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TCM bids for 'intangible heritage status'
By Qin Chuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-06 22:47

Traditional Chinese Medicine could join the ranks of the world's so-called masterpieces if an application to UNESCO is successful.

Clients examine Jintianma, a raw material of traditional Chinese medicine. [newsphoto]
TCMs could join Chinese arts like Guqin Music and Kunqu Opera as "world intangible heritages" if the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine gets its way.

Director of the administration's Department of International Co-operation Shen Zhixiang said government bodies are working to submit a bid.

Once the application is approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the protection and development of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) will be pushed forward.

"Intangible cultural heritage" is defined by UNESCO as the practices, representations, expressions and knowledge and skills that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.

UNESCO has 47 on its list, including Kunqu Opera and Guqin Music.

Cao Hongxin, president of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said the application would highlight the fact that traditional Chinese medicine is considered to be a culture that has existed for thousands of years.

But medical sciences like this could not necessarily be treated as "heritage," he said.

"The term 'heritage' just gives people an impression of being outdated," Cao said, adding that TCMs are still developing and open to innovations.

At a national conference on TCMs that opened yesterday in Beijing, director of the administration She Jing vowed to promote its advantages.

She said the theories and experiences of old TCM practitioners would continue to be collected.

Treatments would be extended into other areas, for instance HIV/AIDS, where the number of provinces using it on a trial basis will be expanded from the current five to 11 next year, she said.

Cao said agreements with other countries on the use of these medicines was necessary and would play an active role in getting it accepted abroad.

Shen's administration and the Ministry of Health have so far signed agreements with 67 countries, he said.

"The agreements are a premise for TCMs to get legal status in other countries," Shen said.

Cao said agreements would differ widely from country to country, In Italy, for instance, co-operation will be carried out in research work and development for diseases that were difficult to cure, he said.

China's TCM exports have risen in recent years.

A work report released by Shen's department yesterday shows the volume has been growing by an average of nearly 5.5 per cent a year in the past five years. Exports were worth US$720 million in 2003.

The report quoted a World Bank prediction, which says that by 2008, the global natural herbs industry will be worth US$200 billion. In 2000 it was about US$80 billion.

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