A new leaf

The essence of traditional Chinese medicine lies in the knowledge of the balance between humanity and nature, and while Macau has the potential to become a traditional Chinese medicine hub, the guiding principal and methodology has to be set up in accordance with traditional Chinese culture. The most important first step is to inherit and study the legacy rather than to focus on innovation or integration, says Zhang Junqing, Director of the Macau Traditional Chinese Medicine Society and the Macau Acupuncture Society. The Chinese medicine doctor told Business Daily that he believes education is the key, progressing from there to research, clinical areas, pharmaceutical applications, the industry based around it and the culture it embodies. The local government has been pledging to develop traditional Chinese medicine within the SAR. What’s your point of view on this matter? Ever since Xi Jinping stepped into the position of Chinese president and advocated the use of traditional Chinese medicine, this field has attracted more attention – since some of the belief in it was stripped away during the Cultural Revolution, as well as by an ‘invasion’ of western culture. The benefit of promoting traditional Chinese medicine is practical – it helps people to better take care of themselves and, as a result, save the country a huge amount of resources in health care. For Macau to advocate traditional Chinese medicine, the idea now is to help diversify the economy and structurally adjust the city’s industries. However, from my observation, traditional Chinese medicine in Macau is rather different from Mainland China. I came from Fujian province decades ago. Before I started practicing on my own, I was working at Tung Sin Tong (Historical Archive and Charity). I found out that the doctors there were rather conservative. Every year I would schedule at least one trip to go to a seminar or a workshop to study, and they found it surprising and thought it unnecessary. Not all of them, but most of them still think traditional Chinese medicine is simply a clinical tool or measure. They are not in command of the essence of traditional Chinese medicine. The so-called: ‘traditional Chinese medicine industry’ that the Macau government is trying to develop still remains as the lowest form of traditional Chinese medicine. Look at the Hengqin Traditional Chinese Medicine Industrial Park or the company that they are running. There are all amateurs. They are outsiders of this world and what they are trying to do is not real traditional Chinese medicine. What is real traditional Chinese medicine then? It would take us days to talk about it. But briefly, traditional Chinese medicine is about the balance of humanity and nature. It’s not a theory. It’s not a philosophy. It’s rather metaphysical. Simply put, it can be reflected by a combination of appearance, Qi (vital energy), and spirit. Traces of traditional Chinese medicine date back to the origins of human life, when they learned how to use wood to make fire. We have the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, the oldest remaining work of Chinese medical theory. It was compiled around the first century BC, written in the form of dialogues between the legendary Yellow Emperor and his ministers. It offers explanations on the relationship between humans, their environment, and the cosmos, on the contents of the body, on human vitality and pathology, on the symptoms of illness, and on how to make diagnostic and therapeutic decisions in light of all these factors. And we have historical physicians like Sun Simiao who wrote a handbook on how to become a traditional Chinese medicine doctor. For traditional Chinese medicine, first we need to study, fully comprehend the knowledge and inherit the culture, and then we can talk about its development. Do you think Macau has the potential to make a contribution to traditional Chinese medicine? Not only do I think Macau has the potential to become a traditional Chinese medicine hub, I think now is the perfect time to do so. Traditional Chinese medicine is gradually being revived in China, and even becoming increasingly prevalent in the western world. The central government has set the goal for the Macau SAR to become a world tourism and leisure hub and has given huge support for Macau to develop its traditional Chinese medicine industry. It is even part of the national development strategy – the twelfth five-year plan. The local government has also listed traditional Chinese medicine as a main direction for diversifying its economy. With the collaboration of the Guangdong government, some efforts are already being made. With the economic development of the SAR, the government is sitting on a huge fiscal surplus. In addition, Macau is a small place. An administrative decision can be delivered relatively easier than elsewhere in China. These advantages have given Macau the perfect edge to become a base for a world-class traditional Chinese medicine hub, from education, clinical medicine, pharmaceutical trading, regimen and health care, to medical tourism. Macau can become the most important window for traditional Chinese medicine to the world. How can this be achieved? We need to understand the purpose of developing traditional Chinese medicine. In a cost-effective economic sense, the benefits won’t show in the short-term. However, it’s a long and important journey that we must go through to have this treasure preserved in traditional Chinese culture. The SAR government and the Chief Executive have to be resolved to adopt a very different mind-set. They need a think-tank that is really in command of real traditional Chinese medicine. Without the right decisions being made, everything will be in vain. This consultancy group must have elites that have a traditional Chinese medicine way of thinking. To be honest, there are not many of these kinds of talents left in the academic field as a lot of them have been ‘polluted’ by the western medicine way of thinking. They remain at the lowest level of appliance of traditional Chinese medicine and only focus on herbs and acupuncture instead of the study of humanity and the environment. The real masters are in civilian society. They know the traditional culture and ideology, are in command of the laws of the development of traditional Chinese medicine, and they can adapt to the modern reality and use scientific measures and management to lead people. How can good Chinese medicine talent be evaluated? Is there a standardized mechanism? Traditional Chinese medicine is not to do with standards. However, of course a good doctor can be evaluated by cures. It [traditional Chinese medicine] has to be effective in clinical medicine to have the strong base of support among society it possesses now. One thing on which I agree with the current administration is that it restricts western medicine doctors to use traditional Chinese medicine ways and vice versa. This helps doctors in each field to focus on studying their own methodology and solve any problems using their own ways. To give you an example: when a western doctor detects a tumour, the way they know how to do deal with it is for a surgeon to remove it. They don’t know how to take care of the human body once the surgery is done. The person may still be in very poor health. From a Chinese medicine point of view, sometimes surgery can cause more harm as it breaks the Qi. We [Chinese medicine doctors] may search for ways for people to live with the tumour and relieve the symptoms. Sickness is a symptom of ever-evolving human bodies. It’s a reflection of a moment of change. Sometimes we need to assimilate the negative parts and make them positive instead of eliminating them, as a war would probably cause more harm to oneself. One thing I have suggested over the years is for the SAR government to establish a Macau Traditional Chinese Medicine Management Bureau. In an administrative sense, it would be running in parallel with the Health Bureau. This new bureau would, in general, organize and plan the development of traditional Chinese medicine. With the talents in command of the essence of culture that I mentioned, the blueprint for traditional Chinese medicine can be drawn. Education will be the breakthrough point. You’ve mentioned that in the academic field, traditional Chinese medicine is ‘polluted’. How can this be addressed through education? Education will be the key point in preserving and developing traditional Chinese medicine. They [the students] need to be taught the culture of traditional Chinese medicine. I’ve also suggested the establishment of a Traditional Chinese Medicine Institute. The students could be immersed in traditional Chinese culture first, and then be provided with chances to practice and gain more experience in clinical medicine. What are the next steps? With the establishment of the Macau Traditional Chinese Medicine Management Bureau, we would solve the problem of top-level decision-making and provide the grounds for the traditional Chinese medicine hub to be built. With the institute, we would have a strong talent base. Then we need a hospital exclusively dedicated to traditional Chinese medicine. With the help of the masters, a group of traditional Chinese medicine doctors will be naturalized in clinical medicine, hence giving a reputation to Macau [in this area]. As for the pharmaceutical side, it’s also very critical for us to trace the past and to adopt traditional ways. This would play an important role in adjusting the industrial structures of Macau, as it would provide many employment opportunities. The traditional pharmaceutical methodology of traditional Chinese medicine gives great important to the whole process. Some medicine needs to be made in repeated procedures, such as being dried and steamed nine times. It can be really time consuming, but that’s where the effectiveness of the medicine comes from. It’s simple but not easy. This can be applied in family workshops hence giving Macau families other jobs aside from working in casinos. The supply chain needs to be strictly monitored, as we should only produce products of the best quality. The Chinese medicine or health care products made here can be supplied to the local market and exported elsewhere – in Mainland China or the world. It would have a very high cost to produce. The amount of the products would be low, but as long as the quality is good and truly cures, it would for sure be recognized by consumers. Those would be the prospects we are eyeing. In addition, a regimen/ health care village could be established in Coloane or Hengqin. With thousands of years of history, traditional Chinese medicine has developed many practices for people to create better health conditions without the use of western medicine. There is acupuncture, tui na, qigong, cupping, Gua Sha and many more practices in addition to herbal medicine, food therapy, etc. We can put the best facilities for overall health care, body checks and diagnoses to build the health care village into a world-class health centre. The village could also add cultural elements to promote traditional Chinese culture. Regular seminars and workshops could be held. Museums and temples with educational contents could be on display. From there, we could even develop medical tourism. People could come here for body check-ups, for traditional Chinese medicine treatments, for health care products or even just come here to relax. It would help to realize the ultimate goal of a world tourism and leisure hub.