The education authorities in east China's Zhejiang Province have released a set of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) textbooks for elementary school students, the first of their kind on the Chinese mainland, and now require elementary schools to teach TCM knowledge to pupils in a bid to enhance younger generations' awareness of traditional ways of living and keeping fit. The textbooks, titled Traditional Chinese Medicine and Health, touch on basic knowledge of Chinese medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy and exercises.
This move has roused heated discussions and debate throughout the society. Some claim that as TCM is part of China's cultural quintessence, the new elementary school courses will not only impart knowledge of traditional Chinese culture and philosophy, but more importantly, can also help students know how to live a healthier life, which is especially useful given the declining physical health of Chinese students. Those who oppose the move cite TCM's obscure theories and difficulty as the major reason. They argue that TCM knowledge even eludes adults, let alone pupils in elementary schools. What they need more is first aid knowledge and sex education.
Spreading traditional culture
Hu Xinhong (Beijing Youth Daily): The inheriting of TCM culture has long been a hot topic. As the public is paying more and more attention to healthy ways of life, they turn more to traditional culture and relevant knowledge for help or reference. However, compared with traditional arts like ink painting and calligraphy, introducing TCM into elementary schools is more likely to trigger controversy.
Good examination results and high enrollment rates have become the major targets for many elementary and secondary schools, but TCM courses won't help students to be admitted to colleges. However, education should not be limited to examinations. In the new era, it is expected to take on the responsibility of imparting traditional culture to the younger generation, so as to contribute to their healthy growing up.
If conducted well, the TCM course at elementary schools is good for adolescents to learn more knowledge. Today, the health of pupils and students is affected by increasing pressure of schoolwork. Some students even suffer from diseases like cervical osteoarthritis, obesity and insomnia, which are often found in adults. The decline in the physical quality of students should mainly be attributed to insufficient sports and outdoor activities. Furthermore, unhealthy lifestyles are also a reason. Particularly in college, students tend to sleep very late, having fun by drinking and tapping away on their cellphones. Various diseases begin to befall them as a result. If they know more about healthy ways of life, as proposed by TCM, they might pay more attention to valuing their health and building a strong body. To teach students to live in a healthy way should be an obligation of education, and TCM is undoubtedly capable of fulfilling this work.
Through TCM courses, students will be taught to take good care of themselves and how to prevent diseases and build up a strong physique. TCM is particularly effective in preventing diseases. It is already made clear that adding TCM to the elementary school curriculum is not meant to make future TCM doctors out of the students, but to help them better understand and value health.
Besides, TCM culture is a perfect combination of science, humanities and ancient Chinese philosophy. The models of thinking, the methods of cognition and the values delivered by TCM culture are being increasingly embraced by Chinese people. TCM courses on campus can also help to spread traditional Chinese culture, ramp up children's confidence in their own culture and civilization and even help to build higher moral standards among the students.
Yao Qi (Yancheng Evening News): Parents who support the course believe that TCM is part of the quintessence of Chinese culture, which deserves to be handed down generation after generation. Those who oppose the move argue that TCM is too difficult for young students to understand. Pupils at elementary schools are soon entering junior middle school, so they face a lot of schoolwork and homework. TCM courses might deprive them of time that should be otherwise spent on more useful courses like mathematics and Chinese literature.
In 2011, during the annual sessions of National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, some delegates and representatives proposed that TCM knowledge should be included in curriculums for elementary schools. Some TCM experts even hoped that TCM knowledge can be complied into elementary school textbooks because TCM is not only limited to medicine, but is also based on an extensive cultural and philosophical basis.
Historically, it is less than a century since Western medicine had been introduced into China. So, how did the Chinese people treat illnesses in ancient China? Did they manage to survive by solely depending on their physique or so-called fortune? Of course not! TCM is based on thousands of years of experience and the wisdom of our ancestors. Since ancient times, TCM has gradually evolved to be a knowledge system that includes medicine and methods of health preservation. The knowledge has been widely applied by the Chinese people in their daily drinking, eating, and living. As an important part of the Chinese civilization, TCM should not be underestimated or abandoned.
Like other traditional culture, TCM faces crises of development and recognition in the era of modern science. When "science" is used as the major gauge to measure whether something is correct or not, TCM, which is hard to measure in accordance with fixed indexes, tends to be targeted.
The revitalization of TCM is to be realized not by making it part of Western science, but rather by dismissing people's misunderstanding of it. Western medicine and TCM are based on very different philosophies, but neither can defy the other.
Today, the public are more interested in Western medicine which often immediately cures diseases, and TCM is somewhat sidelined, as it usually takes a longer time to take effect. Even if they know TCM is helpful to health, most people treat it as a supplement to Western medicine, or use it as tool to keep fit. While most people think this way, it's hard to say what they will tell their children about TCM. It's a concern that the younger generation will also think TCM is useless. Therefore, even if it's just a simple introduction of TCM knowledge, the course in elementary schools is expected to help a lot in boosting the status of TCM among adolescents. The decision by education authorities in Zhejiang Province to offer TCM courses should not be controversial. Instead, more efforts should be made by other provinces to promote the spread of TCM culture at elementary schools.
Too young to understand
Qian Suwei (Huashang Daily): Calls have long been heard for TCM to be made a required or optional course in elementary and middle schools, so that more people will enjoy learning about and using TCM. However, nowadays the key is to alleviate the schoolwork burden on elementary school students, instead of putting more pressure on them.
Another problem is that TCM is rooted in mysterious ancient Chinese philosophy, which can be understood only when one is equipped with the relevant traditional culture knowledge. For most elementary school students, TCM is hard to study. If the goal is to impart traditional culture to children, there are many other choices. From the perspective of spreading health and hygiene, emergency and first aid knowledge would be more useful and realistic.
Some knowledge or capabilities can be nurtured at a very young age, but some cannot. Pupils of elementary school are too young to understand TCM.
Zhu Shaohua (blog.163.com): Some argue that TCM courses will help to fill students with confidence in traditional Chinese culture. However, in my opinion, this course will only add to students' already heavy burden, without tangible value.
We know that TCM theories are not easy for elementary school students. Even adults find them hard to understand, let alone children. Meanwhile, it's impossible to popularize TCM knowledge and for students to grasp the knowledge just through a few classes. Some parents point out that it would be better to conduct first aid and sex education courses than TCM. Chinese elementary students fall far behind their peers in Western countries in terms of such knowledge. Compared with TCM knowledge, these courses are simpler but more useful and urgent.
Another problem is that TCM courses require practices, such as acupuncture and decocting herbal medicine. Introducing TCM into elementary schools is a good initiative, as it helps to promote not only TCM knowledge, but also traditional Chinese culture. Besides, it's also possible that this course will produce future TCM practitioners or even masters.
However, elementary school students have just started the journey of life. They are expected to learn as much common knowledge as possible, such as Chinese language and mathematics, so as to lay a solid foundation for future study. No one expects them to be skillful little TCM doctors. It's unrealistic and unattainable. In this sense, the TCM course in elementary schools is nothing but a stunt.
Copyedited by Chris Surtees