Pulse Diagnosis​

An Interview With Zhongyuan Zhang, CCP Secretary of Chengdu University

The Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin (AOMA) and Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have developed a strong relationship that began back in 1994, with the sharing of highly qualified and experienced faculty. Chengdu University of TCM provides externship opportunities for AOMA’s students in university-affiliated hospitals and clinics in China. Every year, the faculty of AOMA visits Chengdu, building on the strong relationship between the institutions.

Chengdu University of TCM, founded in 1956, is one of the first four official state TCM universities and is a famous and important educational institute for TCM. The university trains approximately 10,000 students, conferring bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 27 different majors. Chengdu University of TCM also operates eight teaching hospitals and 18 hospitals for student practice. In October 2006, the university celebrated its 50th anniversary.

This interview was conducted by AOMA President Will Morris with Zhongyuan Zhang, CCP secretary of Chengdu University, during his visit to AOMA. Xiaotian Shen, clinic director at the Academy of Oriental Medicine, performed the translation.

Will Morris: Thank you for taking the time to visit AOMA. It is our honor to have you here with us today. We have a few questions for you so that we can share your experience with acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioners in America. Please tell us about your life and how you arrived in your position as administrative head of Chengdu University.

Zhongyuan Zhang: I entered the medical field about 25 years ago, in 1981. I have worked for four colleges and universities in medical education and always have had the responsibility of taking care of the administration. Last July, I joined Chengdu University, where I now serve as the head of the administration. In the colleges in China, especially in the state colleges, the job positions usually are assigned by government authorities. My predecessor reached the retirement age and left the position. He no longer works in the administration of the university; he is now focused on research and education. It was my personal experience in medical education at three medical colleges before this that led to this position. I think one of the most important opportunities of this position is being able to get to know the president and the provost of the college.

Morris: What qualities of leadership are important to you and why?

Zhang: With 25 years of experience in the administration of the business of medical education in medical colleges and universities, I believe the first character of leadership is solemnity and preciseness (yan2 shu4). It is important to be solemn and deeply focused with your goals and in all matters. I believe that only with very solemn attitudes, objectives and goals [can] the leaders of medical education institutions create a high quality of education. The people that we educate will serve the health care needs of humanity. The health of the human body is solemn business and anything we do should embrace this perspective in both philosophy and attitude. These are important characteristics of leadership for a medical school.

Morris: Would you please explain more about the word solemn, since the term in Chinese seems to have greater breadth and depth than the term solemn in the English language?

Zhang: Yes, it means more than being strict or serious or too stiff. While there isn’t a matching word in English, it can be thought of as purposeful, intense or focused. It refers to attitude of spirit and style.

Morris: Please talk about attitude, spirit and style in more depth.

Zhang: Spirit is important in Chinese philosophy. It means a high level of spirituality. It also refers to your goal of life and your faith. As a health care provider, our belief is to not only take care of the physical body, but also to help people take care of the spiritual needs and their living environment. This is our highest goal and belief. We can work toward this ultimate level of health care with our best efforts.

Morris: How are you working with the concept of Chinese and Western medicine integration? What risks and benefits do you see?

Zhang: My training is in Western medicine and I work in administration at a school of Chinese medicine. I always look at the advantages of both. This is a subject that I often think about. First, I would like to introduce a comparison of Chinese and Western medicine. From the history of the development of Western medicine, I like to say that it was first at a stage of clinical practice, then it developed into lab science, then it became involved with modern science. So, it has developed now into a connection with other fields in modern science. Also, medical science became part of the development of modern science and made history, such as antibiotics being used to control the development of communicable diseases.

Infectious diseases, such as bacterial infections, now can be diagnosed and effectively treated. This has been improved through the use of new technology. Another example is the technological development in surgery. This empowers the ability to heal more and more diseases, thus helping the people. In the development of Western medicine, there are two points that we need to pay attention to at the same time. In the process of the modern medicine, we focus more and more on the illness, but we forget about the human being and we do not focus enough on the human being. Even sometimes when technology or new medicines have been developed or introduced to the health care profession, the outcomes of those new technologies or drugs do not meet our expectation, e.g., treatment for breast cancer.

If we look at traditional medicine, it focuses on the human condition. So, I think that traditional medicine is a more people-centered practice. Traditional Chinese Medicine pays attention not only to the human body as a whole, but also to each individual. I think the difference between TCM and Western medicine might be one of the reasons that the introduction of alternative medicine into the U.S. has encountered some difficulties.

In Western medicine, if an adult is diagnosed with a disease, the treatment usually is very standardized in terms of the drugs and dosages. This is very different from TCM, where the treatment is prescribed in a customized way for the individual. There is no standardization that can be used in TCM, unlike Western medicine. Because of this, one cannot use the standards of Western medicine to judge or weigh. Western medicine cannot be used to describe Chinese medicine and it creates problems because the rationale and methods of TCM cannot be applied from a Western perspective.

I have a very interesting case to share with everyone. I had a friend whose father-in-law was suffering from lung cancer. He went to one of the biggest and most comprehensive Western medical hospitals for treatment. He received surgery, chemo and radiation. Very soon, this patient’s health declined, getting worse and worse every day, coming close to death. This friend of mine, upon the advice of someone else, went to a TCM practitioner. After two courses of TCM treatment, the father-in-law was able to get out of bed and walk around by himself. Then, there was a debate or an argument between the two hospitals because the patient did this on his own. The doctors from the TCM hospital said the patient had received very good treatment. The Western doctors said that it was poor treatment and there was no cure. The reason the TCM doctors said that is because the patient felt better and his spirit was better; he could get around. The Western doctors said that the tumor was still there; therefore he’s not really getting any better. The focus of Western medicine was on the tumor, while the TCM was on the patient and the quality of life. I believe that Western medicine is getting more and more modernized, but getting further away from nature. On the other hand, TCM is closer to nature but needs modernization in application and development. So, I think the ultimate approach of health care should be a combination of Eastern and Western medicine.

Morris: What do you see as important for the development of Chinese medical education in the West?

Zhang: I would like to leave this question to you [laughter]. But first, I would like to make my point. You have to study alternative medicine and TCM based upon your culture and history. For example, today we had the chance to come to visit the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin. I found that there is a lot of strong Chinese culture on this campus. So, I think the cultural environment helps the students to think in a way that fits with the culture. When you are living in an environment with a strong cultural influence, your thinking and philosophy are influenced by the culture, there is mimetic engulfment.

Differentiation or bian zheng, in this context, refers to general philosophy. As such, it refers to a principle of comparative analysis where there is being and not being, depending on various conditions. Bian zheng in general philosophy refers to the belief that everything is connected and at the same time constantly in conflict. In bian zhang there always is conflict, but there also is resolution. This is a major distinction from rational and linear thinking in Western medical education. Tolerance for ambiguity or philosophical bian zheng is an integral piece of Chinese culture and correspondingly Chinese medical education.

Morris: What is your main goal at Chengdu University of TCM?

Zhang: The foremost goal of our education is to educate professional health care providers to serve the people. China still is in the developing stage of health care history. It needs health care providers who have the practical knowledge and techniques to serve the general population at the grassroots level. To achieve that goal, on the first level, we have a three-year program of a technological academy. The second level is a five-year undergraduate education where learners work in hospitals. One year after they graduate, they are eligible to apply for licensure to practice medicine. From this group, a few can move into a higher level, the third level of education, for master’s and PhDs. This serves the research purpose. We also have programs that combine undergraduate and master’s or master’s and PhD programs. This reduces the total length of time by one year.

Currently, we have about 10,000 students distributed through bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral education. In the next five years, our goal is to have enrollment of over 20,000 students. Over the past decade, the enrollment has doubled. Back then, only 7 percent had the opportunity to go into higher education. Now, almost 50 percent of high school graduates go through some form of higher education. Eventually, we will see mergers and acquisitions of Sichuan College of Continuing Medical Education, as well as the Sichuan College of Reproductive Science, with Chengdu University of TCM. We are expanding our campus to other locations; we also are building another campus. The second new campus is about 300 acres. The first group of buildings exceeds 200,000 square meters. The development of facilities should support our goals of strategic development.

Morris: Dr. Zhang, thank you for taking the time to visit the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin. It is our privilege to have your association.

January 2007