2017-09-13 10:25:46

Fifth graders in eastern China’s Zhejiang province will soon start compulsory classes in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), according to a report Tuesday by local outlet Qianjiang Evening News.

The move comes amid a government push to make TCM treatments more widely available and teach more children about the millennia-old medical customs that rely on herbal drugs, dietary guidelines, and therapies centered around qi, the body’s vital energy. Zhejiang is the first province to make the subject compulsory, and not all parents welcome the initiative.

“It’s more practical to teach children first aid instead of TCM,” Wu Hua, a father who lives in Hangzhou, the provincial capital, told Sixth Tone. Other parents said TCM is too complicated for children around the age of 11 to understand, and that studying the subject is a waste of time when they should instead be focusing on their middle school entrance exams.

But Xie Anqi, a mother also from Hangzhou, supports the classes. “It’s meaningful to give the children a rough idea of TCM when their minds are open to all types of knowledge,” she told Sixth Tone. Until Western medicine was brought into China a century ago, TCM was used to treat all illnesses, she said — which “shows how amazing TCM is.”

The first 100,000 copies of a new TCM textbook are on their way to Zhejiang schools, and another 600,000 books are being printed. In response to parents’ concerns, the book’s chief editor, Fang Jianqiao, explained that the classes teach children not only about TCM, but also about traditional Chinese culture.

“The purpose is to foster national confidence and pride among the country’s youth,” Fang, who is also the principal of Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, told Qianjiang Evening News. Patriotism and traditional culture are also two focal points of new national liberal arts textbooks for primary and middle school pupils that were put into use this month.

“It’s a good initiative and can popularize the general understanding of TCM — an indispensable part of traditional Chinese culture — among the country’s youth,” Jiang Bin, a primary school teacher in Hangzhou, told Sixth Tone.

The Strategic Outline for the Development of Chinese Medicine, a document issued in February 2016 by the State Council, China’s cabinet, lists teaching TCM to primary and middle school students as a goal to pursue until at least 2030. Fang said the governments of Beijing and Shanghai are also compiling TCM textbooks.

A TCM law was enacted later that year, inciting debate about whether legislation should promote medical practices that are not based on modern science.

The State Council’s medical reform goals for 2017, announced in April of this year, nevertheless said that TCM services will be accessible in all existing community-level health service centers around China. Another government document from July declared training TCM doctors to be a key task until 2030, and encouraged doctors who specialized in Western medicine to study TCM instead.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header images: Students observe cupping, a common therapy in traditional Chinese medicine, at a township hospital in Linyi, Shandong province, Oct. 21, 2014. Pang Dehua/VCG)