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Transmission of traditional Chinese Medicine to England

Ma Bo-Ying, Alicia Grant (Shanghai Medical University)

This paper gives a retrospective of the history of the advent of TCM in England, in particular since the 1980s when transmission both increased and accelerated. Knowledge of Chinese Medicine came to Europe piecemeal - partially, gradually and unsystematically. Information should have reached Europe via the Arabic pharmacopaeia and Rhazes' recording of smallpox, alchemy and patent medical treatments. The transmission came both in the form of previously unknown plants such as rhubarb (da huang) and as literature written by Jesuit missionaries and independent travellers. In the 17th c. in the west at least ten Chinese medical books were published and from 1700-1840 more than sixty. The 19th c. saw a wider introduction of acupuncture and, to a lesser degree, of herbal medicine. Translations of works from Italy, Poland, Holland, Germany and France into English marked the beginning of TCM in England. The 1950s saw Nogier's revival of auricular acupuncture and since the late 1970s acceleration of transmission due to modern technology with rapid air access to China for UK travellers and students on short courses as well as Chinese doctors coming to practice and teach, and transfer of books and research journals. Joseph Needham's writings gave further impetus and the media has also made a great contribution to the lay public's understanding of TCM.

The present situation in England is that of a rising tide of interest generated largely by patient demand for an alternative therapy to western medication and its side effects. The population is receptive, the OWM (orthodox western medicine) fraternity's attitude ranges from wide acceptance of the TCM to modern variants through "adopting and adapting" TCM to western interpretation and technology. The current trend of "return to nature" with natural medicine and natural foods plus the current perception of human rights "my body, my choice" leads to interest in TCM treatments, which are still labeled as empirical. The positive results from these treatments lead to western medical doctors enrolling in various courses of TCM. Veterinarians are treating large and small animals with acupuncture, which disproves the surmise that acupuncture is only a placebo. Acupuncture is used in government National Health Service hospitals, a few of which also have Chinese herbal clinics. There are increasing numbers of Chinese clinics along with acupuncture and herbal medicine practised by returning western students trained in China or at an increasing number of English colleges. The first university degree course in TCM commenced in London in 1997. More companies are importing herbs and patent medicines with the accompanying problems of customs regulations, quality control and oppositon from western drug firms. The recent national drug report of a review of nearly 2000 herbs was very positive, with only 16 having some problem. Of course, in transmission TCM met many obstacles.

East-west cultural understanding has deepened mutually due to immigration and inter-marriage with resultant tolerance. Impetus has been given to this in the UK by members of the royal family receiving treatment. The many advantages of TCM are being used to fill a hiatus where problem areas exist in OWM. Western added variants to TCM are discussed. This paper also indicates some problems between the two cultures; the practice of TCM involves understanding a cultural concept, the inherent Chinese philosophy. TCM theory is based on ecological law for diagnosis and treatment. Heaven, earth, man, society and psychology - all five combine into one holistic body within the total environment. This can be an acceptable concept for more modern research and OWM doctors. That should lead to an integration of TCM and OWM. Mention is made of proposed registration for practitioners, establishment of an official centre for herbal analysis. There is some scepticism of TCM, albeit ever-decreasing with advances in research, and compared with mainstream medicine TCM is still termed alternative or complementary.

As our world due to rapid communications becomes smaller, Chinese medical culture will become an integral part of the modern world culture.

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