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SCU Faculty Participate in the Shanghai Forum for World Traditional Medicine

An international assembly with representatives from China, Australia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Palestine, Thailand, South Africa and United States met for two days at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There were presentations from representatives of these nine nations covering 12 different schools of traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM). These included Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, Traditional Arab Medicine, Traditional Thai Medicine, Kampo Medicine, Traditional Korean Medicine, Traditional African Medicine, Chiropractic, Yoga, Homeopathy, Taichi, and a TCM manipulative therapy known as Shi’s Traumatology. The initial event of its kind, the primary focus was to explore multiple forms of T&CM and to introduce the histories, premises and policy-realities of the various systems and practices. An overarching goal was to shape a platform for exchange and cooperation of the world’s traditional and complementary medicine practices.

SCU's Dr. Anu Kizhakkeveettil discussing traditional medicine

According to the World Health Organization, traditional medicine is the sum total of knowledge, skills and practice based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to various cultures, whether explicable or not, used for the maintenance of health as well as prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.

The host institution, Shanghai University of TCM, was founded in 1956 and has an enrollment of over 20,000 students. Co-sponsoring and underwriting support came from Shanghai Shuguang TCM Research and Development Foundation along with the State Administration of TCM of the Peoples Republic of China.

According to the Shanghai Shuguang TCM Research and Development Foundation, the mission of TCM is to expand globally and combine it with modern medicine. Due to variations of training, practice, licensing and cultural differences, however, the development of TCM worldwide faces many challenges.

A corollary effort to standardize TCM through the International Organization for Standardization (IOS) was present at the Forum. Several attendees from Shanghai University of TCM are part of a so-called Technical Committee, IOS/TC 249, which deals with standardization in the global field of TCM. The Technical Committee has as a goal the development of a common set of standards for TCM with both traditional and modern aspects addressed. The Technical Committee does not deal with clinical practice but focuses on quality and safety of raw materials, manufactured products and service standards involving the safe use and delivery of devices of TCM.

SCU's Dr. Robb Russell demonstrating spinal manipulation

The definition of what constitutes traditional versus complementary medical practice is dependent, in part, by where it is practiced. A system of care that is practiced in its culture of origin, for instance Ayurveda in India, would be a traditional medicine. In China, however, Ayurveda may be considered a complementary medicine as is TCM in Australia. Determinations of the duration of time a system of healthcare has been practiced in a given area also plays a role in determining its status as traditional or complementary.


The majority of presentations considered information on the past and present of each featured form of traditional medicine with speculation on future growth, integration, regulation and reimbursement. Two demonstration sessions were also included. One demonstration showcased a variation on tai chi qigong, baduanjin qigong (八段锦气功). Subsequently, yoga was demonstrated by Dr. Anu Kizhakkeveettil. Later, following discussion of history taking and assessment approaches, there were demonstrations of spinal manipulation as practiced by a TCM traumatology physician, ZHAN Hongsheng, and chiropractic doctor, Robb Russell, DC.

Policy and regulatory issues were discussed in light of the safety of various T&CM procedures and substances, generally herbal preparations. Ethnographic and cultural considerations were illustrated as were sustainable supply-chain mechanisms and processes to ensure continued harvesting of botanical products in a non-exploitive, fair-trade like framework.

Shared Traits

Forum participants expressed great pleasure upon recognizing the many elements the disciplines share in common. Repeated mention was made of patient-centered and biopsychosocial models of care. Prevention of illness, emotional wellbeing and living in harmony with the environment were oft cited. Other positive, shared values and similarities included vitalistic origins, holistic and systems-based orientation to personal and community health, plus a desire to promote rational integration and seek fair reimbursement through national health care plans or private insurance.

A surprise to most of those invited was a shared history of oppression by outside forces that favor Western or pharmaceutically-based medicine over popular traditional systems. This commonality was due in many instances to the bias of colonial rulers as occurred in South Africa, India, Korea and Japan. The story of colonial suppression isn’t a simple case of Western influence. Japan was identified as the colonial power that discouraged traditional Korean medicine while Japan itself was influenced by the United States following WW2. A particularly shocking story told of Japanese soldiers who ministered traditional medical care, including acupuncture and moxibustion, to prisoners of war. These soldiers were subsequently prosecuted following the cessation of hostilities for war crimes, specifically torture. This misunderstanding highlights how, in this instance, Western medicine came to overshadow what was seen as barbarous.

In the case of the chiropractic profession and the practice of homeopathy, organized medicine itself was identified as the culprit, rather than a colonizing force. Fault was found too, however, with adherents of all the various traditional practices which, to this day, have not been sufficiently involved in research and policy pursuits that serve their own interests and those of their patients.

SCU's Dr. Anu Kizhakkeveettil demonstrating yoga

In addition to academic and cultural aspects of their respective disciples, invited speakers ate together in the student dining hall as well as at a banquet on a floating riverfront restaurant in the vibrant center of Shanghai. Students and faculty from the university also attended the various keynote presentations and demonstrations.

At the conclusion of the forum, invited speakers and a select number of organizers met in a smaller venue described as a seminar. The seminar solicited opinions on further steps to promote the practice and spread of T&CM. A larger and more ambitious goal of the seminar was to invite participation in the production of a book, based on the two-day Forum, co-authored by the invited speakers. Entitled, History, Present and Prospect of Traditional Medicine, all of those in attendance at the Forum agreed to participate in creating the book and to seek input from others within their respective professions. Work on the book is expected to take place in each contributor’s home institution or country with some video conferences likely. Occasional work on-site at Shanghai University of TCM was mentioned as a possibility as well if the university and its partners acquire funding for such.

The invited presenters and their hosts also discussed a future iteration of the Forum, possibly in two to three years.

Future international collaboration between the participants and their related institutions is highly likely and, based on shared interests and visions, these collaborations will shape global perceptions of T&CM and positively impact the wellbeing of countless individuals and global population health.

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