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Acupuncture: a rational, culturally relevant and essential part of China’s development

Acupuncture: a rational, culturally relevant and essential part of China’s development

In the spring of 1984 the First Nanjing Seminars were held in London.

Professor Qiu Mao-Lian and Doctor Su Xin-MIng of the Jiangsu Province Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine met with the UK’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health with special responsibility for ‘alternative medicine’.

They vigorously and repeatedly stressed two points. First, the wide-ranging effectiveness of acupuncture, not just to treat pain, but for a great range of internal diseases. Secondly, that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) only survives and flourishes in China because of strong and positive support from the government.

Audley Burnett, British Acupuncture Council member from, was fortunate to gain a place on a two-week trip to China recently. The trip, sponsored by the British Acupuncture Council, London’s Confucius Institute and Heilongjiang University in Harbin, north-east China, aimed to help participants widen their knowledge of TCM and witness first hand how it is practised in China.

In this blog, Audley brings to life some of his experiences:

Everything about China is BIG. It’s the scale of the thing that is my first response to the inevitable and demanding patient question, ‘How was China?’. Big country, big needles and lots of them, big dumpling breakfasts, big treatments, big moxa, big development, big history, big trauma, big cold.

As a member of the British Acupuncture Council/Confucius Institute trip to Hēilóngjiāng Medical Science University I spent two weeks with nine colleagues, and a cohort of young medical students expertly guiding us through intensive lectures, clinic and ward rounds at two affiliated hospitals, conveniently named Affiliated Hospital 1 and Affiliated Hospital 2 in sensible Chinese Communist Party Constructivist style.

The private practice of traditional acupuncture in the West is often a solitary pursuit and I find myself wondering whether some of what I do is fairy tale, as I battle against the belief of many people that the benefits of acupuncture are ‘all in the mind’.

I can assure you that the 20-storey high hospitals in Harbin are not fairy tales and the success stories that emerge from these incredible edifices are certainly not ‘all in the mind’.

These are the engine rooms of the largest public health service in the world where western and traditional medicine work hand in hand and even the word ‘traditional’ is misleading.

In the neurological department of Affiliated Hospital 1, in one ward alone 200,000 treatments are carried out annually. In the extreme climate of the far north the treatment of stroke is big. This is partly due to the winter temperatures of -35, and also due to the rich diet and large quantities of alcohol used by the citizens to cope. The health service has responded appropriately and it is here that the sophisticated scalp acupuncture protocols have been developed over the last 40 years.

Traditional it may be but TCM moves on and is well-researched, exhaustively tested and adaptable. It was in this ward that we saw a ‘famous soldier’ walk out smiling and talking after four years’ treatment with acupuncture, herbal medicine and moxibustion. Four years previously, before treatment for six days a week year in year out, he had been wheeled in immobile and speechless. They don’t give up in Harbin and they know TCM works.

Medicine in China cannot be seen separately from the social, political and economic. The density, scale, speed and extent of the productive power of China today is unique in human history. In 1976, on the death of the chairman of the Communist Party of China, Mao Tse-Tung, the country’s GDP was 5%, compared to that of the United States. Recessional growth is now 6.5% and GDP per head is $8,000 and rising, where it had stood at $155. China is now the world’s second largest economy and upon her decisions depends the future of the planet.

The Belt and Road Initiative of General Secretary Xi Jinping has declared that TCM is a rational, culturally relevant and essential part of China’s development. This is not a fairy tale or all in the mind!

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