The Reasoning of TCM by Professor Song Xuan Ke

08 August 2023 | Review
Gillian Nicol
Student Member: Tyne & Wear
In writing The Reasoning of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Professor Song Xuan Ke aims to provide ‘a simple explanation of the tradition’, acknowledging the enormity of such a task in the preface. Remarkably – and in a book of under 200 pages – he manages to do just that.

Professor Ke sets out to bridge ‘deep gulfs’ in understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) between eastern and western cultures that can lead to misunderstandings and be seen to deprive western patients of the active role his Chinese patients often have, based on their deeper cultural understanding.

Professor Ke’s deep knowledge of TCM has been developed over more than 40 years – from serving as young apprentice to herbal masters in Hubei at 13 years old, to graduation from Guangzhou University before moving to London, where he has worked as a doctor and teacher since 1986.

It is with this authority gently expressed that Professor Ke provides an impressively clear run through of the complexities of TCM. Chapters cover an introduction with brief overview and history of TCM; Metaphysics; Causes of disease; Mechanisms of illness; Diagnosis; Treatment and Prevention of Illness.

Professor Ke describes key differences between western medicine and TCM and directly addresses specific questions that critics of TCM might raise

We are given a quick and interesting oversight of the weighty historical backdrop of TCM – followed by a briefing in the philosophical and cultural principles that are foundational and vital context to understanding.

Professor Ke outlines the external and internal causes of disease, the influence of stress, work, emotions and the difference in recognition of illness between western medicine and TCM – the former ‘a binary matter’, whereas ‘TCM considers “illness” and “health” existing on a live and dynamic continuum’.

He details diagnostic methods and approaches to gathering of clinical information, the analysis and decision-making involved and how ‘whilst diagnostic precision can be a positive thing… from the TCM perspective, that precision can often sacrifice the holistic understanding of a bigger picture’.

Understanding illness as ‘the wave of consequences that emanate from a posture of imbalance’, Professor Ke describes TCM’s approaches to restoring balance with treatments that ‘rather than simply addressing that wave or the damage done in its wake… seek to settle it at the source’. Alongside which, through provision of vital lifestyle advice: ‘TCM serves to prevent sickness: not by treating illnesses, but by sustaining health’.

Throughout the book, Professor Ke describes key differences between western medicine and TCM and directly addresses specific questions that critics of TCM might raise. Readers benefit from the thoughtful and deep consideration the author has given these divergences over the years.


He helps us consider the extent to which it is useful to speak in detail of TCM to patients – the benefits that can come from their deeper understanding particularly in supporting lifestyle adjustments, but also the risk of alienation or misunderstanding.

In a concise and straightforward manner, Professor Ke manages to deliver layers of illumination – through interesting anecdotes, humorous asides, awe-inspiring facts, handy clinical differentials and excellent use of footnotes.

This is a highly informative and enjoyable read. Professor Ke’s reassuring tone of voice, plus the generous point size, page spacing and clear diagrams add to the book’s accessibility.

It serves as an excellent introduction for anyone considering or beginning studying TCM and a compact revision and clarification aid for those mid-study. It would be a useful waiting room or bookshelf addition for practitioners to help guide interested patients towards a deepening of their understanding in support of their health.

The Reasoning of Traditional Chinese Medicine is published by World Scientific