Has interest in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) been on the rise since President Xi Jinping first started talking about the “Chinese Dream”?
That’s a difficult question to answer. But a recent spat between a well-known doctor who practices Western medicine in Beijing and members of the TCM community might provide some pointers.
On September 13 Ning Fanggang, a burn injury expert at the prestigious Ji Shui Tan Hospital, challenged TCM practitioners to prove their claim that they can tell a woman is pregnant by taking her pulse.
To make things more interesting, Ning, who goes by the name A’bao online, offered a cash prize
“If the challenge-taker wins, A’bao will pay Rmb50,000 ($8,122) and never claim that TCM is fake science again,” he pledged on his weibo account. Later his 300,000 followers added another Rmb50,000 to the prize money.
So far no one has taken the challenge.
Two doctors expressed interest but the first – Yang Zhen from Beijing’s University Hospital of TCM – pulled out saying that the bet violated the profession’s code of ethics.
A second doctor, Lü Jilai from Chengdu, staged his own version of the test, claiming that he passed the test at the second time of asking. But he is reluctant to take on the real wager, saying that taking Dr Ning’s test would put him under too much pressure. How so? Under the conditions of Dr Ning’s challenge, TCM doctors will only be able to see and feel the wrist of the female patient.
Ning’s test envisages diagnosing 32 women who are either less than 12 weeks pregnant or not pregnant at all. In order to pass, the TCM doctors must have a success rate of 80%.
Fans of traditional medicine have pointed out that it is not customary to rely on pulse alone when testing for pregnancy. “TCM doctors don’t just feel pulse or look at tongues, they also ask questions and observe. Not allowing them to do this is asking them to work blind,” wrote one fan on weibo. Newspapers also came to the defence of traditional medicine, saying that the challenge was part of a “hundred-year-long anti-TCM movement”.
“TCM has its own methods and its own logic. It has survived for thousands of years. It will survive this,” wrote the Beijing Times.
Previously, sceptics have met with more support. One survey in 2010 showed that only 53% of people would use TCM if they got sick.
Going by the negative reaction to A’Bao’s challenge, however, things may be changing.
This may in part be because the government has grown more supportive of TCM, saying that the Rmb560 billion industry will play a greater role in China’s medical system in future.
At a recent conference in Beijing, the head of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wang Guoqiang, also praised TCM as a “powerful measure of the wealth of Chinese culture”.
And in making a clear link to President Xi’s hopes for a more confident, expressive nation, Wang also lauded traditional medicine as a “key resource for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the Chinese Dream”.
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