Thursday, May 29, 2014

Returning the spirit to acupuncture in China

(Article submitted to the Acupuncturist, the newsletter of the British Acupuncture Council)

We are used to thinking of the transmission of traditional Chinese medicine as being a form of one-way traffic passing from East to West, but somewhat to my initial surprise, I have become a key factor in its journey in the opposite direction, from West to East.  Specifically, it has become my task to take the first steps in helping five element acupuncture build a bridge back to its land of birth, China.

Over the years China has made many different, often contradictory attempts to try to integrate its traditional form of medicine within the framework of Western medicine or to find ways of making Western medicine fit within it.  It has never been quite clear whether it should view it as a powerful indigenous medical system on a par with, or even superior to, Western medicine, or as a more primitive branch of medicine which Western medicine had in many ways superseded.  This uncertainty has hovered over China’s at times almost schizophrenic approach to its traditional medicine, and is one of the reasons for the confusion which this still causes, not only in China but to practitioners of Chinese medicine round the world.   In other words, can Chinese traditional medicine be viewed as a stand-alone, intellectually coherent form of medicine based on more than 2000 years of continuous practice, or has the appearance of Western medicine in the past 100 years or so demoted it to an inferior, ancillary role?

It will be obvious from my writings and my teachings that I am utterly convinced of the former, but sadly I am not sure how far my view is shared by many of its practitioners either in China or the rest of the world.

Through a series of what could seem to have been coincidences, but I regard now as clearly defined steps along a path which has guided me throughout my long association with acupuncture, I was led to meet Professor Liu Lihong at the Rothenburg conference in Germany a few years ago, together with his very good friend and translator, Heiner Fruehauf.  Liu Lihong is described as being “arguably the most important Chinese medicine scholar of the younger generation in present-day China.  His controversial book Sikao zhongyi (Contemplating Chinese Medicine) became an instant bestseller when it was first published in 2003.  Since then, it has attracted a larger and wider circle of readers than any other Chinese medicine book in modern times.  His book represents the first treatise written in the People’s Republic of China that dares to openly discuss the shortcomings of the government-sponsored system of TCM education in China, which informed the evolution of TCM around the globe.”

I was then invited by him to give a seminar on five element acupuncture to acupuncturists at his research institute in Nanning in South China in November 2011, the first of five seminars I have given there to a growing number of acupuncturists.  At my last visit in April, Professor Liu, who is himself a scholar of the classics, when introducing me to the class of 70 acupuncturists, said, “The seed of five element acupuncture is a very pure seed.  I think it originates directly from our original classic Lingshu, “Rooted in Spirit” (Chapter 8 of Lingshu), or “Discourse on the law of needling” (Chapter 72 of Suwen). That is to say it fits easily within the Neijing. It is therefore not created from nothing.  It has its origin in the far-distant past and has a long history.  The seed which underlies its practice is very pure.  For many good reasons, this seed has now returned to its homeland and started to germinate.  In Nora’s words, its roots have started to penetrate downwards.”

I have been invited to give a keynote lecture on “Returning the spirit to acupuncture in China” at the BAcC conference on 26 September 2014, when I will be describing in greater detail the process by which the roots of five element acupuncture are being encouraged to grow steadily stronger in China.



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