Friday, March 09, 2007

Traditional Chinese Medicine under Fire in China

Traditional Chinese Medicine under Fire in China

Common Ground Magazine, CA, USA, March 2007- As fundamental in Chinese culture as the Great Wall and dim sum, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) — with its acupuncture needles and herbal remedies — seems to have been around forever, and always will be.

Or will it?

As reported in The Boston Globe, a philosophy professor at a regional university in China launched a controversy in October with an online petition calling to oust Traditional Chinese Medicine from the national medical system. Four days later he had 10,000 signatures.

Ironically, at a time when more Chinese begin to view their traditions as old-fashioned, increasing numbers of Australians, Europeans and Americans are turning toward holistic medicine as a complement or alternative to the often impersonal, drug-obsessed nature of Western health care.

Unlike Western medicine, which focuses on the disease, Chinese medicine takes a holistic approach, including diet and psychological consultation and prevention preferred over treatment. Adherents of “ZangXiang,” one of the discipline’s fundamental tenets, believe the body gives external clues to the imbalance of internal organs, which can then be rectified with herbs and acupuncture. And people are flocking to the US to study the system.

“The United States has now surpassed China as the best place to learn traditional medicine,” says Lixin Huang, president of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco, the nation’s oldest such graduate program. This, she says, is because in China the central government’s policy governs the curriculum and how it’s practiced, so medical students today study a diluted form of traditional medicine meshed with Western procedures. Whereas in the US, doctors are free to practice the medicine in its pure form, as they have until recently in China for over 3,000 years.

Zhang Gongyao, the author of the petition, and other critics lambaste Chinese medicine for not being strictly scientific, going so far as to call it a dangerous derivative of witchcraft. And his appeals — for rigorous scientific standards, obligatory Western training for traditional doctors and an end to national insurance coverage for traditional medicine — come at a time when traditional Chinese medicine adherents are already on the defensive.

“This is nothing new,” says Huang. “For decades, people have questioned the scientific basis for TCM, but the fact remains that it works where Western medicine fails.” In areas such as chronic disease, immune disorders, pain, cancer and strokes, traditional Chinese medicine is often more effective, she says.

“Real life is not decided by government nor by an HMO,” says Huang, “but by individual choice. And TCM’s popularity is a reflection of demand from the people.” —Laura Browne