News Xina 15

China and the West, equal treatment

If you ever have thought that our sophisticated world might be totally different simply by doing the same things another way, seeing objects with other eyes, growing up with other aesthetic criteria, having other sequences of priorities, with other norms and ways of interacting, writing concepts and stories with other sets of symbols and rules, obtaining the same physics and mathematics by other routes, feeling rhythm and melodies with alternative harmonic rules, choosing from other taboos, appreciating smells and tastes in other forms of pleasure, then you have thought about something that I believe already exists on our planet: you have thought about our world in the East and especially in China, one of its highest expressions for its excellence and antiquity. Chinese culture and technology is older than ours, and in particular it is a rich and powerful culture that can speak to our Western world on first name terms. When palaeontologists talk about our ancestors' technology and culture, they refer to it as a single concept - 'technology'.

Humankind, as it evolves, has begun to distinguish between culture and technology. In our day-to-day lives we attach far greater importance to technology than culture, yet we all know that technology alone will take us nowhere. With this in mind, the unique cultural diversity that the East represents is essential for the future of humankind. We often refer to China as an emerging country, as a country to capitalise on technologically or simply as a market, belittling or dismissing its culture and some of its technologies, like the one I wish to pay homage to in this article. Between the West and China, living standards will even out, levels of use of technology, industrialisation, productivity, and research will eventually be comparable. The pursuit of exports and capital will make us all the same. I firmly believe that if we look at the differential function between countries (or regions, to put it more simply) and take it to the asymptote, in the end, the only thing we will find there are cultures.

It is with great respect for the East that I write this editorial for Engineering News China at the request of my colleagues at the Catalan Association of Industrial Engineers. To write this editorial, I have thought about all the experiences I've had with this great country and the East in general. I currently manage a company with offices in Shanghai and I am in daily contact with the country. However, in my company we almost always talk of Western concepts, methodologies and technology.  For me, China, and the East in general, are a second chance to experience a different life on every level. Being an engineer and wishing to talk about China as I do today, I could not choose a subject more fascinating than acupuncture - an ancestral technology. For personal reasons and family ties I have been in touch with doctors, Catalan and French universities, and the sector in Catalonia for many years.

Acupuncture is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that goes back more than four thousand years, and it appeared as such, with its canons and structure, some two thousand years ago. In a nutshell, it identifies a number of meridians or energy channels in the human body. The meridians have vital points along their lines with healing or therapeutic properties when they are pierced with metal needles to receive heat, electrical currents or simply by applying pressure to them. Due to its pseudo-scientific foundations, many doctors are critical of acupuncture, but in my personal experience it is a very effective therapy. The day will come that when its scientific basis is found. Acupuncture was brought to Europe by the Dutch doctor Willem Ten Rhyne in the 17th century AD, but it was not until the work of Chinese scholar George Soulié de Morant in 1927 that it became truly popular and widespread. However, in China TCM has been practiced continuously since its origins to the present, despite Mao Zedong attempting to abolish it because of its Taoist roots. In China, doctors may practice Western medicine or TCM. 

TMC is studied at specialist universities on 5-year degrees (‘xueshi’). A further 3-year specialist course gives the qualification of ‘shuoshi’, and another 3-year thesis leads to ‘Boshi’. All in all, it takes 11 years of university studies. In Europe, the most advanced, mature country in the practice of acupuncture is, for historical reasons, France. In French law acupuncture is recognised as a medical practice and can be performed only by doctors, midwives and dental surgeons. It is studied in faculties of medicine and is partially covered by the social security. In Spain several autonomous communities have a tradition of acupuncture, particularly Andalusia and Catalonia, where the acupuncture section of the Medical Association of Barcelona launched one of the first Master's degrees in 2004 in conjunction with the University of Barcelona. The acupuncture business model is highly complicated in the West. Acupuncture clashes not with Western medicine as such, which for me is the benchmark, but with how it is applied, especially ambulatory care (identification of affected organ -> specialist -> prescription -> iteration).  Acupuncture, on the other hand, treats the patient as a whole to return to or maintain a state of balance.

Because it does not entail spending on drugs, it is frowned upon by the industry and our consumer society. Because the sessions are long and must be repeated periodically, it cannot be offered by health insurance companies and is costly for patients. Because it is not recognised by the government, it is practiced without guarantees and generally confused with quack medicine. However, it is effective and particularly so for children. The standard profile of an acupuncture patient in Catalonia is female (the age curve is uniform) with complicated and/or chronic diseases or disorders that have been unsuccessfully over treated/medicated by Western medicine. This is a fine example of the wealth of Chinese culture and illustrates the fact that relations do not have to be seen or be one-way. Especially when it comes to China and the East.

Joan Solé i Viñas
Winparf Managing Director
President de l’Associació Catalana d’Enginyers de Telecomunicació