On the Global Direction of Chinese Medicine Education

The International Conference on Chinese Medicine Education, 18th November 2002 at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine
Organised by the Ministry of Education, China

Since the publication of the “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine”, traditional Chinese medicine education can be summarised into two formats, namely imperial tuition and master-disciple apprenticeship. Four Chinese medicine institutes were established in 1956 and soon after to formalise the training of physicians in Chinese medicine. China’s constitutional policy giving equal importance to Chinese medicine enables it to develop side by side with western medicine. However, in the international context Chinese medicine education is struggling to geminate. A vital part in the process of globalisation of Chinese medicine is therefore missing. This report attempts to highlight the needs, point out the problems and discuss the global direction of Chinese medicine education. With this report, I hope that the issues are placed on an international medical platform promoting the development of a globalised Chinese medicine which retains the best of Chinese traditions within its modernity.

Education is The Basis for a Globalised Chinese Medicine

Traditionally Chinese society has always given top priority to education and academic achievements. Without emphasising on education, the internationalisation of Chinese medicine would become a field without good farmers, a garden without good gardeners. Presently, the negative reactions to Chinese medicine in the West reflect the lack of fundamental education in general and very few qualified doctors in particular.

Education is of pioneering importance to Chinese medicine

Presently, there are many unqualified “Chinese herbal take away” shops opened in the U.K. offering inferior Chinese medicine. These short sighted opportunists have damaged the long-term reputation of Chinese medicine, pushing it into dangerous and difficult path. This situation can only be rescued by urgent education and regulation.

Chinese medicine has a unique theoretical system, which has proven itself historically to develop in synchronisation with the knowledge of the time. Syndrome differentiation is exactly in line with the new concept of holistic medicine. This unique process of analysing illness in all its manifestation at a certain stage of disease development crosses the boundary of tradition and modernity, East and West, the science and the arts of healing. This process could be the golden key for a new global medicine.

Whilst the attitude of the Western establishment is clear; Chinese medicine circle must call upon itself to stop the damaging elements within its ranks and promote excellence in education for the long-term interest of Chinese medicine.

Chinese Medicine Education – Two Opposing Views
Throughout the history of the Chinese medicine, interactions by opposing school of thoughts are factors driving its development in line with the rationale of the time. Currently, there are two opposing view in Chinese medicine education. The traditional school wish to conserve the traditional system of Chinese medicine, which has a wealth of well-tested clinical experience, argues that integration with Western medicine is fundamentally impossible. The modernist on the other hand holds the opposing views that integration is necessary, and Chinese medicine must re-validate itself using Western scientific models such as Evidence Based Medicine. Neither school is completely correct in their contention.

With the era toward a global medicine upon us, the different schools of thoughts will bring us a modem medical system with the best elements of East and West. The correct process of integration should be evolutionary, emphasising on organic synthesis, rather than forced marriage. The principle should be ‘identifying our similarities” while “co-exist with our differences”.

The traditionalist and the modernist school in Chinese medicine education should in my view, focus their contention on clinical medicine. Only in clinical practice can we immediately bring in the concrete aspects of integration. Theoretical systems of medicine will take a longer time to integrate.

The Problems and Challenges in Global Chinese Medicine Education

1. The Question of Candidates
Who are the priority targets for Chinese medicine education in the current global prospective? conventional doctors? healthcare professionals? or the alternative medicine practitioners? While we need to apply different syllabus to teach each group, I would like to emphasis that the priority for teaching should be first addressed to medically qualified doctors in order to speed up the use of Chinese clinical medicine within mainstream healthcare system.

2. The Question of Different Medical Systems
How do we explain the system and methodology of Chinese medicine to conventional doctors with a different medical background without losing the essence of Chinese medicine? My view is that, eventually a body of knowledge will be evolved by maximising contacts, encouraging debates and exchange programmes.

3. The Question of Chinese Medicine Legalisation
Medicine licensing process in the West is a hazardous task for Chinese medicine due to its use of complex herbal ingredients. The solution will only be achieved by the combined efforts of not only the pharmaceutical, research and governmental organisations but also the financial world when Chinese medicine becomes a viable commercial proposition. The need for a group of all rounded talent is urgently necessary to set the next stage of Chinese medicine development.

4. Continuing Education and Registration
Organisations should be set up to register properly qualified Chinese medicine physicians and to provide a system of re-accreditation fostering continue education now required in mainstream medicine in most countries in the West.

Some Educational Experiences from the Chinese Medical Institute and Register (CMIR)

1. Methodology
Linguistically, Chinese medicine is difficult to interpret. Since 1994 the Chinese Medical Institute and Register has gained some experience in structuring a syllabus and teaching methodology that cross the barriers of medical culture.

2. By encouraging the comparison of syndrome differentiation with Western diagnosis methods, we can arrive at a complementary treatment that is clinically more effective than conventional medicine only. Let clinical evidence prove the efficacy of this approach.

3. Within the teaching process, cultivate open debate on both systems of medicine without prejudice, such as comparing Zangfu Qi and blood relationship in Chinese medicine with Western concepts of evidence based physiology.

4. One theme of the Chinese Medical Institute & Register is to raise the question of the formation of a global medicine based on an integrative clinical approach that produce better benefits for patients. Since all doctors agree that the ultimate purpose of medicine is to cure our patients.

The Global Direction of Chinese Medicine Education
Chinese medicine cannot be simply interpreted by science, nor can it be dogmatically westernised. In this modem age of multi-dimensions, the new direction for medicine will eventually be an organic integration towards a globalised system. Chinese medicine education will not be an exception to this trend. Flexible policies should be pursued to avoid mutual suspicion and confrontation from Western pharmaceutical industry. Destruction of Chinese medicine is not possible, nor is it possible to have a derailment of the traditional principles. I firmly believe that the essence of Chinese medicine will ensure the future of medicine firmly on track to a less invasive, and less side effect, more holistically humane and far more effective new medicine.

For the future of Chinese medicine, I repeat again my call to governments, academic research institutes and business enterprises to work together. Chinese medicine created by the wisdom of the Chinese people, belongs to the world. Exchanges between China and the world will bring about acceptance; subsequently mainstream education in Chinese medicine.

In the final analysis, it is objectively clear to us that in our increasingly interdependent world, a global medicine will be greatly enriched by several thousand years of Chinese clinical expertise. I am sure that Chinese medicine will play an essential role in such future orientation.

Professor Man Fong Mei
Chairman, Chinese Medical Institute & Register (CMIR)
101-105 Camden High Street, London, NW1 7JN, England