can our diagnosis and treatment be complete? How can we say we're doing the best we can for our patients?

In a profession that also lacks the level of quality evidence required in biomedicine, we must rely on classical texts and learn more about what the Chinese have been doing successfully for centuries, or we risk deluding ourselves by creating a fictional medicine that may be no more effective than placebo.

There are, again, too many books to cover, and there are many areas to study:

  • various specific styles of acupuncture like Japanese, Korean, Master Tong
  • learning to read and translate medical Chinese
  • the pharmacology of Chinese herbs
  • case studies in acupuncture or herbs
  • herbal ideas and techniques of modern masters like Qin Bowei or Jiao Shude

So, I've chosen just a few to highlight that I've found to be interesting or useful myself:


Teach Yourself to Read Modern Medical Chinese: A step-by-step Workbook and Guide

Hey, it's a start. There are some books by Unschuld, too, if you want to get in the door to the thousands of Chinese medical texts and research studies not yet translated into English.  
One of the biggest issues in translation is what English words are the standard equivalents of standard technical Chinese medical terms... Wiseman is the first to advance a comprehensive suggestion, in the form of this dictionary, which is also quite educational. Some people don't like Wiseman's choices, but some other books use them, so you need this book to refer to.  
I love to talk about this book, because it's our first systematic, literal work on herbal medicine, and it's 1800 years old! That means we were already combining medicinals in the way biomedicine combines AIDS and Hep C drugs that long ago. It demonstrates the brilliance and sophistication of China's medical minds. And it's a great way to learn some classic Chinese medical theory.  
This is volume one of one of the most useful series in Chinese medicine for professionals. It talks about real Chinese diseases (e.g. shan jing is dread, a disease) and divides them into their zang-fu patterns. It talks about the cause of each pattern, and both acupuncture and herbal treatment. There are 7 volumes in this series, I have them all, and I almost always use them in designing herbal formulas for my patients, who are always complicated.  
This is an unparalleled work in English. It's an anthropological study of various Chinese medical practices and practitioners, and somewhat philosophical, but includes ideas and treatments that will revolutionize your view of Chinese medicine - what I mean is, your American school probably didn't teach you some basics, because they haven't really made it into the English texts, and this book will point you toward the real deal.  
This is a great book for the advanced herbal student. Qin Bowei was a modern 20th century master of Chinese herbal medicine, and these selected essays, translated by Chip Chace, are interesting, and refreshing.  

Ok, that's just a few books for each audience... I hope it helps you in your efforts to better understand Chinese medicine!

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All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International, Brian Carter, MSci, LAc, Editor