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East or West, Yao's fans split on what's best
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Fans of basketball superstar Yao Ming worldwide heaved a sign of relief when the March 4 surgery on his left foot in Houston, Texas, was declared a success.

Basketball celebrity Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets has his ankles taped, in preparation for a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb 7 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. [Getty Images]

Applause followed, over the news that the Houston Rockets center is expected to fully recover from the stress fracture in four months, just in time for the Beijing Olympics.

However, media reports of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) being used to speed up Yao's recovery sparked an outcry from his American fans.

An online debate between Chinese and Americans on the move is still ongoing.

An American fan wrote saying that no clinical experiments have so far provided a scientific basis for TCM, and that it would be more appropriately described as "witchery".

TCM doctors in Beijing, however, argue that their field offers effective methods of treating bone fractures that can help Yao recover faster.

"The orthopedic department of traditional Chinese medicine happens to be the area most related to Western medicine, among all branches of TCM," Liu Jie, TCM doctor with the rehabilitation center of Gulou TCM Hospital in Beijing, said.

"That is because the TCM doctors have to understand the anatomy and structure of the human body to learn about the process of recovery. Contemporary TCM is not detached from modern scientific systems," Liu said.

Current regulations require all TCM doctors in China to undergo five years of medical college and internships in hospitals, similar to what Western medical doctors go through, before being qualified to practice independently.

At the same time, much research has been devoted to verify the efficacy of TCM, after New China was established in 1949, Liu said.

Yi Ping, from the orthopedics department of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, ran a search on the Internet in the Tsinghua Tongfang medical periodical database using the key words "traditional Chinese medicine" and "bone fracture". Yi found more than 8,000 theses -- all published in professional Chinese medical periodicals since 1994 - turning up in the search, with most being about the efficacy of TCM treatment methods or herbal remedies.

Yi holds a bachelor's in TCM and a master's in TCM orthopedics. He said the studies were mostly conducted in ways familiar to Western medicine and modern medical science, such as blood circulation and cytology.

A number of the studies on herbal medicines involved placebo studies conducted on laboratory animals, Yi said.

Both Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine methods are used at Yi's department, on a case-by-case basis.

"Western medical doctors also use TCM methods here," Yi said.

"It is the same in many other major hospitals in Beijing, such as The Third Hospital affiliated to Peking University, Jishuitan Orthopedics Hospital, Dongzhimen TCM Hospital and Beijing TCM Hospital," Yi said.

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