Bill Bishop swears by part of it. Jeremy Goldkorn swears regularly at it. Chances are you've got strong opinions on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) yourself, which is why we're delighted to be joined by James Palmer this week, author of The Death of Mao, and the mind behind two phenomenal China pieces in Aeon Magazine, one on the 1980s generation, and the most recent on the fate of TCM in modern China.

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 said on
June 30, 2013
Some concepts are abstract (or metaphorical if you prefer that word), like Yin Yang, wu xing etc. It's the same as any physics concept: energy, force, quantum probability, wavefunction etc. Whether or not it's tangible is separate. In fact, you cannot see energy nor probability e.g., only their consequences. The more important measurement of an abstract concept, should be its predictability: Given a situation can it predict an outcome that can be observed, whereby the situation is within the field of the concept. If it fails to predict the right outcome, the concept should be modified or expunged.

Also, the golden ratio number 1.618 that happens so often in the natural world would have been seen as quacky, and only a lucky charm. It has no theoretical basis in biology, and i t has only empirical evidence through observations. Maybe it's just a manifestation of some super complicated maths within the physical and biochemical interactions in the organisms.

I would prefer to see more predictability tests of the wu xing or its prediction failure. Throw it off or modify it, if it doesn't stand the tests in the lab.

Yin Yang as a concept of duality; I can pretty much see its effects in my life. I stand by it.

As for TCM, why can't anyone do experiments on animals and lab rats ? They won't talk, they won't react to our talks. They are the most unbiased organisms you can use for your measurements. You would reduce the need for even blind experiments. I think it's much better since any traditional medicine will likely be met with skeptics anyway.

Some TCM like acupuncture is suppose to induce the body to heal itself. Isn't that exactly the function of a placebo ?! I wonder if acupuncture and other TCM has anything to do with the long unresolved placebo effect. It would be interesting to measure if TCM indeed increases the effectiveness of a placebo in a lab. Again its back to using animals. Animals don't know what's a placebo in its normal sense.

In any case, this podcast was a good one for a change from politics. Kudos !

 said on
July 2, 2013
How about an episode with Eric X Li guys.

I have this image of Kaiser being best buds with someone like Eric.

The inner circle secretly running China in their capacity as advisors to the Standing Committee.

Anyway, he recently gave a talk, "A tale of two systems" by Eric X. Li at TEDGlobal 2013.

Here is the video link. http://youtu.be/s0YjL9rZyR0

http://blog.ted.com/2013/06/13/a-tale-of-two-systems-eric-x-li-at-tedglobal-2013/

Can you guys get him to do a podcast or is he too expensive, would be a great exclusive you must admit, he gives very few interviews.

Plus his ideas are not loony, one may disagree with him but he makes the Western idealists uncomfortable intellectually and that is rare given the Western camp's incredible media and propaganda assault on the World with One system fits all rhetoric.
 said on
July 2, 2013
@Sinnernerious - I do know Eric, and we've talked about him quite a bit on this show in the past. I'll check on his availability; I actually think he'd be willing to come on, or at least that was the indication he gave when last we spoke, We've never paid any of our guests (though occasionally Popup Chinese will spring for a train or plane ticket and a hotel room to bring in someone from another Chinese city). We're not "best buds" and there are many areas on which I strongly disagree with him, though I'm grateful to see someone articulately opposing the hubristic universalist belief that all systems should be or inevitably will converge toward multiparty electoral democratic capitalism. Thanks for the suggestion. -Kaiser
 said on
July 2, 2013
An interesting topic this week and opinions that I second. I thought it so odd that even highly educated and scientific younger generations believed in the myth surrounding TCM. I have a very good friend that I made when I was working for a manufacturing company in Shunde, Guangdong. She had the Chinese version of a Masters in Engineering and she was very brilliant as well as modern. She was my age (28 now) and very progressive except when it came to TCM. We got into debates about efficacy as well as hazards, I agreed that many herbals can have very powerful effects, but argued that unless the effects were very well documented and that they were grown in the same place, exact same plant & the exact same part of the plant was taken, not to mention prepared in the exact same way - that results could widely vary from non-effective to death. Also, how would you know whether someone was truly skilled and not a quack trying to make a buck? She agreed with me that there are people out there trying take advantage of others, but she truly believed in TCM otherwise, especially when it came to diagnosing using 脉搏 or just by feeling someone's pulse. I really didn't understand & decided to just drop the matter since I had visited a Chinese hospital & didn't find it any better (I am hypothyroid & have to get checked periodically - of course they were WAY off). You would think after Sars they would have soap & tp at least at hospitals.... especially in a town that boasted it's own "white house."
 said on
July 2, 2013
Mentions

The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia

, by James Palmer

http://www.amazon.com/The-Bloody-White-Baron-Extraordinary/dp/0465022073

Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China, by James Palmer

http://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Cracks-Earth-Shakes-Earthquake/dp/B008SMJIWS

Do some harm, by James Palmer

http://www.aeonmagazine.com/living-together/james-palmer-traditional-chinese-medicine/

Recommendations

Jeremy:

Blood & Treasure (blog)

http://bloodandtreasure.typepad.com/

@jkbloodtreasure's Twitter feed

https://twitter.com/jkbloodtreasure

James:

China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival, by Rana Mitter

http://www.amazon.com/Chinas-War-Japan-1937-1945-ebook/dp/B00AZRDP32

Kaiser:

1) The balinghou, by James Palmer

http://www.aeonmagazine.com/living-together/james-palmer-chinese-youth/

2) AEON magazine

http://www.aeonmagazine.com/

 said on
July 3, 2013
The TCM episode was a little puzzling, however, given that it was almost entirely about non-traditional versions of Chinese Medicine.

TRADITIONAL Chinese medicine was designed to help – along with daily exercise and a balanced diet – maintain bodily, energetic balance. I've used it that way for 40 years and it does its humble job extremely well. It evens out my highs and lows, and restores my energy after illnesses and accidents. It was never intended to be used as we use Western medicine but, when used as intended, is wonderfully effective.

The bastardized version which you and your visitor discussed is an experimental hybrid and perhaps some good will come of it. But it has nothing, really, to do with the goals of traditional Chinese medicine other than arrogating the name and adapting some of its practices.

We Westerners generally have little time and no reverence for personal or collective harmony which is why, when the Chinese government talks about harmonious society, our media ironizes it by placing the word in quotes. Who could possibly believe such nonsense?

We prefer disharmony, excess, and extroversion. Heroic intervention and symptom suppression of are our approach to 'health'. We are willing to suffer the consequences, too. 300,000 Americans die each year from correctly prescribed drugs and (if battlefield ratios hold) some 3 million more must suffer severe side-effects, of which my favorite is that old chestnut, irreversible liver damage. Vioxx alone killed 500,000 people. And Vioxx is only one episode in the ongoing scandal that is Western pharmaceutical intervention. Yet 60% of us are taking pharmaceutical drugs – a number that appears to be rising over time.

In the face of such catastrophic outcomes it seems petty to single out even the non-traditional practices you discussed, let alone to damn real TCM and ignore its great strength in doing something that we are, by temperament, not interested in doing: living harmoniously.

In sum, I thought that the podcast repeated the mainstream, Western media's bias for finding, decontextualizing, and amplifying a fault in Chinese practices while ignoring a much larger one in ours.
 said on
July 3, 2013
The TCM episode was a little puzzling given that it was almost entirely about non-traditional versions of Chinese Medicine.

TRADITIONAL Chinese medicine was designed to help – along with daily exercise and a balanced diet – maintain bodily, energetic balance. I've used it that way for 40 years and it does its humble job extremely well. It evens out my highs and lows, and restores my energy after illnesses and accidents. It was never intended to be used as we use Western medicine but, when used as intended, is wonderfully effective.

The bastardized version which you and your visitor discussed is an experimental hybrid and perhaps some good will come of it. But it has nothing, really, to do with the goals of traditional Chinese medicine other than arrogating the name and adapting some of its practices.

We Westerners generally have little time and no reverence for personal or collective harmony which is why, when the Chinese government talks about harmonious society, our media ironizes it by placing the word in quotes. Who could possibly believe such nonsense?

We prefer disharmony, excess, and extroversion. Heroic intervention and symptom suppression of are our approach to 'health'. We are willing to suffer the consequences, too. 300,000 Americans die each year from correctly prescribed drugs and (if battlefield ratios hold) some 3 million more must suffer severe side-effects, of which my favorite is that old chestnut, irreversible liver damage. Vioxx alone killed 500,000 people. And Vioxx is only one episode in the ongoing scandal that is Western pharmaceutical intervention. Yet 60% of us are taking pharmaceutical drugs – a number that appears to be rising over time.

In the face of such catastrophic outcomes it seems petty to single out even the non-traditional practices you discussed, let alone to damn real TCM and ignore its great strength in doing something that we are, by temperament, not interested in doing: living harmoniously.

In sum, I thought that the podcast repeated the mainstream, Western media's bias for finding, decontextualizing, and amplifying a fault in Chinese practices while ignoring a much larger one in ours.
 said on
July 3, 2013
妈的。我想这本关于朱元璋看书。听说很有意思!
 said on
July 3, 2013
I love Sinica but I'm not sure about the point of this podcast. It had some explanation but basically was just bashing on TCM. There's definitely a lot of bullshit in TCM but both sides beg to be explored.
 said on
July 5, 2013
Contrary to some other commenters here, I like to praise this episode as the most objective and reasonable discussion I've ever heard on the TCM.

@Gantal: Your Zen-ish re-definition of the TCM as a collection of methods to "maintain" (as opposed to restore) health is a popular one among the esoterically minded, but it is plainly contradicted by the meaning of the Chinese character 医 (medicine), which the classical Chinese dictionary Shuowen Jiezi explains as "醫,治病工也" (medicine man: a worker who cures illnesses). The etymology of the character (which I'm not going to bore everyone with here) shows even more clearly that the Chinese understood "medicine" to be reactive rather than preventative since ancient times.

If anything, it is the re-definition you cited that is a "bastardized version" proposed by later generations in their attempt to morph the TCM into a "way of life" so as to shield it from scientific scrutiny.

 said on
July 5, 2013
fantastic episode!
 said on
August 7, 2013
Interesting debate but very limited. Evidence based trials are generally useless for testing non-pharmaceutical products. A large proportion of drugs bring no benefit to the people that take them and the side effects create ever more dependence on more drugs to suppress those symptoms. Drugs tend to palliate rather than deal with causes. Drugs have their place but are not some great answer a lot of the time. In the West and now in the East we are building monuments to sickness rather than actually addressing principles of good health.

Western medicine has some great resources but often has no answer to straightforward and more complicated health problems that oriental medicine has. E.g. arthritis and rheumatism which a doctor will give you tablets to take for the rest of your life to palliate the symptoms but will not actually deal with the cause and and leave you simply dependent on an expensive and flawed strategy that has to be paid for by someone. Looking at what is efficacious is necessary, however, thinking that scientists understand energy and how it works is naive in the extreme.

Some scientists have no openness or understanding of how to measure things that they cannot fathom and instead of trying to find a way to do this, they ridicule and distort things to suit their own ends sometimes. Research and research buildings at universities are primarily paid for in the West by pharmaceutical companies looking for a big pay day which does not promote necessarily the right conditions to look at how the universe may be organised. Also dieticians in the West do not seem to understand the energetics of food in the way that oriental medicine practitioners do. The Daoists appeared to be light years ahead of where we are now which has the appearance of basking in our own ignorance whilst ignoring the duality of relative delusions that the ego clings to.


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