Five Element Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine are often used to describe Traditional Acupuncture. This can be very confusing to someone who is looking for a competent acupuncturist This is compounded by some new terms that get, in my view, misused, like Medical Acupuncture or Dry Needling. To be a Member of the British Acupuncture Council a practitioner must have studied at an accredited school and will either study Five Element Acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM. In my case I have studied both forms of treatment and will choose a course of treatment which I consider to be most relevant to the individual. I think it is true to say that currently in China most practitioners will learn TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine in many respects could be considered the most modern form of Acupuncture Treatment in China. It was developed as a system during the 1950's,the Chairman Mao period of China, when the state looked to standardise acupuncture treatment. There are different stories about why it was standardised. I like the following one, but don't know how true it is. The story starts in the Republic of China, pre 1950's at a time when Acupuncture was outlawed as anti modern China. The preference at this time was to develop modern Western medicine for citizens of the Republic. However, Chairman Mao had an ongoing chronic illness which was not responding to Western Medicine, so an outlawed Acupuncture Master was called to attend to him. The story goes on that, so impressed was the Chairman with the results of his treatment TCM was rolled out across China. The state standardised the practice and took medicine to the people. A good story, which may or may not be true! Another, perhaps more practical story is that Western medicine was found to be too expensive and for this reason Acupuncture was reintroduced to the people. Given the size of the population, the last idea is probably the more likely.
What we can definitely say about traditional Chinese Medicine is that it was put together and standardised in the 20th Century. This has enabled acupuncture to move into a more medical model which allows the research into the effects of acupuncture on various illnesses. The theory of TCM categorises certain patterns of disease and ill-health.