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Table of Contents
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 32-36

The internationalization of traditional chinese medicine into the Western World

International College. Ph.D for International Medicine, Shanghai University of TCM, Shanghai, China

Date of Web Publication3-Jul-2018

Correspondence Address:
Dr. N D Isa-Allean Blacksher
Shanghai University of TCM, Shanghai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_11_18

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This paper introduces the internationalization of traditional Chinese medicine into the western world. Internationalization of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) into the Western world is not a simple or easy task. Its exposure and exportation into the rest of the world should be a task taken on with a special focus and determination on staying strong along the way. Keeping the truth, strength, and integrity in TCM medicine as it is exported is the highest priority and the best way to promote it. Doing this will give it a solid foundation in its new land and for its new patients. Let's study and analyze what really is required to help TCM avoid all problems and hardships of this exportation process as TCM goes west.

Keywords: Acupuncture and moxibustion, alternative medicine, cultural trade, exploration of traditional Chinese medicine, integrative medicine, internationalization of traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Chinese medicine tradition

How to cite this article:
Isa-Allean Blacksher N D. The internationalization of traditional chinese medicine into the Western World. Chin Med Cult 2018;1:32-6

How to cite this URL:
Isa-Allean Blacksher N D. The internationalization of traditional chinese medicine into the Western World. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 Jan 24];1:32-6. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2018/1/1/32/235843

  Introduction Top

Let's begin by knowing the true definition of internationalization,

  1. Defining the word internationalization…

Which is to make something international, as in scope or character: a local element that is internationalized becomes a major, relevant, element worldwide as in spreading increasingly diversified activities into new nations around the world.

The definition implies that what is involved in the internationalization of “traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) medicine” is the process of increasing the use of this type of medicine and spreading it into the international forum for increased use and application in new settings. It further implies exporting and entering other nations with this medicine of TCM and having it spread throughout but changed during its travel while attempting to receive acceptance and increasing awareness in its new land.[1]

The suffix “ization” means to refine or align, form and systemize, and control within this definition; there is also the revelation of another problem. It could be changed that the form of TCM will be changed drastically under the guise of internationalization without being stated.

The problem of entering another country or nation with something, so traditional and foreign is having it be misinterpreted, mistaken, or misrepresented. TCM is difficult for the world to accept because it is Chinese who use a very different approach to life, based on their own culture and traditions.

Traditional Chinese medicine our medicine

It is true that TCM is a medicine originating from and born in China – it was created by a nation of people who loved nature, and it was born out of necessity to fulfill the need of treating the sick. It has grown since then and become a very necessary part of the culture and millions use it. Regardless of this rich history, other nations just want to strip this away, but this is wrong. This is what stops TCM from truly spreading its wings and getting beyond cultural barriers.

In truth, although TCM is a great, effective medicine, it could be shot down quickly in other countries due to their limited understanding of what TCM truly is and how it can benefit them.

To share or not to share

Should traditional Chinese medicine open up to alternative diversity

There are several ways to look at internationalization, from the eyes of the Chinese who have created TCM and use it on a daily basis or from the eyes of the foreigner who has possibly never experienced TCM and knows no one who ever has and nothing about the benefits.

This is the most fundamental disadvantage of TCM being internationalized for those nations that do not know TCM's value or worth how can they open their nation, show true hospitality and application of this special medicine with accuracy and respect? Should we share it or not if they do not understand it?

To get to experience one of China's greatest treasures, can they truly receive it and share it with others if they do not truly understand it and will it be safe? These are special questions that have to be asked concerning its internationalization.

Internationalization of TCM means taking the basic traditional elements and utilizing them in a different environment with different patients who have different cultural beliefs – all of these differences mean that TCM is going to be impacted culturally when integrated into new nations.

Unfortunately, due to this, TCM will never be the same. One certain fact that needs to be acknowledged is that it is impossible to be internationalized and remain unchanged.

Goal of study

The goal of this study is to deeply analyze the internationalization process of TCM – we can gain by developing deeper awareness about what is needed to facilitate this process.

The recent history of traditional Chinese medicine internationalization

The internationalization and diversification of Eastern tradition is not new. It is something that has been occurring rapidly for many 1000 of years – using the silk road.

At present, TCM is very popular in some nations after its first journey abroad – back in the 1970's. Since then it has spread and gained in popularity by word of mouth and the spread of practitioners into new regions.

This first spreading of TCM was light and unofficial and allowed for variation of the true TCM practice techniques. It also allowed TCM to be used as an ethnic novelty instead of for its strong medicinal effect and proven efficacy in fulfilling the needs of sick patients.

Due to the practice of this traditional Asian medicine has never been given a true proper placement among the other great medicines of the Western world, it has instead been given a subplacement as an inferior and odd alternative type of medicine.

  Discussion Top

Internationalization of traditional Chinese medicine means to integrate traditional Chinese medicine into a nation's medical system – Do not be naive about this

What the internationalization truly means involves reading between the lines. It is known that TCM internationalization loosely means that we integrate TCM into the Western medical system. However, integration may not have been what the Chinese nation intended when they were approached for internationalization. In their expectations, internationalization is a fair process where TCM is taken to new lands in its entirety and not undermined or misrepresented. However, integration is a form of submissive compromise, which is very different from internationalization.

Integration and internationalization are being blended together… the definition of integration is the act or process or an instance of integrating: such as incorporation as equals into society or an organization of individuals of different groups… so integrating two elements means that there has to be cooperation and compromise; there is going to be a loss of something, give-and-take will be involved.

With integration, TCM will have to align with the existing Western medical system which is obviously going to remain the leading medicine. This will directly lead to changes in the practice of TCM – from its original splendor to a downsized, limited version.

For the sake of the success of internationalization, we need to avoid the limitations of integration so that we do not end up sending this powerful traditional medicine into a new culture that does not use it or value it in its true form – this will be very dangerous.

Acknowledging this is important; being cautious is being responsible and that is what is needed with this precious medicine. We have to contemplate what will Chinese medicine lose if it integrates with Western medicine and what will Western medicine gain?

The true discussion of TCM integrating with Western biomedicine needs to start here in the land it is originated from and we need to identify and prepare for this. Survival and success of TCM in the Western world require that TCM officials acknowledge the deeper implications before continuing on even though it is encouraged by the World Health Organization.

Financial gain

The prospect of the big financial revenues is also exciting for those involved in the exportation of TCM.

Concern over money generated by TCM is also relevant – in fact money is a part of the basic foundation of Western medicine, healthcare is a business in the west. Acknowledging this is also very important. Spending is where the power lies. Money and power go hand in hand, so this is not just about medicine; it is about being exploited for financial gain in the Western world. An explosion in its use could benefit many in the Western worlds.

Many already have a tarnished image of Western medicine because it is very expensive and not always effective, so asking patients to trust and understand TCM is very difficult – for this, we need to stand up to this medical skepticism and share our effective treatments – showing them that a safe, high-quality medicine is available without being overly expensive.

Chinese manufacturers of TCM products and TCM medical experts who practice and teach there stand to benefit from the financial gain, but it is the financial gain that leaves us venerable and actually leads us to the beginning of the extinction of authentic TCM. After the money has been made, no one will be concerned about the origin of this great medicine. Hence, internationalization could appear to be a great opportunity for the advancement of TCM, but upon closer inspection, many flaws become visible.

Several types of nations-rich and poor-and how this impacts internationalization

It's important to factor in that there are several types of nations in the world. Some countries are rich while others are poor and developing with their inhabitants trapped in a specific mindset and conditioned by their destitute lifestyle. This will make a huge impact on how TCM is received. The rich and powerful countries could feel the need to scrutinize TCM based on their feelings of superiority and xenophobia. While the poor countries could feel thankful but be ignorant about what TCM has to offer.

If the power and influence of TCM do pass a certain barriers or if popularity becomes strong, TCM's establishment could be stunted, especially in places where Western medicine normally dominates.

To be polite, we have accepted the invitation of internationalization and gone into it with our eyes closed, but we need to open them wide and look more closely. The growth of TCM is imminent with scientific research proving TCMs efficacy. Many are starting to take notice this and flock to TCM specialists around the world. This has surprised Western authorities and caused them to want to take control of TCM while it is on their turf.

Not every country or race is open to alternative or culturally based medicines. Some look at cultural medicine as a rustic form of magic, witchcraft, this means that every country will have the possibility of rejecting or misunderstanding TCM.

Other countries may only want to pick out parts from TCM and take what they want. These types of manipulations are not recommended; because TCM is a whole entity that should be used in the way, it was created. It is actually unethical and immoral to change its application and use. It is dangerous too because TCM is a system that needs to be implemented properly manipulating the system is not safe.

Laws, internal influence, and new national standards

The influence form each of the countries where TCM is introduced will be intense – physical, mental, cultural, geographical, religious, and spiritual impact will occur. Other countries already have their own traditional medicine; will their traditional medicine mix well with TCM?.

Each new nation will need to set up a way to regulate TCM. This could involve new laws and regulations. However, their laws may not be what TCM needs. Standardization is also very important because the new standard of Western TCM practitioners may be those who use TCM differently. All of these elements will shape TCM during its internationalization into the west.

In fact, Western-trained doctors who use TCM have already done this and changed TCM using it in different ways so much that it evolved into a new medicine that resembles TCM but is not. Several Western doctors created a Western version of TCM called “western acupuncture” where they have taken out all of the traditional and cultural aspects and replaced it with a simplified biomedical version. Two books about westernized acupuncture were written, one called” An Introduction to Western Medical Acupuncture” and the other one called “Medical Acupuncture-A Western Scientific Approach”. Both were written by the same authors who are gaining strength and notoriety from these books in the western medical community while, they are stealing power away from real traditional Chinese acupuncture. This is a real example of the broken link; this Western acupuncture is the offspring of traditional Chinese acupuncture.[2]

They did this because they could have an opportunity to use TCM in ways they wanted with no barriers to hold them back in their own countries, which are unrestrained tampering with a precise resource that was honed in China for 1000 of years. But now which place will this lead TCM to in the future?

TCM experts now need to address this. Evolution of TCM is inevitable, and while evolution is not bad, it is contrary to what tradition is. Can China control TCM's growth while abroad? And if not, can China at least have an opportunity to document this new evolution of its traditional medicine and add this new information to the original story to build up its foundation? This is another thing we need to question.

What will the final result of standardization of this medicine be? Will it be justicial? And what about the patients, will their needs be acknowledged and heard?

Questions of nation-to-nation cohesion and fluency of traditional Chinese medicine

With internationalization, there would not be cohesion – even between the states in America, each state even has a different set of licensing and practicing requirements, so each state has a different type of TCM being practiced. The practitioners all have different levels of medical training and are using different versions of TCM. All these differences lead to further diversity of the medicine.

China has a type of unity that other nations do not possess – it is with this unity that TCM has become strong like the great trunk of a powerful tree. As it spreads into the rest of the world, each new barrier will weaken TCM so that instead of contributing to the great oneness, it separates it like small little trees, struggling to flourish.

Plus, only Western languages and cultural views being used to relate to TCM there is the possibility of mismanagement occurring. Sending Chinese experts to each nation to help transplant TCM is a brighter plan. With the help of ambassadors, TCM could be regulated in its new home, and its future could be brighter.

Traditional Chinese medicine -Loss of its origin

With internationalization, TCM is headed for extinction if not allowed to stay connected to its origins and implemented properly. Writing the story of TCM including all that occurs internationally as it advances and spreads globally will help connect it to its origins. Disregard for the origins and roots of TCM is a Western trend because the language barrier makes it difficult for westerners to understand. Westerners strip away what they do not understand.

For the west, the focus remains on consumerism/capitalism. Culture does not become a barrier to making money; it is either exploited or stripped away. For the Western system, to make money from TCM, the traditional details are not needed, and connecting it to its origin is unnecessary for them.

Either way, internationalization could cause the origins of TCM to be lost and forgotten.

In the end – will authentic traditional Chinese medicine still exist?

In the end after internationalization, will TCM still exist as we know it? No, it won't. To withstand the changes and influences of new cultures is too difficult. However, in its new form just as China is strong and has prevailed, TCM medicine can also prevail as a medical leader.

Some may never care about the 5000-year history of TCM, but others might either way the roots and culture of TCM should be respected.

New nations of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners

We know TCM is a powerful medicine and with that power comes a risk of danger with improper use or abuse, so it is very important for all who practice it know the basics of TCM theory, the proper way to diagnose and as well as clean acupuncture techniques. This applies to all no matter what country TCM is being used including China.

Without the proper use of TCM, there will be problems because it is very dangerous. Those in the west feel that TCM is just a simple medicine for pain, and completely safe and mild, but TCM is strong and can do harms if misused. The improper use of TCM is not what we want from internationalization, and it is important to stay aligned for safety.

The true goal of internationalization is to have TCM spreading through the nations to share its powerful healing effects, and for all the nations to benefit, we need good strong practitioners who can help the power remain during internationalization.

Sharing the healing effects – avoiding the risks of dangers of traditional Chinese medicine during internationalization

Safe healing has been the basis of TCM from the beginning; its strong healing effects have been proven with over 5000 years of clinical experience. This is important because only the most effective treatments are used; if something does not work, it is not practiced. This approach secures the efficacy of TCM, and in ancient times, TCM doctors were only paid if their treatments were effective. This also greatly impacted the foundation of TCM. Only effective treatments were passed down to new doctors by the ancients to ensure success.

There is the small risk of danger if TCM is utilized by people not properly trained. We can train international professionals, but if bad situations occur and patients are hurt, TCMs reputation will suffer causing people to become even more skeptical and critical ultimately fearing TCM.

Traditional Chinese medicine experts now try to prove traditional Chinese medicine's efficacy in the west and in the world

With additional scientific proof, TCM could go further during internationalization. More proof will give TCM, a stronger foundation – scientists worldwide are showing us now exactly how and why TCM medicine works. This is precisely what is needed in the new nations, so they can easily comprehend what TCM is scientifically, then they will be more willing to use it.

The foundation of the Western medical systems is scientific, so any scientific proof of TCM can help Western medicine experts and patients feel more assured that TCM is a good choice to help them treat disease and avoid other health problems. This is what westerners need.

A more successful journey

To insure a more successful journey into the world, it will be imperative to create a detailed plan for internationalization that will allocate safeguards during its transplant into foreign soil.

Looking for working models or good examples of integration of medical systems is not easy because there is no close comparison of an exportation of medicine that is similar to TCM, but because it is one of the most powerful cultural-based medicines in the world, bias will be involved.

With big, beautiful, and fully functioning TCM hospitals successfully operating in China, it is obvious that TCM has something to offer, but Chinese medicine hospitals in the West are nonexisting and there is no plan for them, so there is a long way to go.

Analysis shows that TCM will not be permitted into the Western hospitals because of government restrictions and western hospital officials do not have to make equal space. All these show that the bias is real.

Moreover, even though TCM is powerful and effective, there is no way to truly balance Eastern and Western medicine in one location. One has to lead and the other has to follow so which one will lead? Obviously, in the west, Western medicine will lead because it is considered as the world leader in medicine. However, TCM is also powerful and effective, so it should receive an equal position and be presented in an equal, nonbiased way. This, unfortunately, is impossible.

The end result of internationalization

Overall, with so many incongruent international influences, the end result of the internationalization of TCM could either be great or it could be a disaster and collision of medicines, leaving only a broken version of what TCM really is.

  Conclusion Top

Conclusively, we know that pertinent issues need to be addressed to control the future use of TCM; we need to simply make the adjustments ourselves, so the westerners do not have to. It is better to work out what we can do now to avoid the pitfalls of internationalization. Doing this will help to avoid problematic issues and facilitate a smoother transfer.

Although riddled with possible obstacles, the future of TCM in the west still looks bright because after getting over the awkwardness of it, Chinese and Western medicine joining forces could do amazing things together.

During this process, we also need to support and nurture the reputation of TCM, so it does not become tarnished in the minds of the consumers. Our patients need to be able to trust in TCM.

It is safe to say that much groundwork needs to do to help internationalization succeed. Communication between Eastern and Western medical professional and authorities before, during, and after TCM's journey needs to occur to establish a stable new home for our precious medicine.

Hence, let's encourage a good union of Western and Eastern medicine during internationalization, let's do it for the greater good of all things and to help develop greater advances in medicine that can come from this powerful union.

Interview with a traditional Chinese medicine advocate in the USA

Female patient of traditional Chinese medicine, 23 years old

This is an insert of a personal interview with a foreigner who was raised in both America and China and uses authentic TCM medicine – this quote is her opinion on the topic of internationalization of TCM.

She says…

“We all have to stay in time and in unison with world changes. This is the most important thing. I said from day one that the integration of Eastern and Western medicine needs to happen because only through the balance of both will we have a better working medical system.”

She also said…

“Using something ancient and simple to cure illness is great, and combination with biomedicine and science is even greater. Joining them for strength and power is a superior approach and will give the medical system a better way that is by far superior.”

“The Chinese people do a good job with their TCM hospitals plus the price and the service is very good there. Thousands of Chinese use them daily. In China, there are 2 kinds of Chinese medicine preparation styles, the modern herbs that look like pharmaceutical medications and traditional herbs in the traditional herb shops. I think modern type will do well in the west.”

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

World Health Organization: The World Health Organization Traditional Medicine Strategy[M].2013:76.  Back to cited text no. 1


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