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Chinese medicine critic argues against B.C. school

Jeremy Nuttall

By Jeremy Nuttall, 24 hours Vancouver

Cupping is a form of traditional Chinese medicine. It uses suction in an attempt to stimulate blood flow.

Cupping is a form of traditional Chinese medicine. It uses suction in an attempt to stimulate blood flow. (FILE PHOTO/QMI AGENCY)

A China-based opponent of traditional Chinese medicine thinks a B.C. government plan to fund a school teaching the discipline will waste money and pass on techniques he alleges can be dangerous.

Albert Zhang said he began studying TCM in 1974 and practised it, a result of being a young peasant during China’s cultural revolution when zealot followers of Mao Zedong promoted the discipline.

Years later, Zhang has renounced TCM — which includes cupping, acupuncture and the use of herbs and animal parts — calling it a “swindle in the name of medicine.” In 2006, he began a petition drive to have Beijing expel TCM from its medical system.

“Your government’s idea to support TCM is not a good idea,” Zhang told 24 hours during a phone call from Beijing. “It will waste many resources.”

Zhang, a philosophy professor specializing in medical history at Central South University in Hunan Province, said the move could encourage and legitimize “pseudo-medicine and quackish herbalists.”

But B.C.’s Minister of Advanced Education, Amrik Virk, said he believes in TCM himself and the plan will help meet a demand.

“There’s always going to be detractors,” Virk said. “We want to provide the public with a broad range of health options and TCM is an additional perspective in terms of their health-care choices.”

He said TCM “complements” modern medicine and is “something the public wants.”

“It’s increasingly popular in B.C., we have six private schools and we want to make sure we have a public one,” he said.

Virk rejected suggestions the move is a public relations strategy for the BC Liberals to engage the province’s growing Chinese population.

How much funding will be allocated is not known, but the name of the university that will be home to the TCM school will be announced at the end of January, Virk said.

The Ministry of Health said it offers some coverage to low income residents for acupuncture treatment but has no plans to include TCM in regular health coverage. 

Zhang, meanwhile, said there are many Chinese people who don’t even believe in TCM, and that some treatments can actually harm patients.

“If the people in your province were cognizant of the consequences, I think they would refuse to vote for the government,” Zhang said. 

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