The Cultural Revolution
The Cultural Revolution
by Bob Flaws
In yesterday's blog, I wrote about how the teachers who created the first TCM colleges and their textbooks in the 1950s and 60s were all famous old Chinese doctors who were classically trained at the end of the Qing dynasty. (I've also talked about this in a Blue Poppy podcast.) However, thinking about this, I think it is necessary to say something about the Cultural Revolution.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China was a struggle for power within the Communist Party that manifested as wide-scale social, political, and economic violence and chaos and eventually included large sections of Chinese society. In fact, the Cultural Revolution brought the entire country to the brink of civil war. the Cultural Revolution was launched by Mao Zedong on May 16, 1966. It was officially as a campaign to rid China of its “liberal bourgeoisie” elements and to continue revolutionary class struggle by mobilizing the thoughts and actions of China’s youth. These youth formed the Red Guards who roamed around the country destroying and thing and anyone who smacked of China's old, feudal past. During the Cultural Revolution, schools, including Chinese medical schools, were closed or only offered truncated courses in an environment of extreme political correctness. The Cultural Revolution is usually said to have ended with the arrest of the Gang of Four and the death of Mao in 1976.
During the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese medical texts were bowdlerized and expurgated. Any theories or practices that were believed to be feudal superstition were eliminated from textbooks, not to mention classroom lectures. This included anything having to do with five phase theory, the I Jing, astrology, and feng shui. Teachers whose previous lectures were associated with these theories and practices were forced to recant and were, in some cases, imprisoned, beaten, or forced to commit suicide. For instance, Qin Bo-wei, one of the great architects of systematic Chinese medicine in the mid-20th century, was a casualty of the Cultural Revolution. In addition, Communist Party propaganda in the form of praise for Chairman Mao and the Chinese people was inserted into textbooks and lectures.
However, it is important to realize that the Cultural Revolution only lasted 10 years. By the early 1980s, those older teachers who were still alive and able resumed their teaching. For instance, Ding Ji-feng, my lao yi tuina teacher in Shanghai in 1983-84, had had a very bad time during the Cultural Revolution. But in 1983, the fact that Dr. Ding was going to be teaching tuina to the first group of Westerners in Shanghai was news-worthy enough to proudly make the radio and TV. By this time also, textbooks and lectures no longer contained all the Communist Party rhetoric. In addition, teachers and students were once again allowed to read the full scope of the premodern Chinese medical literature. In other words, in my experience as a student off and on in China from 1982-86, Chinese medicine bounced back very quickly to its pre-Cultural Revolution form. Today, teachers and students of Chinese medicine in China can read the tens of thousands of pre-Republican Chinese medical texts still extant. While some family secrets (in the form of handwritten manuscripts) were undoubtedly lost during the Cultural Revolution, all of the major classics continue to survive. Anyone who can read Chinese for him or herself knows just how vast is the body of pre-20th century literature that I am talking about.
In my experience, when people talk about Maoist or Communist Chinese medicine, what they are really talking about is Chinese medicine as it existed during the relatively brief 10 years of the Cultural Revolution. But to think that that is still the state of our art in China today is to be grossly misinformed. Chinese doctors in China are now 40 years down the pike from that disastrous event. While the Cultural Revolution really was a break in tradition from much that had gone before during the preceding 2,000 years, that was then and this is now. To criticize contemporary Chinese medicine as if it were no different from the Chinese medicine of the Cultural Revolution is historically ignorant.
I couldn't agree more! I really see nothing that would lead me to a conclusion such as the one you are debunking. I have heard this from some people in the US, but I have seen nothing here in China (1+year) that would lead me to believe it is true. However, I do hear complaints from Chinese students that it is hard to find clinical teachers, and jobs after graduating. Most PhD's do their work in the lab, not in the clinic. This has, unfortunately led to a lot of poorly conducted research (I'm not saying all of it is poor) and frustrated younger CM doctors.
My two cents,
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