The American Chinese Culture and Education Foundation (ACCEF) is a non-profit, national charity organization in the United States, formed for the goal of reaching out to mainstream society to promote the awareness of traditional Chinese culture. With education in mind, ACCEF also strives to sponsor under-privileged children in rural areas of China, donating time, money, and supplies to Chinese schools.
Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) in San Diego has begun the process of joining forces with ACCEF to create a bridge for academic and cultural exchange with three Chinese TCM universities. San Diego PCOM faculty member and ACCEF board member Lily Chang arranged an April 2011 trip to China for representatives of Pacific College to meet with ACCEF members, and with officials from the Chinese universities. The visit lay the foundation for PCOM to be the first ACCEF educational partner involved in a study abroad program that will allow students to learn about traditional Chinese medicine at the geographical source of its development. In addition to taking these first steps towards creating future educational opportunities, PCOM and ACCEF have joined forces on a scholarship available for San Diego-based PCOM students who participate in ACCEF activities.
ACCEF had three ambassadors from PCOM San Diego travel to China on its behalf: Bob Damone, Academic Dean, Lily Chang, Faculty Member, and Micah Arsham, PCOM student and Student Council Officer. Lisette Cauchon, a registered RN at San Diego Hospice also accompanied them on the trip. They opened channels of communication between Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego and Liaoning University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Guangxi Traditional Chinese Medical University, and Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
On each of the three campuses the San Diegans visited, faculty members and University representatives gave them a tour. In Shenyang, at Liaoning, one of their guides, a young and enthusiastic faculty member at the University eagerly recited memorized passages from the Shang Han Lun (On Cold Damage) for the guests. Arsham made a point of saying how warmly she was welcomed at the universities, and also how immersed in Chinese culture she found herself. “As a student of Chinese medicine in San Diego, I was aware of a stark contrast between our understanding of Chinese herbal medicine in the West and the understanding of it in China,” she said. “Americans readily know about ‘acupuncture’ but rarely have a thorough understanding of the principles of herbal medicine. Seeing how Chinese medicinal herbs are used in hospital settings was very informative.”
Each of the universities the group visited has its own TCM museum and hospital. In Liaoning, accomplished doctors treated crowds in a busy outpatient clinic, and the patients brought hand-sewn banners to thank them for their care. Similarly, the teaching hospital in Nanning was several floors, and the doctors there treated everything from spinal fractures to stroke, often with innovative needle techniques.
The Chinese hospitals seen by the group incorporate both Western and Chinese medicine. Herbal formulas are sometimes given intravenously, an example of the union of East and West. Education about Chinese medicinal herbs is part of each patient’s experience at the hospital, as the walls have quotes from classic herbal texts and other posters that inform patients about the value of herbal medicine. “In the hospital in Yulin, TCM is fully integrated with Western medicine: the Chinese pharmacy (including a room to cook the formulas) is on one side of the hall and the pharmacy with Western-style drugs is on the other side of the hall,” Arsham said.
In addition to a hospital, each University also has its own TCM museum. Shanghai University has the largest TCM museum in the world. The museums are filled with ancient artifacts such as medicine bottles, ancient forms of acupuncture needles, and classic medical texts. Arsham was particularly excited to see a copy of the Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica) from 1657 in the Shanghai Museum of TCM. Like the Shanghai Museum, the museum at Guangxi Traditional Chinese Medical University had rooms devoted to showcasing specimens of each Chinese medicinal, including many that grow locally. Students at Guangxi have the opportunity to sit in the museum and draw the herb specimens as well as take field trips into the mountains with faculty who help them indentify the herbs where they grow.
A portion of the trip took place outside of China’s large cities, in the countryside. The group paid a visit to Benxi, which is located one hour outside of Shenyang. The herbal production center in Benxi has a direct connection to Liaoning TCM University. Benxi is home to one of the most modern herbal production centers in China, and Arsham was interested in seeing where many herbs used here in the United States are processed, including at Dasherb, a jointly-owned German-Chinese company, which is a supplier to U.S.-based Nuherbs™. The four travelers were given a tour of the bustling factory. Bob Damone reflected, “It is very instructive to see how Chinese herbs are professionally processed in factories like Dasherb, which follow international Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards. The combination of modern scientific extraction techniques and traditional herb knowledge in such settings has always been inspirational to me.”
In southern China, the group visited the city of Yulin in the Guangxi province. Yulin is a major distribution center for Chinese medicinal herbs. The herbal market spanned several blocks and had hundreds of stalls where every variety and preparation of medicinal herb was found. “It was amazing to see herbs that we don’t have here, such as zhu sha (cinnabar), as well as herbs that are rare or only are known locally. The market had every kind of herb that I’ve studied, and hundreds that I haven’t—it was an incredible learning experience that involved all the senses,” Arsham explained.
Traveling further into the mountains of Guangxi, the San Diegans were able to visit Bama, a ‘longevity village’ where many of the locals live to be over one hundred years old. The group met with villagers and asked about their health and lifestyle. Arsham, Chang, and Damone felt their pulses and observed their tongues. While Arsham, Chang, and Damone performed a traditional Chinese evaluation of the villagers’ health, Cauchon did a Western evaluation. They were able to examine a mother and daughter: the daughter was in her eighties and the mother was a hundred and four years old.
While in the countryside, the San Diegans also were able to visit ACCEF-sponsored elementary schools in rural China. ACCEF is based in San Diego, but has multiple China-based volunteers who coordinate the support of ACCEF and identify the areas of the greatest need. So far, seventeen schools have been funded by ACCEF, which helps with everything from building the facility to donating supplies. Chang brought school supplies and distributed them to the children. Arsham recalled this experience fondly, “When standing amidst the children, I was struck by the ability of a smile and a few words to convey how happy and humbled we were to see them, and how happy and intrigued they were to see us. The feeling of warm-hearted delight was everywhere during our visit, and we were glad to give some books to the children and meet the hard-working teachers.”
Another interesting aspect of the trip was the food. Particularly in meals prepared by the Universities, Chinese medicinals were incorporated into the food, including jujube, goji berries, gingko nuts, white wood-ear mushrooms, and sea cucumber. Arsham explained that eating a meal together is a practice central to Chinese culture. One of Arsham’s favorite meals was a dinner in the country outside of Baise, where home-farmed and home-cooked ingredients included lamb and beans, tomatoes and tofu, bitter melon soup, steamed corn, steamed purple potatoes, pumpkin, various greens, and raw cherry tomatoes. “This natural meal showed how many farmers in southern China live close to the earth and follow its seasonal rhythms, a principle valued by Chinese medicine as well as the people in this region,” Arsham said.
The ACCEF trip took the PCOM adventurers from the heart of huge cities like Shanghai to remote villages in the mountains. They were introduced to local cuisine, discussed health and lifestlye with locals, and saw the improvement in lives for which ACCEF has been striving. They were able to take tours of hospitals and medical libraries, and experienced the factories and markets that produce and prepare Chinese medicinals. Most importantly, these four lay the foundation for a harmonious union with ACCEF that will hopefully yield additional study and travel opportunities for many Pacific College students and faculty in the future.