History of the Nation of China and Its Medicine (Part II)
By Dr. Chung-Hwei Chernly 01/20/07
Many of us who are interested in understanding more of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM thereafter, encompassing acupuncture, herbs, massage, cupping, moxibustion, Tui-Na, Gua-Sha, etc.) and acupuncture in particular may have critical doubts and questions in our mind such as why the theory of TCM is vastly different from modern sciences. For example, the TCM theory constantly refers to Qi – the flow of energy, which is not found in modern western medicine; or the meridians composed of hundreds of acu-points, which don’t even exist according to modern anatomy and physiology. Yet TCM has treated and cured billions of patients using or not using these theories since ancient times. One may ask why the educational systems of TCM didn’t teach students advanced biomedical sciences. To give these questions complete and comprehensive answers, we have to look back to the seemingly perplex yet highly consequential historical background.
In the three centuries before the last feudalist dynasty ended in 1911, this rebelling country- China, went through many foreign invasions, such as Sino-British Opium War (1840-1842AD), Sino-Japanese War (中日甲午戰爭1895), China-Russian War, Anglo-French Invasion of Peking War(1860), China-French War, and Rebellion of Keng Tzu( Eight Nation Allied War 1899-1900AD). China was forced to swallow fiascos in all of those wars. As a defeated nation, China had to pay the prize of a lot of warfare expenses to those foreign countries – billions and billions of ounces of gold and properties. Even worse, China lost many strategically important territories: Okinawa was taken away by Japan; so was Taiwan which had been ruled by Japan for 50 years; parts of the nation - Hong Kong and Cow Long - became British colonies. Over the top of that were many unfair treaties and loss of numerous lives. As a result, this nation became weaker and weaker, poorer and poorer.
The revolutionist, Dr. Sun-Yet-Sen, finally in 1911, successfully overthrew the corrupted and stubborn Manchurian Ching Dynasty – the Last Emperor, and founded the first democratic nation – Republic of China (ROC) in Asia. And in the early years of ROC, a group of “patriots” started various reforming movements, such as the May 4th movements (五四運動1915 – 1919) in order to revitalize the county, making it richer, stronger and more prosperous. They highly propagated, valued and adopted Science and Democracy in a hope to fully westernize this new nation. Mr. S&D (Science and Democracy) prevailed. In that period of time, if anything was considered non-scientific or against democracy, it would face the fate of total elimination and desertion.
The old tradition and culture were all blamed as the cause of the centuries of painful disaster and corruption; therefore those “patriots” decided to throw away all preexisting Chinese culture and old traditions, including Confucius philosophy and Chinese medicine! The theory of TCM has not been modernized by adopting the modern sciences yet, and remained out-of-date and old school thinking as I indicated in Chinese History Part I, which means its theory cannot be proven scientifically, or was considered unscientific. Therefore, they made the same decision to throw Chinese medicine away. Needless to say, it was a big mistake rooted in misunderstanding! The thoughtless ban created a different holocaust and a disaster to the precious TCM and Chinese culture in general.
To make things even worse, in 1925 the Department of National Legislature of R.O.C. passed a law of “Complete Elimination of Traditional Chinese Medicine Act). Despite criticism from dissidents, the TCM practice was largely prohibited and the school systems were dismissed ever since in the ROC. Since then, people who practice Chinese medicine started facing nationwide persecution and prosecution. They lived in fear with no dignity. Not only did they have no more formal education, but they became the second class in the medical field because the government treated them that way. They were thought of as “those who can’t” or the scum and refuse of the society, although their patients were normally respectful and grateful to their Chinese medical doctors as they believed they were the rescuers.
As a result, TCM staggered its way into folk medical practice among the still large number of believers until the communists took over the mainland in 1949.
The destiny of TCM really must be divided into two significantly different geographies – the Republic of China in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China in mainland after 1949. In Taiwan’s case, nearly nothing changed as it inherited the entire legislature from the old government. In mainland, on the other hand, TCM budded and flourished especially during the otherwise chaotic Culture Revolution during 1966-1976, partly thanks to the lack of western doctors, partly to Chairman Mao Ze Dong’s personal preference.
It was not until President Nixon visited China in the mid-70s that people in the west began to hear and experience the “miracles” of TCM and acupuncture in particular. It sparked for a while in America in the late 70s and early 80s when patients thronged to acupuncture doctor’s clinics and waited in long lines. Gradually, the emerging craze became widespread general interest and underwent serious scrutiny by the medical community. U.S. is a great country in that although there has been theoretical difference; TCM was eventually partly recognized by NIH in the late 1990s because of its superb effectiveness in some cases such as pain management. Despite this groundbreaking progress, we believe TCM should have been applied and recognized in a much wider area than just pain management.
The American democratic and grassroots’ system should be given credit for the well-deserved reincarnation of TCM. Nowadays, many TCM schools are set up in the U.S., 47 states have licensed acupuncturists and there are 16,000 licensed acupuncture practitioners in the U.S. Surprisingly, even many Chinese people come to the U.S. to study Chinese medicine! We can reasonably speculate that in the years to come, the U.S. will be the leader in the TCM field in terms of research and recognition. With that being said, there are definitely many obstacles facing us now such as a lack of insurance compensation, ongoing initiatives to reform the school and continue-education curriculums, the designation of “Doctor” to TCM practitioners and so on.
On the other side of the fence, naturally yet ironically, the patients DO NOT care what the theory is. They are not scientist, FDA members, or Medical board members; they are just suffering sick people. What really spoke to them is that Chinese medicine works and that’s exactly the reason the acupuncture clinics are booming across the country!
Now let’s turn our focus to education, which is the essence of the quality and longevity of any disciplines. Apprenticeship used to be the only way to impart knowledge and train next-generation doctors historically. This situation for TCM persisted for a long time even after the western style schooling became prevalent in China in other disciplines. In mainland – since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, especially in late 80’s, government-supported Chinese Medical schools were set up in almost every province and major cities, such as in Shanghai, Beijing, GuangDong, Tianjin, HeBei---. Please check out their curriculum, and you can find the modern biomedicine courses. Overall, in mainland China, TCM has gone such a long way since the 50s that today it has its own university, dedicated research and hospital systems.
In other side of China, Taiwan, R.O.C., Medical Schools of Chinese Medicine were finally re-established in 2000 and are doing very well. From visiting the websites: Chinese Medical University, Taiwan / Curriculum or Chang Gung University, Taiwan and others, you will find hundreds of modern medical sciences as the required courses in their core curriculum. Almost all current regular “western” medical school courses are in their school curriculum.
In conclusion, the clinical evidence of TCM is extraordinary, and has been like that for thousands of years. Although general pain such as migraine, neck pain, shoulder pain, lower back pain, etc. are most frequently treated in the clinic, the application of TCM is comparable to western medicine (please refer to Patient Testimonials in this site). Moreover, it is preventive as the doctors view the body as an integrative system. The success of TCM is merely a matter of time. When it comes to its educational foundations, fortunately, we are joyfully witnessing in the regions where TCM is more embraced such as U.S. and China, there are more and more core medical sciences incorporated into the curriculums as well as rigorous examinations and licensing systems in place. We are anxiously expecting more to come!
But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. (Psalms 22:19)