In Conversation with Professor Deng Tie Tao – The Grand Master of Chinese Medicine 与中医泰斗邓铁涛教授的对话

10th November 2011, Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine

As I was waiting in the reception of his humble home after entering through an iron gate at the end of a flight of stairs, Professor Deng emerged from a long corridor and greeted me as if he was receiving a long lost friend from afar. He instantly brought me warmth. He said to me: “You look as young as ever, dear friend”. I returned the courtesy by replying: “You yourself look younger day by day”. This is a man who has just celebrated his 96th birthday on the 6th November. Professor Cheng – who led me to Professor Deng’s home – said that nowadays Professor Deng conserves his energy and therefore rarely gives any interviews or meetings. I felt privileged that this meeting went longer than anticipated. He is an energetic man full of vigour and sharp thinking.

I began by recalling our conversations on the essence of Chinese Medicine during an academic conference in Hong Kong in April 2001. After the conference we had a long personal discussion at the hotel where we were staying. This has been a major influence on my own thinking on the subject ever since. We discussed Yin and Yang and dialectics in Chinese classical philosophical interpretation and the influence of these concepts on Chinese Medicine. The theoretical foundation of Chinese Medicine as a system is the seed in which the diagnostic principles and the clinical practice of pattern differentiation were formed. The differentiation process categorises syndromes according to the dynamics of Yin and Yang and this defines the essence of Chinese Medicine in its holistic format. The dialectical relationship of mutual transformation and restriction between the Yin and Yang elements within our bodies and the greater universe gave rise to the concepts of Excess and Deficiency, Hot and Cold, Exterior and Interior that characterise the dynamic patterns of natural transformation. This is a systematic view of the body in relation to nature and is an integral part of the intellectual tradition of the Chinese civilisation. Professor Deng reaffirmed his own view on this subject and, upon my mentioning of Hegel, he commented that in dialectical thinking the Chinese are ahead by 2,000 years.

I asked him about his latest thinking on Syndrome Differentiation as it is the clinical contribution of his life’s work. In carefully recording the diagnostic relationship of health patterns and publishing it in his many books (one of which is translated into English) he made a great and invaluable contribution to the body of knowledge of Chinese Medicine.

He updated me with his own interpretation of Shen (神) and Xing (形) which refer to the relationship between the body’s physical patterns and the emotional and mental being. In Chinese Medicine we can treat psychosomatic disorders and he emphasised this as an advantage that Chinese Medicine has in relation to Western Medicine. He said this is why Qi and movement are important for longevity because they link the physical being to the non-physical horizon. He reaffirmed the importance of the Heart in relation to human thoughts and consciousness. It is the Heart – the Queen Organ – that governs the Shen which controls the Mind, which in turn links thinking with the physical being. He commented that my constant thinking has been very good at keeping me young because thinking is also movement internally.

He told me that he was happy to know that Princess Diana was treated at AcuMedic successfully and that many well-known people in the West are benefiting from Chinese Medicine treatment which is helping to spread the Chinese Medical thinking and raise awareness of its efficacy. With a touch of humility, I accepted his congratulations on my efforts in bringing Chinese Medicine to the West.

We recalled, with passionate nostalgia, our conversations with many mutual old friends who are also great contributors to Chinese Medicine and its integration with Western Medicine; Professor Chen Ke-ji(陈可冀) and Professor Lu Zhi Zhen (路志正). We discussed the comparative differences between Chinese Medicine’s macro view of the body and the Western Medicine’s micro view of the body and how we can integrate the two together to achieve a new medicine of the future. He said that Chinese Medicine’s emphasis on movement of Qi in the body characterises its emphasis on the living being, whereas Western Medicine studies pathology and focuses on treating the body in a diseased stage. Chinese Medicine seeks to regulate the health of a living body and prevent future illness (Zhi Wei Bing 治未病). I reaffirmed my belief in the future patient-centred model of medicine expressed in the concept of classical Chinese Medicine ‘Yi Ren Wei Ben’ (以人为本).

Then we discussed consciousness in relation to quantum physics and particle physics. He told me a true story about a heart transplant case in America. The heart donor was a murderer and subsequently the transplant recipient was able to describe in perfect detail the person that was murdered, seemingly after receiving the murderer’s consciousness in the transplanted heart.

We then went on to discuss the atomic view of science and how it can benefit from dialectical logic and not just empirical logic. According to the dialectical relationship of Yin and Yang (which I call the Yin and Yang dynamics, Yin Yang Dong Li 阴阳动力) the current particles and sub-particles can be further divided into finer substances. The brilliant conception of contradictions within nature and the principle of Yin and Yang dynamics conceived some 2,000 years ago ahead of Hegel’s conception of dialectics in his Science of Logic, will be confirmed through the future scientific discoveries. Biological science of the future will discover the body’s full complexity in terms of contradictory imbalances which in Chinese Medicine are broadly conceived as Yin and Yang dynamics and their influence on health and disease.

Professor Deng made an interesting remark on the synthesis between idealism and materialism which the Chinese apply to the understanding of the body and its medical treatment, he called it “seamless clothing of heaven (Tian Yi Wu Feng天衣无缝)” and it is an expression of a system of holism that is the basis of Chinese medical thought.

I commented on Lao Tzu’s concept of Dao (or Tao) as being the beginning of Yin and Yang; from formless to form and from form back to formless. The Dao that can be conceived or described is not the constant Dao, and anything that can be named does not belong to the horizon that is beyond the physical existence (道可道,非常道。名可名,非常名). This is the beginning of Dao De Jing (道德经) which I have been struggling to understand for some time. However, Professor Deng supported my thinking as being in the right direction by describing how this understanding can be applied to medicine. This exemplifies the Chinese intellectual tradition that may lead China towards the future in its interactions with the world. He also said that Marx and Engels inherited dialectics from Hegel and that they did not bring dialectics to China because we conceived that earlier 2,000 years ago.

I told Professor Deng that I would like to be like him at the age of 96 and asked him what is his secret of longevity. He said “movement”, both internally and externally, invigorating Qi. He gave me a DVD recording of his exercise as I presented him with some memorabilia of Prince William and Kate’s wedding as well as a stamp collection of myself that was recently issued in China.

As a proud Chinese, in his farewell pronouncement he said to me “the 19th Century belonged to the influence of the British Empire, and the 20th Century was that of America but the 21st Century belongs to the influence of the Chinese civilisation”. He asked me to explain the thought of Chinese Medicine to the world in order to contribute to the health of people. After our warm handshakes and amidst his passionate energy I departed wondering when will we have another chance of a reunion. As I watched the great man retreat to his rest, I sadly departed. I wanted to tell the world about the spirit of this grand master of Chinese Medicine. His brilliant thoughts, his great passion for mankind and his harmonious demeanour is a positive message to the world and an example to us all.

Man Fong Mei 梅万方
Chinese Medical Institute and Register (CMIR, UK) 伦敦中医学院
Written in reminiscence amidst the tranquillity of Hampstead Heath
and at the Forum in the AcuMedic Centre, London

26th November 2011

The Many Expressions of Professor Deng in His Creative Gestures for Explaining Chinese Medicine

Professor Man Fong Mei meets Professor Deng Tie Tao once again!