When truth is in the balance
In the Dr and Mrs Hung Hin Shiu Museum of Chinese Medicine at Baptist University, there is a wall displaying the faces and quotations of famous scholars of Chinese medicine.
The words of Zhang Xichun (1860-1933) are particularly apropos today: 'Learn from the past, but not to be confined to it; learn from the West not to abandon it.' Zhang was a modern scholar who led an early movement to integrate Chinese and Western medicine but believed that it was essential to keep the holistic principles of Chinese philosophy, such as yin and yang, in the heart of China and Chinese medicine.
The fundamental mission of the museum is to 'foster a comprehensive and correct understanding of traditional Chinese medicine.'
As part of the annual International Museum Day last month, the museum, in Kowloon Tong, offered two days of free public workshops, covering a wide range of topics, such as acupuncture basics and history of Chinese medicine.
There was a tour showcasing real versus fake Chinese herbs, and interactive games for people to experience the practice of Chinese medicine.
About 200 people, ranging from primary school children to adults, attended the workshops. One participant, Candy Chan Wai-chan, says she went because she never had the opportunity to learn about Chinese medicine.
'I'm here because I am Chinese. There is thousands of years worth of knowledge that I know little about,' Chan says. 'Today, many of my friends are turning to traditional Chinese medicine for alternative therapies for cancer to complement Western medicine. I want to learn about the remedies and the history behind them.'
Edna Chan Yi-yi, the museum's registered Chinese medicine practitioner in the workshops and a practising doctor, says most of the visitors to the museum have only a basic knowledge of Chinese medicine and its history.
'We have found that the Hong Kong public has a very rough idea of basic principles, such as yin and yang,' she says. 'It's not our goal to discuss theory or to overwhelm the public with academic principles but to give the workshop participants a better understanding of meaning and practical guidelines.
'People see Chinese herbs listed in bottled drinks in the supermarket, and many Hong Kong kitchens use herbs in recipes routinely, but often the public don't fully understand the benefits of Chinese medicine.'
Selina Ming, executive officer with the secretariat of Baptist University's School of Chinese Medicine, remembers feeling curious as a small child watching her grandparents use cupping treatments or drink decoctions.
'I think as people age, they want to learn about the medicines because it is a part of their own personal Chinese history and everyday life,' Ming says.
One of the greatest issues for Chinese medicine practitioners today is the public's misconception about its powers and healing properties. Movies, both Western and Chinese, tend to exaggerate the effects of acupuncture.
In Kiss of the Dragon (2001) martial arts star Jet Li Lianjie kills a villain by sticking an acupuncture needle in a forbidden location on the neck of the man, known as the 'kiss of the dragon', causing a painful death. Other films portray miracle cures with just one acupuncture session.
'In reality this is not the case,' Edna Chan says, 'so we try to dispel the myths that people have come to believe.' In the workshop, she explained the nature of the meridians. Participants then practised their knowledge of the meridians by identifying pressure points on a balloon model. Most participants believed the meridians are associated with the health of the blood vessels or nerves, but in reality it is neither. Jing luo, Chinese for meridian, provide a channel for the fundamental substances of qi, blood and body fluids.
Jane Cheung Wai-hung and her son, Henry Pak Wan-hang, eight, patients at the School of Chinese Medicine, attended the workshop.
'Henry has been watching me and my husband use acupuncture for a few years. He wants to be a Chinese medicine doctor when he grows up,' Cheung said. 'He was really keen to be here, and it's very exciting for me to watch him learn.'
Aside from International Museum Day, the museum holds 50 workshops annually for primary and secondary schools and the public. See cmmuseum.hkbu.edu.hk for details.