In Chinese, "Mongolian doctor" is a negative term used to describe a doctor of rough leechcraft.
In the popular TV series "Gate of a Big House," for example, a Mongolian doctor is described as "better for animals than for human beings."
It's a joke among Han Chinese, but the line is offensive to many Mongolian medical practitioners in China.
"We feel hurt by this line, which is based on a bias against medicines of ethnic groups," said B Jigmed, a professor of Mongolian medicine from the Inner Mongolia Medical College. "Mongolian medicine is the fruit of the accumulated experiences during the Mongolian people's long struggle against nature and disease."
According to Cai Jingfeng, a researcher at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the reason for the Han Chinese people's bias against Mongolian medicine is rooted in history more than 700 years old.
In the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the Han Chinese were ruled by the Mongolian people for 97 years.
When the Yuan Dynasty was overthrown, the Han Chinese's rebellious mood towards the Mongolian people tainted their acceptance of Mongolian culture.
In the following Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), traditional Chinese medicine had already established its own theoretic system, while the system of Mongolian medicine was still forming. The criticism of Mongolian medicine by the Ming Dynasty's rulers added to the public's negative image of Mongolian medicine.
"We do not have barefoot doctors like in Southern China," said the Mongolian medicine professor. "Instead, we have horseback doctors who will travel hundreds of kilometres to see a patient."
As a result, the dosage of Mongolian medicine is far less than that of traditional Chinese medicine, which often amounts to bags of herbs for just one patient.
This is one likely reason many Han Chinese believe that Mongolian medicine is too strong for them.
The use of animals is another feature of Mongolian medicine. Traditional Mongolian skin therapy requires a patient to wear a warm yak skin with ointment inside to cure rheumatic diseases.
The Mongolian medicine professor was the first person to conduct a systematic study of the history of Mongolian medicine: "A Brief History of Mongolian Medicine," published in 1985.
His recent paper, "Survey on Mongolian Medical Science History," just won the silver award at the 2001 International Academic Conference on Mongolian Medicine, held in Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
According to his research, the development of Mongolian medicine can be divided into several stages.
Before the 12th century, the Mongolian people had already created and applied many therapies that suited their social environment; mode of production; habits and customs; and geographical and weather traits.
At the beginning of the 13th century, ancient Mongolian medicine gradually came into being with a fundamental medical theory and unique clinical experience.
In the 16th century, ancient Indian medicine and Tibetan medicine were woven into Mongolian medicine, helping to form a complete theoretic system.
In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the government used to select 30 bone-setting Mongolian doctors to work in the court.
Besides the bone setting, they developed various kinds of treatment such as diet therapy, traditional moxibustion therapy, acupuncture therapy, blood letting therapy, mineral bath therapy, hot-sand therapy and mud therapy.
Since the 1950s, with the development of modern scientific techniques, Mongolian medicine has entered a new historical phase in the fields of medical care, research and education.
By the end of 1999, 39 Mongolian medicine hospitals were established in China, including 32 in Inner Mongolia, three in Xinjiang, and one each in Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Gansu and Qinghai.
The Department of Traditional Chinese and Mongolian Medicine at the Inner Mongolia Medical College began to enroll students in 1958, and the Mongolian Medical College of Inner Mongolia was founded in 1987.
The conference received 963 papers and was attended by more than 300 scholars from countries such as China, Russia, India, Japan, Switzerland and the Republic of Korea.
For Jacek Andrzej Kula, a Polish participant at the conference, Mongolian medicine proved to be a life-changing experience.
Kula said he suffered back pain for three years after a long ago car accident, and Western treatment had not helped.
Then Kula said he came to Beijing and had a traditional Mongolian massage, which cured his pain in a miraculously short time.
Kula immediately decided to establish a clinic of Mongolian medicine in his hometown.
Nine Mongolian doctors in the clinic are especially good at treating paralysis, diabetes, lower back pain and stomach and lung disease, he said.
The clinic treats an average of 25 patients a day, many from European countries.
According to Kula, there are about 40 such clinics of Mongolian medicine in Poland.
Treatment for patients like Kula is one of the most advanced parts of Mongolian medicine-Mongolian diaplasis, which developed from Mongolian people's experience of herding, wrestling, riding, toxophily and combating.
Mongolian medicine has been passed down from masters to apprentices and its development has largely depended on doctors' experiences.
However, Ce Surongzhabu, a professor from the Mongolian Medicine School of the Nationality University of Inner Mongolia, pointed out during the seminar that contemporary Mongolian medicine practitioners have also developed the theories in the diagnosis and treatment, based on an overall analysis of the illness and patient's conditions.
Ce called it "an organic conception of Mongolian medicine," which holds that the human body and the nature are a unity of opposites.
The nature is comprised of the essence of the "five elements:" earth, water, fire, air and space, while the human body also consists of materials, though transformed, from the "five elements."
These are the three sources -keyi or air, sira or heat and badagan cold- and the seven components - food, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow and sperm.
Mongolian medicine practitioners are required to study the interrelationships between the sources and the seven components and find out irregularities between the relationships so as to make diagnosis.
"In the study of traditional medicines I feel like I am walking into a sea," said Zhu Guoben, president of the China Society of Minority Medicines.
"As I get more and more close to traditional medicines I find it deeper and deeper."
In recent years, traditional medicine has been more and more popular in the world as an alternative to the modern Western medicine that depends too much on the chemicals.
More and more people believe that antibiotics are not the solution to every disease because the causes for each disease vary a great deal.
However, like other traditional medicines, Mongolian medicine is still largely based on experiences, not on concrete chemical or blood analyses, charts and X-ray films.
"The future development of Mongolian medicine will rely on the use of modern scientific techniques," said the Mongolian medicine professor.
"Mongolian medicine will not only serve the Mongolian people, but also even more people all over the world."
(China Daily 08/28/2001)