Monday, December 31, 2012

Some thoughts on the history of traditional Chinese medicine in China over the past 50 years or more

To understand the history of traditional Chinese medicine in its modern context better, I have been fortunate to have had recommended to me by a student at the Leamington Acupuncture Academy an excellent book which I have just finished reading with great interest, Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945-63:  A Medicine of Revolution by Kim Taylor (Routledge 2005). This is providing me with great insights into why my advent in China seems to be marking quite a turning-point in China’s own appreciation of its traditional medicine, specifically in relation to acupuncture.  It is certainly helping me understand a little better why what I bring represents a reconnection to an acupuncture tradition in great danger of being lost. 

I would recommend all acupuncturists to read this book.  It confirms many of my long-held beliefs about the problems surrounding modern Chinese acupuncture (TCM), and its insidious spread into the West under the illusion that it somehow represents traditional acupuncture, which it so clearly doesn’t.  Thank goodness that this is at last being recognised, not least in China.  But TCM’s invasion of the West has done much untold harm to the more traditionally based practices of acupuncture, such as five element acupuncture, one such instance being the fact that, for some reason I could never fathom, TCM practitioners always seem to want to undermine the validity of five element acupuncture.  Now, at least, I feel my own stance, staunchly defending the transmission of a long acupuncture lineage, has been vindicated by what is now being revealed about the extreme paucity of any true traditional sources in the acupuncture practised over the past 50 years or more in modern China.

My thoughts have been further strengthened by reading another important and well-researched book by Volker Scheid, Currents of Tradition in Chinese Medicine, 1626 -2006 (Eastland Press 2007).  Although concentrating almost entirely upon herbal acupuncture, with only a handful of references to acupuncture, the picture he paints is of the enormous pressures placed upon Chinese medicine over the past 50 years or more in what can be seen as a fight for its survival against the forces within China supporting the primacy of Western medicine.  Chinese medicine became a pawn in China’s attempts to work out the position it should take in relation to Western medicine, and continues to suffer from this uncertainty, whilst at the same trying to defend the importance of acknowledging its own long medical heritage.

Somehow acupuncture found its own escape route from the political turmoil within China, benefiting from the hounding and expulsion of many of its practitioners.  They took with them, often as the sole inheritors of long traditional medicine lineages, traditional practices frowned upon or misunderstood in mainland China, and were free in the West to pass on their knowledge to those eager to learn.  Amongst these, as we know, were the group in England which included JR Worsley and Dick van Buren.

Ironically, therefore, it is in the West that the precepts of traditional acupuncture found fertile ground upon which to allow its damaged roots to re-plant themselves and grow so prolifically.  It is therefore doubly ironic that it should fall to me, a Western trained five element acupuncturist, to hand the gifts which my practice has given me back to a birthplace which hardly recognises the acupuncture inheritance on which I base this practice.




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