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New Book Spurs Fresh Debate on TCM
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Zhang Zhongjing (150-219), a medical scientist of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) who has been respectfully referred to as a "Sage in Medicine" for the last 2,000 years, became the target of criticism in Science Brings About Health, a recently published book by Fang Zhouzi who runs the Xin Yu Si (New Threads) website that exposes cases of pseudoscience.


A biochemist by training, with a PhD from Michigan State University, the California-based Fang says in his book that as an ancient physician, "Zhang's medical knowledge is basically wrong. He cannot even be compared to any student graduating from today's regular medical schools."



Fang Zhouzi


In a chapter titled "A Scientific View on the Poisonous Side Effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)," Fang spearheads the attack on TCM classics. "If we regard medicine as science rather than persuasion, we should not have a superstitious belief in ancient people," he writes.


The chapter ends with a 20-page chart detailing the poisonous side effects of over 60 types of TCM including Chinese thorowax (Bupleurum chinensis), Isatis root (Radix isatidis), and the rhizome of Chinese goldthread (Coptis chinensis). "A history of being used for over 1,000 years doesn't mean that the medicinal herbs don't have any problems," Fang points out.


To this very day, ancient literature texts such as Classics of Internal Medicine and Zhang Zhongjing's Febrile and Other Diseases are still considered Bibles by TCM students when diagnosing illnesses and writing prescriptions. "Innovation is the life of scientific research. No progress can be made if we continue to have a bigoted belief in the ancients," Fang stresses.


Nevertheless, Gao Xuemin, a famous Chinese pharmacology expert and a professor from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, holds very different opinions. "Students majoring in TCM should treat every ancient medical book as a required course, discarding the dross and keeping the essence," he was quoted by Beijing Morning Post as saying on January 21.


Zheng Chaoqiang, vice chairman of Beijing Medical Education Association, echoed Gao's view: "Practitioners of Western medicine should learn TCM knowledge, and vice versa. We should carefully study the rich TCM tradition rather than categorically denying it."


According to Zheng, former dean of Xiehe, or Peking Union Medical College, which was established based on the Western medical system, "Even Xiehe students are required to study TCM theory."


What's more, Zhang Zhongjing's theory was vital for the development of medical science in ancient China. "People living in different times have different knowledge structures. To make an across-time-and-space comparison (as Fang did) is meaningless," Gao Xuemin said.



"Sage in Medicine" Zhang Zhongjing (150-219)


Fang of course has his supporters including 80-year-old He Zuoxiu, a theoretical physicist and academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who wrote a preface for Fang's new book. "Very few physicists have read Newton's original texts because it's unnecessary. So it is the case, too, for medicine," He said.


"Chinese people are used to holding the opinion that all old conventions are good. Actually, medical students don't need to worship ancient books in which the errors are often more than plentiful."


(China.org.cn by Shao Da, January 25, 2007)

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