What is going on and what is going wrong?
by prof. dr. Li Jie

Dear TCM colleagues,

“The four great classics are the root of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). And none of the historical grand masters of TCM have made their invaluable contributions to TCM without studying them in great depth. Unfortunately, today, some TCM universities think that the four classics are out of date and they neglect or diminish the teaching of them. As a result, TCM clinical standards deteriorate rapidly and progressively as a river flowing from the source. I am not against the teaching of modern medicine to TCM students. However, we cannot neglect the root of TCM.”
Tietao Deng, 2006 (in the foreword of Jin Gui Bian Zheng’s Clinical Application)

Tietao Deng was 91 years old when he expressed these words of great concern about the current situation of TCM in China.


The four great classics Tietao Deng is referring to, are of course the Huang Di Nei Jing (Su Wen and Jiu Juan), the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, the Wu Yue Ren’s Nan Jing and Zhang Zhongjing’s Shang Han Za Bing Lun (also known as the Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lüe). Ever since they were written, about 2,000 years ago, they have been the foundation texts on which all later groundbreaking TCM contributions are based, among which the fire-heat theory of Liu He Jian, Li Dong Yuan’s theory of nourishing middle qi, Zhu Dan Xi’s tonify yin theory and the Wen Bing Tiao Bian by Wu Ju Tong. All of these TCM grand masters can be said to have studied the four great classics thoroughly and in depth.

And even in the last hundred years it was custom in China for top TCM masters and good TCM practitioners to spend a lifetime studying the classics by heart, as can be inferred from the words spoken by the great TCM practitioner Dr. Yue Mei Zhong, when he was 81 years of age: “Every year I have spend one and a half month studying Shang Han and Jin Gui word by word, and every time I read it I was excited because of the new knowledge I gained from it”.

How different from today’s situation, where, in the West, one may practice TCM after only having studied two or three modern textbooks on Chinese Medicine. By many educational institutes acupuncture even seems to be considered as the main, if not the only branch of TCM (some teachers even tell their students that acupuncture can treat almost all disease). And in China, many TCM universities shift their curriculum more and more towards Western medicine, which they then call scientific or modern TCM.

What is going on and what is going wrong?

If we compare the whole of TCM knowledge to a tree, it can be said that most TCM practitioners and teachers have studied two or three leaves. Maybe some clever ones have gained knowledge of some of the branches. However, hardly anyone has had a look at the trunk, let alone the root of the great TCM tree. How then can we say that we know TCM?

Dear colleagues, I do not blame anyone. I do not have any right to do so. I only want to draw attention to the current situation and ask us to think about the future of TCM. A few years ago, at a TCM conference, a group of our colleagues already started the discussion on “how do we develop TCM in the west and how do we preserve TCM?” I was there and I was deeply touched by the passion with which they spoke. But the questions remain. How do we develop and preserve TCM? And what precisely can we develop and preserve?

There is a saying in the TCM field: “Without a complete study of the Shang Han Lun, you can never be a great practitioner.”

Therefore, I am more than happy to say that after years of research and preparation, an in depth study of the Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lüe will be started. This diploma course is a combined initiative by the Shan Dong University of TCM in China, the Qing Bai University of TCM in The Netherlands and the TCM Classic Research Institute in The Netherlands.


A few remarks about the course:

  1. The course will be given by prof. Wang Xinlu, prof. Jiang Jiangou, prof. Wang Zhonglin and prof. Tao Hanhua. They are all top experts of Shang Han Jin Gui study and research from China.
  2. European lecturers are Dr. Elisabeth Rochat, Dr. Arnaud Versluys, and Dr. Li Jie. They all have studied the original TCM classics in Chinese for many years.
  3. The course will go over the original texts of the Shang Han and Jin Gui in great depths. It is our goal to let participants have a thorough understanding of the whole of the Shang Han and Jin Gui. This is different from most TCM seminars, where most of the time only the surface is touched.
  4. The course will be loyal to the classics, such as Huang Di Nei Jing, Nan Jing and Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing.
  5. The course will refer to the comments on the Shang Han and Jin Gui by the historical grand masters.
  6. The course wil mainly present the authoritative Shang Han schools: namely Liu Duzhou, Chen Yiren and Li Keshao schools.
  7. Practical case studies for today’s clinical application will be presented during each lesson.
  8. The end exam will be held by the Shang Dong University of TCM and those who pass will receive a real Shang Han and Jin Gui diploma.

Prof. Wang Xinlu, president of Shan Dong TCM University, my friend and teacher said to me: “The classics of TCM are a treasure, which a nation spent thousands of years collecting and thousands devoted their lives developing it. It is worth for anyone of us to spend our life-time studying it, enjoying it and preserving it.”

Prof. dr. Li Jie
On a free Saturday, Winter 2008.