Do No Harm

Christopher Magoon reviews Classical Chinese Medicine by Liu Lihong 

As anyone who has lived there can attest, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remains a force in modern China. Call in sick and hear blame from your colleagues for drinking cold water. Find yourself with a stomach ache and prepare for wrinkly herbs from eager good Samaritans. The Chinese government is also bolstering TCM: pouring money into Chinese medicine centers, censoring critical articles, even jailing skeptics.

In China, modern medicine and TCM coexist mostly peacefully. Nearly every public hospital I’ve visited in China – big and small, urban and rural – has a TCM ward, nestled between the floors of modern services such as neurology, surgery and pediatrics. Most patients in China shift back and forth between traditional and modern medicine, with a seemingly intuitive understanding of the strengths and limitations of each. For chronic pain or fatigue, they lean on TCM; when they need an appendix out, they see a modern surgeon.

As an American physician who has spent significant time in China, I have been curious about the workings of TCM.  So I was glad to see that Liu Lihong’s best selling work Classical Chinese Medicine (思考中医) had been translated into English, published last summer. I was excited to dive into a TCM’s philosophy, evidence and theory, designed for the modern reader. Or as the book jacket sells it, “concrete and inspiring guidance on how to effectively engage with ancient texts and designs in the postmodern age.” What I found, unfortunately, was a slipshod polemic woven through a tedious overview of a two thousand year old textbook.


Medical Team 19

The Quaker aid group in China that the West forgot – Christopher Magoon

When the Friends Ambulance Unit Medical Team 19 – a Quaker-organized aid group – left China, memory of their humanitarian mission was nearly erased. Like many Western aid organisations, they traveled thousands of miles and saved countless lives during the Chinese Civil War. Yet unlike the others, they served Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.

The seven-member pacifist group, called Medical Team 19 or MT19 for short, built mobile hospitals in caves, completely cut off from news of the outside world, often traveling at night to avoid detection. While serving, the volunteers were widely praised by Western powers and the Chinese Communist Party alike. But as post-World War II tensions congealed into the Cold War, there was little room for humanitarian overtures. They were unceremoniously forced out of China, and became a political liability on both sides of the Pacific.