Wisdom of Chinese Medicine Masters
Myths that Aren't Necessarily So
Many of us imagine that experts in traditional Chinese medicine live mysterious lifestyles, boiling up exotic brews, popping pills, practicing kungfu... But what are they really like?
Myths that Aren't Necessarily SoBy Chen-tsen Lin
Many people hold fanciful notions about traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physicians – they drink healthful concoctions every day, or take supplements, or live the life of a Daoist ascetic...
To shed some light on the age-old pursuit of well-being, CommonHealth Magazine sought wisdom from five veteran doctors of TCM – Chiang Ton (age 101), Ma Kuang-ya (92), Yi Chuan-heng (88), Yen-ling Tong (76), Wu Shui Sheng (76) – each of whom brings rich clinical experience from nearly half a century of practice in Taiwan.
When we took a look at how real Chinese medicine masters live, the reality turned out to be far different from the myths we imagine.
Myth: Traditional Chinese medical doctors emphasize "tonics" for frequent regulation of the body's balance.
Fact: Asked about tonics, each master Chinese medical doctor we interviewed vigorously shook his head. Not only are none of them in the habit of supplementing their diets with tonics, they also eat very little lamb or beef, which are classified as having a dry heat nature.
Moreover, they unanimously emphasize that modern people get enough nutrition, obviating the need to deliberately take supplements. "It would be better to get more exercise than take supplements," they all agreed.
What is more, choosing food in accordance with seasonal and climatic variations has a nourishing effect on the body. For instance, when the whether turns cooler, Dr. Yi Chuan-heng makes a four-herb or eight-treasure chicken stew. The whole family, young and old, enjoys it for its warming of the digestive tract, heart, and boosting of qi.
The late Dr. Ma Kuang-ya always used green bean soup as a nourishment booster during the hot summer months. Germs and viruses are especially active in hot and humid weather, causing many related contagious ailments and digestive tract disorders. Green bean soup can cool the system and reduce huoqi ("fiery energy"), preventing malicious forces from penetrating the body.
Myth: TCM doctors drink a lot of tonic tea.
Fact: Some TCM physicians, like Dr. Chiang Ton, drink tea daily. His variety of choice is Longjing tea, and he does not take any additional pains to add such medicinal herbs as goji berries or huangqi to his tea.
Our group of TCM doctors does not believe that medicinal tea is appropriate for everyone; rather, every individual should make adjustments according to his or her own physical constitution.
Myth: All Chinese medicine doctors eat organic or vegetarian food.
Fact: According to the family members responsible for preparing the meals in these TCM doctor's households, they do not especially choose organic produce; rather, they try to select in-season fruit and vegetables from the market.
Our group of national treasure-class TCM masters cannot be considered purely vegetarian; however, their diet consists mostly of plentiful vegetables and small amounts of meat. They like to match assorted vegetables with a main carbohydrate, either rice or noodles, with meat serving as almost a garnish or complement.
Myth: TCM doctors live ascetic lives like monks, aloof from the world.
Fact: Although it is true that our masters of traditional Chinese medicine exercise fine control over their minds and emotions, this is not to say they are not energetic and full of curiosity about life's rich rewards and surprises.
They are engaged in a wide variety of pursuits, from singing and dancing to using computers. Moreover, they like to stay on top of things, keeping abreast with all the latest developments.
The late Ma Kuang-ya, well into his nineties, once saw a television news report about a young girl suffering from a puzzling, rare disease. He immediately asked his student assistant to call around and find out where she was, to see how he could help treat her.
Dr. Chiang Tung, who in addition to practicing medicine has worked as a reporter and judicial professional, gets together with many of the friends he's made along the way in various fields at different restaurants around a dozen times a month.
Myth: TCM doctors always practice Chinese martial arts.
Fact: All of our TCM master physicians exercise daily. However, they do not engage in extremely difficult martial arts, but rather massage and qigong that anyone can do, or exercises like calisthenics, Eight Stage Brilliance, or shaking out the hands and patting different areas of the body.
All our Chinese medicine physicians stress that exercise should be moderate and done regularly and consistently to be effective.
Dr. Yen-ling Tong, 76 years old, has exercised regularly for half a century, not only building strong muscles but even managing to gain 0.5 cm. in height over his youth, startling and mystifying his osteopathy colleagues.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman