History of education for traditional Chinese medicine

In ancient China, people learned medicine mainly through family inheritance or being an apprentice. In traditional Chinese society, it was the only honor for a man to be a member of the imperial bureaucracy. The medical profession was not a popular profession, but it was a necessary profession. After all, no one can escape from illness.

The proposal for official medical education in the fifth century

In 443, in the Song Dynasty which was a southern dynasty of China, the medical minister proposed to found a medical school for training more medical practitioners. This should be the first proposal to implement official medical education in China.

Official medical education in the Tang Dynasty

In the seventh century, the Chinese government of the Tang Dynasty enlarged the medical department. In the department, there was clear division between medical administration, medical education, medical practice, and pharmacy.

The section of pharmacy offered specialized education of planting, picking, and processing medicinal raw materials.

Medical education was divided into four specialities: medicine, acupuncture, massage, and magic therapy. The speciality of medicine was divided into four branches: internal diseases; diseases of children; skin diseases and injuries; diseases of ears, eyes, mouth and teeth; cupping.

The students for medicine and acupuncture shared the studying of classical books about basic theory, herbs and meridian system, and then learned additional books and skills for each speciality or branch. The duration of study was seven years for internal diseases, five years for diseases of children, five years for skin diseases and injuries, two years for diseases of ears, eyes, mouth and teeth, and two years for cupping.

The strict examination system of the Song Dynasty

In the 11th century, the Chinese government of the Song Dynasty developed the system of medical education. While the system of examination for the candidates of government officials was improved, there was also a strict examination system for medical students. In the national medical school, every month medical students had a private exam which was held by teachers of the medical school, and every year there was a public exam which was held by government officials.

In the national medical school, in addition to exams, each medical student must participate in medical practice. They should offer medical services to students of official schools and soldiers. The process and result of each practice were recorded. Every year the medical school evaluated the results of practice. If ten percents of medical practice failed, the level was medium. If twenty percents failed, the level was low. If more than thirty percents of practice failed, the student must repeat a lower class. If more than fifty percents failed, the student had to leave the school.

The Song Dynasty also published excellent editions of medical classical books. The prosperity of block printing greatly promoted the spread and inheritance of the knowledge of Chinese medicine.

Education of traditional medicine in modern China

Since the early 20th century, the fate of traditional Chinese medicine has been closely connected with political situation.

In 1925, the revolutionist Sun Yat-sen was in a famous western hospital in Beijing for treating liver cancer. His followers knew that liver cancer was incurable, but in order to improve the living quality of the last days of the leader, they proposed Sun Zhongshan to accept the treatment of traditional Chinese medicine. The event was sensational at that time. Wang Zhaoming, one of the followers of Sun Zhongshan, wrote the public letter for defending the proposal.

„Anyone who has a scientific mind is very modest, and knows that nowadays science still knows very little about the things in the world, and there is still a lot that it does not know. For example, science has not yet discovered any effective medicine for cancer. As to whether it can be discovered in the future, whether it will be discovered by scientists or whether it will be discovered by non-scientists by chance and then brought to the attention of scientists, no one has the courage to say for sure now. If someone says for sure that non-scientists cannot discover effective medicines, and that scientists have not yet discovered them, then all other human beings will not have the possibility of discovering them. Then, I would like to use the words of Mr. Tang to say to him: He is called a scientist, but in fact is a stubborn person.”

When you feel touching by the above words, perhaps you should know that Wang Zhaoming supported abolishing traditional medicine several years later. By contrast, his enemy Chiang Kai-shek showed his support to traditional medicine.

In the times of Republic of China, a lot of practitioners of traditional medicine founded private schools and wrote their textbooks. Though the government didn’t give financial support to traditional medicine, the practitioners of traditional medicine were still able to keep traditional medicine as a traditional way.

In the 1950s, state-owned institutes of traditional medicine were founded in every province. An institute was a college. The textbooks of traditional medicine are inevitably marked by the times, for example, the combination of Yin-Yang theory and materialist dialectics, and the researches for connecting traditional medicine with science. However, when someone wants to learn traditional medicine in depth, he will directly read ancient books.

In 1999, when I just became a student in an institute of traditional medicine, there were three departments: Chinese medicine; acupuncture and massage; pharmacy. In recent two decades, because of the development of economy, all institutes added specialities, expanded enrollment and extended campus area. A lot of institutes then renamed to universities.

In 2008, when I was going to leave a university of Chinese medicine, there was an interesting discussion between me and two schoolmates including a Polish student. A schoolmate said that perhaps the pure inheritance of traditional Chinese medicine only could be achieved overseas. I said, „But the root of Chinese medicine is China.” The Polish student said, „No, the root was ancient China.” I always feel touching when I recall the words from the Polish man.

Chinese medicine is the common heritage of humanity

When I was a student, I thought that the criteria of science should be diversified, and I thought that traditional medicine was rooted in traditional culture. Using the current knowledge of modern science, you can’t explain a lot of effects that really exist in traditional Chinese medicine.

After a dozen years since I said goodbye to college life, I believe that the criteria of science is western science. I also believe the unique advantages of traditional Chinese medicine. The controversy about science or pseudoscience will last for a very long time. The development of traditional Chinese medicine is not the challenge to modern science, and the traditional medicine is a helpful supplement to modern medicine. The best practice for traditional Chinese medicine is to explain the theory as it is traditionally be.

Traditional Chinese medicine is the common heritage of humanity. Anyone can learn it. Ancient Chinese recipes have no copyright. Anyone can research them, modify them and utilize them. Chinese medicine is called Chinese medicine, because of its unique theory which was from ancient China.

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