Touch and go

Updated: 2011-01-21 10:59

By Eric Jou and Su Zhou (China Daily European Weekly)

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Touch and go

About 10,000 foreign students have come to China to study
traditional Chinese medicine. Provided to China Daily

More european students are returning home to unleash their traditional Chinese medical skills

When Jean Baptiste was growing up in France he wanted to be a doctor just like his mom. He watched his mother merge Western medical treatments with the elements of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to help her patients and this spurred Jean Baptiste's interest in the field, leading him to China.

"My mother is a doctor in France and she was practicing Western medicine," he says.

"She realized that there were some things that Western medicine can only do to help a patient so she started looking into TCM.

"Her studies intrigued me and bought TCM to my attention."

Jean Baptiste is among many young Westerners coming to China to study, but unlike the masses aiming to just learn the language, he and his classmates are here to learn TCM.

There are 100,000 plus foreign students in China learning Mandarin, and about 10,000 of those are delving into the ancient world of TCM.

The TCM students learn how to blend different herbs and acupuncture, and after graduation take these methods back home and merge them with their own medical practices.

Ricardo Tazares Valerio from Portugal says the preventive and preservative nature of Chinese medicine was an attraction and cited that TCM not only offers a means for a cure but also inoculation.

After he becomes qualified Valerio hopes to help as many people as possible.

"I want to get a bit more deeper into the traditional learning of medicine, perfecting my understanding of the classics, because you can't have this kind of education abroad, all the best teachers are here (in China)," Valerio says.

"My specialization is acupuncture and traditional Chinese massage, but I want to perfect my understanding of herbs as well, the objective is to learn as much as I can to help people to zhi hao bing (cure illnesses)."

Likewise, American Philip Sugh, who studied neuroscience back in the United States, also came to China in the pursuit of better TCM understanding.

Sugh saw TCM treatments, in particularly acupuncture, as a means to help relieve patient pain without using medications that may have harmful side effects.

"I was really interested in TCM and neuroscience would make a great bridge," Sugh says.

"Since a lot of today's research has found out that a lot of acupuncture points and other parts of Chinese medicine are related to the nerves in the brain."

While there are centers of traditional medicine abroad, there is no replacement for learning in China.

Studying hard all week with barely any time to relax, students are also put through grueling language classes to ensure they understand their lectures, all of which given in Chinese.

"My days are very full, we have glasses from 8 am-4 pm everyday except weekends," Valerio says.

"We already had one semester that was pretty full, it's actually very stressful but it's amazing how much we have learned in six months.

"This coming semester is pretty much the same with the addition of clinical practice with some classes and that's the one year program."

For many foreigners interested in coming to China to learn TCM, the studies and classes are a trial of perseverance.

Because all the classes are taught in Chinese, many programs require a Chinese Mandarin level (HSK) of six or higher before actual medical classes are taken.

And even a fundamental understanding of the language is not enough to break down the cultural barrier between TCM and modern medicine.

Despite the challenges, students are coming to China to learn and in the process change their thinking to better understand the thousands of years of history involved in TCM.

"When we're studying in Europe everything is black and white, but here in China everything is yin and yang," Baptiste says.

"White becomes black, black becomes white so it's very hard to understand, it takes a lot of studying and dedication."

Fu Tianxin, head of the publication department of Beijing Chinese Medicine University, says interest in TCM is both a boon for China and the students who are studying it.

Fu says that not only does it spread Chinese culture around the world it also reflects a change for modern science.

"The fact they're studying TCM is a very good thing because TCM is very beneficial to life and it can be said to be a rejuvenation of modern science's benefits for mankind," Fu says.

"They come to China to study traditional medicine and then return to their original country bringing back what they learned in China and hopefully they will merge it with Western medicine."

Fu's ideas about a cooperation between Western medicine and TCM is already happening, not just with the foreigners such as Baptise, Valerio and Sugh, but also with the European Union.

In 2009, an EU-China consortium on TCM research was launched and the purposes of the study was to develop a European Chinese network of TCM specialists and review the current state of TCM in the EU.

China is also steadily spreading the word about TCM around the world.

The Beijing-based World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WFCMS) promotes the international study and development of TCM.

Similar to the EU's consortium, the WFCMS takes Chinese medicine around the world working to train more people in TCM.

According to the State Administration of TCM, more than 300,000 international students are receiving TCM education in hundreds of institutions throughout the world.

And foreign students in China are doing a little research of their own.

"I found out in China that most Chinese people can take a lot of pain, but foreigners are sissies in comparison," Baptiste says.

"Take Chinese traditional foot massage for example, the Chinese enjoy it and sleep while it's being done, but foreigners are screaming like they're dying."


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