Traditional Chinese medicine becomes health envoy in facilitating people exchanges between China and Latin America

Over 2,000 years ago, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) spread to the world along the ancient Silk Road. In the decade since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), TCM has continued to traverse the world, building "health bridges" and promoting exchanges and mutual learning among countries.

Over this bridge, experts from the Hebei University of Chinese Medicine (HEBCM) visited Brazil from October 28 to November 10, 2023. During the period, they organized seven popular science exhibitions, four academic lectures, and more than 10 free clinics in three Brazilian cities, further promoting the recognition of TCM by the Brazilian public.

Through these activities, TCM, an ancient treasure of Chinese wisdom, is serving as a health ambassador to help promote people-to-people exchanges and cultural integration between China and Latin American, as well as the whole world.

Unexpected popularity

"Via our activities, the Brazilians deeply experienced the advantages of 'simplicity, affordability, and effectiveness' in TCM diagnosis and treatment. Many people have expressed that TCM is truly amazing, and as a result, we have gained a group of fans, some of whom followed the delegation throughout the 14-day visit, while others expressed their intention to come to HEBCM to study TCM," Gao Weijuan, president of the HEBCM, told the Global Times.

When asked about her first impression during the visit, Gao said that she did not expect that TCM would enjoy such a high level of popularity among the Brazilian people.

From what I learned during the visit, there are nearly 200,000 TCM practitioners in various regions in Brazil. Acupuncture has also been incorporated into the Brazilian public healthcare system (SUS), Gao said.

Brazil is one of the Latin American countries that first incorporated TCM into its public healthcare system. In 2006, the Brazilian Ministry of Health implemented the National Policy on Integrative and Complementary Practices of the SUS, which included acupuncture and other TCM practices in the system, allowing more Brazilians to access services through Chinese medicine.
Mesa is a teacher at the University of Brasília and a student signed up for the online acupuncture class at the Confucius Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Federal University of Goiás (FUG).

After learning about the effectiveness of TCM in treating bone and joint diseases, rheumatic joint muscle pain, and neurasthenia, Mesa has been looking forward to personally experiencing the magic of acupuncture. Upon learning that the online class instructor, Zhang Xuanping, was coming to Brazil together with the delegation, she specially traveled from Brasília to Goiania to attend the acupuncture lecture and get insights into the effectiveness of the ancient form of treatment.

"This time I appreciated the benefits of TCM's involvement in Brazilian public health; I think it is truly good," Mesa said.

Douglas, a student from the Confucius Institute of TCM at FUG, not only followed the expert team throughout their activities in Goiania, but also drove 200 kilometers to Brasília with the team to follow their activities.

Douglas is a physical education teacher. He believes that TCM techniques such as acupuncture, massage, cupping, and bone setting are "extremely miraculous" and have extraordinary therapeutic effects on sports injuries.

The welcome and recognition of TCM by the Brazilian public were fully demonstrated during the HEBCM delegation's medical consultations.

On the first day, patients were mainly students from the Confucius Institute, but the effectiveness of the treatment spread by word of mouth, and on the second day, a large number of patients from the surrounding area attended. On the third day, the number of patients doubled, said Wang Xu, the Chinese director of the TCM Confucius Institute at FUG.

According to Gao, the delegation's clinics attracted a total of 1,800 patients over a period of 14 days.

A good reputation was built on solid technology and the effectiveness of the treatment.

Doctor Du Shuangqing from the HEBCM is famous for being good at using uses TCM bone-setting techniques to treat diseases such as lumbar disc herniation and neck and shoulder pain. After a few minutes of treatment, patients might experience significant pain relief and improvement in walking posture.

Du, at the lectures in Brazil, revealed that one of his patients, who had been unable to squat for three years and experienced mobility difficulties while climbing stairs, was initially advised to consider surgery by a Brazilian doctor. However, after receiving TCM bone setting treatment, the patient could not only squat down, but could also easily climb stairs without the need for surgery.

Du said that he used to prefer surgical solutions as well, but as his bone-setting techniques improved, the need for surgery decreased while the treatment outcomes improved.
In addition to Brazil, other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Chile, Peru, Cuba, and Venezuela are also increasingly focusing on learning the concepts of TCM.

Some countries have already incorporated TCM into their medical schools' curriculums, while others are exploring the possibility of cooperation with Chinese medicine institutions.

A staffer at the International Education College, the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SHUTCM), surnamed Lu, told the Global Times that Latin American experts, and young students have been some of the most enthusiastic participants in the SHUTCM summer schools for foreigners.

Since 2012, 48 students from this region have attended SHUTCM's summer schools. Other workshops for senior health officials from countries associated with the BRI have seen 44 participants from Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

Upgraded cooperation

The HEBCM expert delegation also witnessed upgraded cooperation between HEBCM and FUG.
On October 30, 2023, a brand new TCM diagnosis and treatment center was officially unveiled at the TCM Confucius Institute, FUG, the only Confucius Institute of TCM in Latin America.

Camila Cardoso Caixeta, director of the School of Nursing, FUG, hailed the inauguration of the center, saying that it marks the beginning of a new chapter in history - the school is about to become a beacon of TCM in the state of Goiás and Brazil as a whole.

"The immersive and continuous training conducted by Chinese experts for our team signifies an important step toward providing high-quality and comprehensive care," she said.

Brazil has abundant plant resources and a tradition of using herbal medicine, but there is a lack of understanding and application of herbal medicine. Based on this, there is vast potential for cooperation between China and Brazil in the development and utilization of medicinal plant resources, according to Gao Weijuan.

Shortly after the HEBCM expert delegation's visit to Brazil, a senior delegation from the FUG consisting of the university's vice president Jesiel Freitas Carvalho, Caixeta, and Brazilian president of the FUG Confucius Institute of TCM Francisco Jose Quaresma de Figueiredo paid a visit to HEBCM on December 4.

The two universities conducted consultations on the details of jointly launching a professional nursing master's education program and co-establishing the International Joint Research Center for TCM acupuncture in Hebei, and have reached preliminary consensus on the content of the aforementioned project cooperation agreement.

Both parties expressed their hope to continue to work together to promote the high-quality development of the Confucius Institute of TCM, and at the same time, expedite the implementation of new projects and deepen cooperation in the teaching and research of TCM and nursing.
In order to further promote the development of TCM in Brazil, Reginaldo Filho, founder and director general of Faculdade EBRAMEC (which stands for Brazilian College of Chinese Medicine), also visited the SHUTCM in October 2023. During the visit, Filho showed great interest in the SHUTCM's self-invented instruments for the modern application of TCM, and had deep conversations with the university's staffers on topics including the theories and clinical practices of TCM, and possible further cooperation in this field, according to Lu.

Health ambassador

TCM is becoming a popular healthcare approach in Latin America, promoting exchanges and integration between China and the world with its unique charm. It also has become a unique channel for people in Latin American to learn about Chinese culture.

In Brazil, the channel was based on the function of the Confucius Institute of TCM, FUG. Founded in October 2019, the institute hosted a total of 41 classes as of the end of December 2023, including 27 levels of Chinese language classes, and 14 classes on the overview of TCM, acupuncture, massage, and Tai Chi, attracting a total of more than 700 students.

Nearly 100 cultural exchange activities related to Chinese culture have also been held. An online Chinese Bridge project with a TCM theme was hosted, attracting students from nine countries including Brazil, Canada, and Egypt to learn Chinese and TCM courses, promoting the global understanding of TCM.

TCM is a precious gem of ancient Chinese science and also a key to unlocking the treasure trove of the Chinese civilization. China has attached great importance to TCM, and the inheritance, innovation, and development of the ancient medical science have ushered in a favorable condition for the industry as a whole.

As a facilitator of cultural exchanges between China and other countries, TCM is not only a beautiful calling card, but can also showcase its inherent unique charm, attracting Brazilians to experience Chinese medicine and understand China, and promote people-to-people connectivity, Gao noted.

In the future, the Chinese TCM industry should increase the cultivation of high-level talent, especially cultivating students' international perspectives and building a first-class talent pool.

"We should closely integrate with the BRI, firmly go global, not only to Latin America but also to Southeast Asia and Europe, so that the therapeutic effects of TCM can benefit people in countries and regions around the world," Gao stressed.

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