“We are not good at lineages in this country, and we appear to have surprisingly little respect for others’ expertise. In fact, most of our education system appears to be built, not so much on the idea of learning from those of greater experience than us, but more of teaching students to discover things for themselves, almost as if the hard-won knowledge of those preceding them should be discarded as somehow not so relevant.
I have spent many weeks since 2011 in China, introducing five element acupuncture to what must now be many hundreds of Chinese acupuncturists, and have learnt from these visits how much respect they show the lineage of five element acupuncture which they view me as representing. This is why, there on the wall of the Tong You San He Centre in Nanning where I teach, I am greeted - each time with a slight sense of surprise - by a large panel of photographs, the first showing my teacher, J R Worsley, the second me and the last showing Mei Long, a student of mine, who initiated my first contacts with China through Liu Lihong, the Centre’s director. Through his writing he is the person who has done most to stimulate Chinese traditional medicine’s search for its past roots.
For the Chinese, the line of transmission extending back to the Nei Jing, and on through the centuries to reach J R Worsley, then me and beyond, represents what they feel they have lost, a direct connection to the past. In the West, on the other hand, we seem to be, if not indifferent to this, then somewhat disinterested in the routes of transmission, as though we are not ourselves quite clear what lineage we are heir to. This probably stems from the fact that generally both in this country and in
The display of photographs which confronts me each time I return to China has made me re-evaluate my own thoughts about the transmission of a lineage, and led me to a new appreciation of what has been transmitted to me. The way the Chinese view what I bring to them makes me more aware than before of the precious inheritance which has been passed down to me, and which the Chinese now clamour for me to pass on to them. Here I am, coming from a far-off land, the bearer of an unknown treasure, my knowledge of an acupuncture discipline which fascinates them. And, most importantly, somebody with thirty or more years’ clinical experience, which is something they value particularly highly. I bring them a precious gift, the transmission of what they regard as the esoteric knowledge contained within the lineage of a particular branch of five element acupuncture handed down over the centuries from master to pupil. This has found its way through devious routes to the West and is now finding its way back to its country of origin through me, an inheritor of this lineage. It is useful to read Peter Eckman’s In the Footsteps of the Yellow Emperor, Long River Press 2007, as the best, and in my view, so far the only, in-depth study to trace these routes of transmission.
In this country we often forget how precious the legacy of the past can be, tending to take this past for granted. To the modern Chinese, deprived for so many years as they have been of much of the history of traditional medicine through the traumas of the Cultural Revolution, anything which helps them trace this past is a gift to be nurtured. Even though all practitioners are brought up on rote learning the Nei Jing, they are aware that they have lost many of the connections between what is in these old texts and their practice of today. In their eyes, the branch of five element acupuncture I represent makes these connections clear to them.
To the Chinese acupuncturists that I teach, therefore, five element acupuncture embodies a spiritual tradition which they regard as lacking in much of the acupuncture now taught in
To witness the joy with which they greet all the five element teaching I offer them is to raise an echo within me of a similar joy that I experienced sitting on my first day in the classroom at