Zhang Boli: Why is the Traditional Chinese Medicine only born in China?
What's driving the fusion of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with Western medicine as a game-changer in 21st-century healthcare? And how did China give birth to the unique traditional Chinese medicine we know today? Zhang Boli, honored with the national title "the People's Hero," academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Honorary President of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and a distinguished practitioner in Traditional Chinese Medicine, was present at the 2023 World Forum on High-Quality Development of Chinese Medicine Education in Toronto, Canada. During the event, he graciously took part in an interview with China News Service's East meets West Program to tackle these inquiries.
China News Service Reporter: Would you please give us an overview of the current global development of traditional Chinese medicine?
Zhang Boli: There are 196 countries and regions around the world using traditional Chinese medicine. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, there are 113 member countries recognized acupuncture and other TCM treatments, 29 member states have enacted relevant laws and regulations on standardized use of TCM, and about 20 countries are preparing for the legislation. Global promotion of TCM has entered a new historical stage.
However, overseas TCM development is uneven, reflecting rapid growth in Europe, America and Southeast Asia, while growth in Africa is relatively slow.
TCM is a great example of traditional Chinese culture. It is also a bridge to promote exchanges between China and the world. People around the world will be benefited from healthiness to accelerate the building of a global community of health for all by spreading TCM, wellness and the concept of preventative treatment of disease.
Zhang Boli, honored with the national title "the People's Hero," academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, honorary president of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and renowned practitioner in TCM, participated in the 2023 World Forum on High-Quality Development of Chinese Medicine Education held in Toronto, Canada, on August 27th. He also took the stage to deliver a speech. Photo by:Yu Ruidong.
China News Service Reporter: How do you feel about TCM development in Canada and North America? What are our biggest strengths and barriers in promoting TCM globally?
Zhang Boli: I have strong feelings on the TCM development overseas. Early TCM physicians brought TCM to Canada and North America, where many local residents did not understand. TCM development has encountered major challenges due to cultural barriers and a lack of relevant legislation. However, they ultimately relied on TCM's effectiveness and hard work to break new ground.
In 2013, I wrote a poem after attending an academic conference on TCM in Houston, USA. ‘Twenty years away from home, temples of my hair touched by frost, as a doctor, my eyes bear the weight of the cost of time. Through the hardships of these years, I have honed my skills. Adversity forced my medical prowess to come true. In the vast realm of healing, my knowledge knows no bound, from afar, I assess the strengths and flaws that abound. Like strong winds and resilient grass in the wilderness, I refine my purity, a brilliance that will remain. '
TCM physicians have practiced pure and excellent TCM techniques under the pressure of survival. Over the decades, TCM development overseas has registered sound growth and made great progress. More and more people accept TCM, which plays an essential role in public wellness.
The greatest strength of TCM is the efficacy, especially the compound treatment of TCM, wellness and the concept of preventive treatment of the disease. TCM's multi-targeted interventions are effective in chronic disease, geriatric syndrome and complex diseases including Covid-19, especially the obvious effect on long Covid-19. The barriers to TCM development stem from cultural barriers, inadequate communication, legislative problems, and resistance from interest groups.
On May 20, 2023, the 4th Chinese Culture Festival was held in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. TCM doctors offered treatment to local residents. Photo by Yu Ruidong.
When it comes to keeping TCM alive and kicking, and pushing it into the future, what is the key to preserve TCM and where do we need to innovate?
Zhang Boli: We should preserve the concept of TCM like the harmony between the man and nature. The idea of differentiated medication for each patient focuses on both the disease itself and people who are suffering from the disease.
In addition, thousands of years of TCM treatment, many precious prescriptions and appropriate techniques should be preserved.
Medical students from Hong Kong experienced the traditional way of dispensing Chinese herbal medicines in a TCM clinic in Wuyi, Zhejiang.
TCM's development should keep pace with the times and bring the latest technology to ancient TCM. For example, new IT technologies such as big data can be used to empower TCM, allowing traditional Chinese medicine to enter a new era and reach the level of modern science and technology. These are the main characteristics of the need to innovate traditional Chinese medicine.
China News Service Reporter: You have been advocating the integration of Western and Chinese medicine and paying equal attention to both. Chinese medicine and Western medicine are two different systems. How do we find common ground between the two? How confident are you in integrating traditional Chinese and Western medicine?
Zhang Boli: Traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine have their respective advantages. They complement rather than replace each other as both view patients on people's health and disease differently. So they are highly complementary. We hope that both TCM and Western medicine can use their strengths when treating disease. It would be better if they could complement each other's strengths.
For example, we must emphasize the integration of TCM and Western medicine when treating severe Covid-19 patients. Because TCM often takes effect slowly in the face of rapid disease development, I advocate that we apply ventilators and ECMOs to save lives. However, some people suffer from symptoms such as persistent high fever, confusion, sticky phlegm that cannot be coughed out, lack of infiltration and absorption, which Western medicine may find difficult to treat while traditional Chinese medicine is effective. For Covid patients, Western medicine could save lives while TCM can cure symptoms. Therefore, it is unnecessary to distinguish the contribution between Western medicine and TCM when it comes to truly treating patients.
Doctors are preparing for the TCM decoction in the Ningxia Chinese Medicine Research Center in Yin Chuan, Ningxia. Photo by: Yu Jing.
There are also many examples to show common ground. For example, Western Medicine reduces blood sugar while TCM treats complications in the treatment of diabetes. Western medicine is effective in curing hypertension. But Chinese medicine is effective in coping with the target organ damage caused by hypertension, as there is a lack of suitable Western medicine.
I have strong confidence in the integration of TCM and Western Medicine since it is the major trend. It is an important model in medical science by combining the concept of TCM with the technique of Western medicine. We will leverage TCM's primary role of the preventative treatment of the disease, collaborative role in major disease treatment, and core role in disease recovery. Only by combining the strength of Chinese and Western medicine can we better develop global health and benefit people around the world.
China News Service Reporter: When we take a global view, what sets apart the Chinese cultural system as the sole creator of a nature-rooted medical system like traditional Chinese medicine?
Zhang Boli: TCM has its historical background in China. Chinese civilization is the only uninterrupted civilization in 5,000 years among the world's five major civilizations. So I can understand what it said in ancient medical literature unearthed from Mawangdui Han Tombs 2,000 years ago. Wood Slips from Wuwei also dates back 2,000 years. So I knew the prescription once it came out.
Prescriptions of 52 diseases unearthed from Mawangdui Han Tombs were the earliest medicine monograph in China. It recorded 52 diseases, more than 280 prescriptions and 243 medicines. This was the beginning of the idea of differentiated medication, reflecting that clinical medicine has reached a certain level at that time. Photo by: Vision China.
Chinese civilization has been developing. It is not conservative, but constantly absorbing new content that worked for us. It is always improving, not stagnating. Its inclusiveness, innovation, and contemporary nature of Chinese civilization led to continuous development.
Technological development in ancient China depended primarily on observation rather than experiment. Ancient people summed up their own experience through observation, trial and error. In daily life and work, they collect wild berries, tree bark and grass roots to treat minor illnesses. When some people suffer from backache or shoulder pain, some people gradually discover moxibustion by warming themselves over a fire. Others may recover by rubbing the tree, which evolved into massage. The origin of acupuncture may come from the use of stone tips and presses to relive pain. People gradually accumulated, enriched, sublimated, discovered acupuncture points and meridians, and developed different acupuncture methods later, until the current acupuncture and moxibustion. As you can see, Chinese ancestors were full of wisdom and good at summing up experience.
Acupoint-marked bronze figure from Song Dynasty restored in Ming Dynasty at the exhibition "Ancient China" of the National Museum of China. Photo by: Liu Huaiyu.
Thus, Chinese civilization has been able to develop until today and develop its own system.
Aspirin and Nitroglycerin are the Western medicine that have over hundreds years of history while Six Flavor Rehmannia Pill has 900 years of history. The tonifying-kidney Chinese herbal medicine are still being used today for 2,000 years since its discovery. Because they came from nature. They are combinations of multiple medicines. The 21st century is the century of compound prescriptions. To treat complex diseases, therapy advocated by traditional Chinese medicine and the multi-target treatment of compound prescriptions are the future trend.
Six Flavor Rehmannia Pill. Photo by: Liu Junfeng.
TCM theory is originated from practice. It is also practical. Although it has a long history, TCM is not out of date as fundamental theory and philosophical ideas remained relatively unchanged while prescriptions are constantly changing. This is the internal momentum of TCM's development.
Zhang Boli interviewed by China News Service’s East meets West Program. Photo by: Yu Ruidong.
Zhang Boli is the TCM internal medicine specialist. He mainly researches on the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, and the modernization of traditional Chinese medicine. Born in February 1948 in Tianjin, he graduated with a master degree from Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In 2005, he was elected academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. He was also Honorary Dean of the Chinese Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences and Honorary President of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In August 2020, he was awarded the National Honorary title of 'Nation's Hero'. In July 2022, he was awarded the "Prominent Physician in Traditional Chinese Medicine".
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