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Traditional medicine heads into the mainstream

By Xu Wei and Yang Jun ( China Daily )

Updated: 2017-04-19

"But the practitioners have proven track records of treating certain illnesses, and the curative effects are almost immediate," he said.

The situation may change on July 1, when the country's first law related to traditional Chinese medicine, passed by the top legislature in December. It will allow traditional practitioners to take exams organized by provincial-level TCM authorities that will focus on practical skills and treatment outcomes. They will also need to obtain recommendations from two certified practitioners.

Like some TCM practitioners, many Miao herbal experts learned their skills from a local teacher, rather than through standard educational methods.

The law will allow them to obtain licenses to practice traditional Chinese medicine, including Miao herbal medicine, and enter the mainstream, according to Deng Yong, a legal researcher at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

The changes will also make it easier to open individual practices and clinics by allowing practitioners to simply register with local health authorities, instead of obtaining official approval, he added.

Building trust

Long Guangqiao, vice-dean of the People's Hospital in Songtao, a county in Guizhou, who also practices Miao herbal medicine, said the fact that many people regard herbal treatments as a last resort indicates a lack of trust.

He decided to stay in his position as vice-dean of the hospital to help build trust among patients, who he treats with traditional Miao herbal methods.

"Being a practitioner is like obtaining a driver's license," said Wang, the Miao practitioner. "You have to be precise in each of the treatment procedures and remember the exact times the herbs are ready to treat illnesses."

Accumulating experience through consultation with patients is also crucial: "A doctor's expertise is provided by their patients, and that's especially true for us."

He said about 1,700 kinds of herbs that can be used as medicines are found in his home region, and the curative effect of each herb differs greatly according to the different growth periods.

Long said the fact that many practitioners are unwilling to share their therapies with people other than members of their own families makes it difficult to pass on knowledge. "Many practitioners are also illiterate, which means they cannot write down their accumulated experience in books," he added.

Decades ago, the Miao people used herbal medicines to help people, rather than as a way of making a living, which is why many practitioners' children had little interest in learning about the treatments.

For example, in the 1950s, there were 900 traditional practitioners in Songtao, but now there are only about 100, Long said.

Despite having received his own training from about 15 experts, he was spurned by a number of practitioners he had asked to share their therapies.

"Some practitioners work behind closed doors, and some would rather see their knowledge lost than passed down to people outside their own family," he said.

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