TCM, not

teditaly2The acronym “TCM” is commonly used to designate “traditional Chinese medicine”. There is a saying in the field many people have heard, “TCM is not traditional Chinese medicine.” This is more than an ironic comment, it is the truth. After tipping on the blade edge of extinction during the early Mao days, Chinese medicine only survived by being “reconditioned” into something that was a hybrid of Western medicine and traditional. This was during the time Mao’s family was flying to Russia for treatments in the latest Western techniques while Mao himself was reviling his fellow leaders that they knew nothing about the peasant roots of the Chinese soul.

This hybrid, a drastic editing of the text by selective memory of a certain type, reminds us of the careful removal of Trotsky’s face from old photographs of the Russian Revolution when he was no longer in favor, the “varnishing” of the past. In this propagandistic purge much of the soul and sense of the medicine was lost. The spiritual/psychological ingredients were almost entirely expunged removing psychological and existential insights which – if you consider it logically – were actually MORE SIGNIFICANT than many of the “practical” treatment protocols. Western approaches were then grafted on and combined with Chinese – not a bad thing in itself. But, given the questionable state of scientific knowledge under a regime where Lysenkoism was still a dominant theory, there is little doubt that scientific considerations took second place to political shadings.

To this day there is so much missing from TCM of the spiritual and causal bases of traditional methods that many practitioners, long standing ones at that, often blame themselves for not being able to affect cures when they have only inadequate means to do this anyway. In fact it is a paean to the power of Chinese medicine – not acupuncture but the WHOLE field of Chinese medicine- that it is universally recognized to be as effective as it is.

This re-naming of things to control them is an old Chinese ploy and a very conscious one. It has been known for 2000 years as the “Rectification of Names”. The original idea was to make the words fit the actions and objects so named and therefore clarify social interaction. In reality this became one of the most powerful tools of Chinese political history and had been adopted by every national structure from the “Third Reich” to the “Great Society”.

So we come to the case of martial arts. From the Qing Dynasty onwards (begun in 1644) the martial arts in China have been the target of tremendous political and sociological pulls and pushes. Think of baseball, football, and basketball combined with many smaller spiritual groups such as Lutherans and non-denominational groups and you might have an idea of the significance of Wushu to the Chinese population. It is estimated that during the preceding Ming Dynasty 10% of the popular of China was engaged in martial training.

At this point the Manchu government encouraged what is still being promoted today; the substitution of theory and research for experiential knowledge. The aim, among others, was to disembowel the meaning of the arts while reducing them to cultural artifacts. Beautiful, flowery forms were encouraged. Philosophical concepts were forged. Real masters were made subservient to scholars without experience. During the Cultural Revolution, over a hundred years later, we find the persistence of the method where Sifus were tortured and killed, sent to camps, humiliated as “remnants of the past”. The point is not an indictment of a particular political group but the revelation of the tremendous influences which are, in essence, misrepresenting a study engaged in my millions of people world wide.

Is the situation hopeless? Is it even important? Oddly enough, investigations in the curious Western world are beginning to dust off the caches of stored knowledge. Chinese medical practitioners are coming forward and researching ghost points, “extra meridians”, Shen disorders and a host of techniques buried in more layers than any Da Vinci code ever could be. Of course this resurgence will encourage a plethora of pseudo-practices, medical Qigong scams, internal styles with wishful content and other fairy stories. Oddly enough real opportunities, contrary to popular perceptions which cast these people as wide-eyed and gullible, have show little interest in what the public fancies as Chinese medicine, martial arts and energetics. Instead these dedicated scholars and students follow the Taoist scientific prescription of seeing ordinary nature as the truth and THAT is the tradition of TCM at its best.


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