Posted by: corneliadavies | September 2, 2018

Acupuncture training in China diary Part 3. 1st days of class.

Dr-Wang-and-moxa-caligraphy_ed_webDr Wang, the teacher in this photo, has written this calligraphy on the board for us. It’s a traditional Chinese poem on the use of, moxa, which Chinese medical students learn. Luckily we had a translator!

April 17th 1st Day of Class

Well, it’s started.

As I had been warned, it is rote learning: the teachers don’t even like questions, because it alters their schedule, so you just have to check your book later! Different from what I’ve heard of the Reading acupuncture college’s first sessions: (‘are you visual, tactile, auditory, kinaesthetic, left brain, right brain etc –and how can we help you to learn better?’)

But you know what? I think I’ve understood something new about excess and deficiency, which are two important principals in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and which I never ‘got’ by osmosis. Today we raced in with yin/yang theory in the morning and the five elements in the afternoon. Having these basic theories of TCM described, ‘at source’ in China, was interesting, but pretty much unexplained, just presented, really… and I’m so glad I had some prior knowledge of the five elements. I haven’t dared ask how the people who had no previous experience of Chinese medicine got on.

We are told to learn certain things by heart tonight: “Put them in your computer,” says Wang our interpreter, pointing at her head. And she emphasises that tomorrow we will have even more to learn, so we must do it today. Most people in the class are doctors, so I guess that learning by remembering is very familiar to them. I like to learn by understanding: I hope I can keep up as time goes on when I expect to be on decreasingly familiar territory. I think that very soon my head will be very full.

Professor Liu described one particular part of five element theory, the Ke Cycle, as the interacting of one element on another. Our interpreter paused to tell us that Americans prefer to call this action conquering, which she further explained thus: “The Americans like conquering”… ”Yes” we said, dissolving into hysterics. One or two of the Iranian students had to have their colleagues translate, and then they, too, dissolved: a little too close to home for them, though, I think.

I’m trying to get the accommodation people to take the telly out of my room, as are some of the other students. I think the staff are puzzled as to why on earth we don’t want to avail ourselves of extra Mandarin practice/entertainment. Strange lot, aren’t we?

Some of my Germanic colleagues are dead set on organizing what they consider to be edible breakfasts, including German bread and coffee. I’m happy to have found Chinese millet porridge available in the canteen – a sort of grainy gruel: this suits me down to the ground. However, when my Swiss neighbour, Tamara, brings German bread into my room for me to try, I weaken and accept some, and it’s delicious: moist, pale brown and (this really tips the balance for me) it contains pumpkin seeds. Though I have developed a taste for the Chinese steamed buns, I have to admit that I would like more of this stuff, too.

My German colleagues, by the way call the delicious millet gruel ‘schlime’. I don’t think they’ll be joining me for breakfast.

First study group with other students tonight: a lively, interesting time.

April 18th
Today we start the Zang Fu organs: the explanation of how the internal organs function according to Chinese medicine. This is an interesting time for me. Because I already have training in five element acupuncture quite a bit of what is presented is familiar to me, but because I don’t have a TCM training I have to stay completely alert, in order not to miss new information that will be vital to my clinical training and diagnosis according to the principals of TCM. Some of the material has a different emphasis and connectivity from that of the Leamington approach, so I have to watch for that, too.

It’s clear that, though this is a course particularly for foreign doctors and other health care workers who have no prior knowledge of TCM, there are many things that it just doesn’t occur to Professor Wei Lixin to explain, as they are so obvious to her. However, not only is she an extremely pleasant young woman, but also she and her interpreter are open to questions, unlike yesterday’s team. Great.

Every time we cover a new organ, Thomas, a German medical student, asks for the Chinese name for it. After lunch, when we have covered four of the Zang (yin) organs, I congratulate him on his tenacity and we jokingly make a bet about whether he will have to keep asking as each new organ is presented. He thinks they’ll have got the hang of it by now, but I’m convinced that this bit isn’t in the notes, and accommodating though Dr Wei is, I don’t think she’ll automatically mention it. Shortly after we begin the functions of the Lung and Thomas asks the Chinese name, I find myself wishing I’d put money on it…


After today’s classes I went out to find some supper and get a bit of… er… air. Beijing is having its biggest dust storm for 6 years, but until today I had thought it was no big deal. I was alerted to something different when I went out of the college gates and noticed the normally robust pineapple woman (who two days ago had patiently taught me to count to 5 in Mandarin) sitting on the pavement with her collar over her mouth. Pretty soon I had given in and adopted the ‘Lone Ranger look’, with my scarf over my mouth.

Apparently, in the last few days several tons of sand has blown to Beijing from the Gobi Dessert. My question is where is it all going to go in the end? A bit of sweeping here and there is hardly going to move it out of the city. My friend Pat has a theory that perhaps they’ll make it into a giant sand dune and turn it into a theme park…

My route to supper and back was dotted with people accommodating themselves to the dust in varying ways: Lone Rangers like me, people in medical masks, the full-facial sheer scarf (a very chic option), and just plain old squinting (a lot of that).
Added to the dust storm, for the last few days, we’ve had cottony-type seed clusters falling out of the sky, like the most gossamer snow.

© Cornelia Davies 2018


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