traditional Tibetan medicineDespite the ongoing desperate struggle in Tibet over freedom and territory, collaboration is growing between Tibetan healers and the Chinese healthcare system.

Advancing Medical Care, Advancing Camaraderie

Medical care and advancements have often been sources of truce, respect and mutual benefits between cultures in conflict or war with one another. Such medical neutrality is evident amid the chaos between China and Tibet.

Chinese authorities recognize value in traditional Tibetan medicine, and some Tibetans recognize value in merging with conventional technology.

The conflict in Tibet is still unfolding. Over 150 Tibetans burned themselves to death since 2009 in despair and protest of Chinese control, and some plead for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet from exile in India. The latest death from such desperate protest occurred in March 2018, with the self-immolation of Tsekho Tugchak in eastern Tibet.

Actions in Medical Neutrality

While the severe struggle for respect and freedom continues in Tibet, some traditional Tibetan healers are acting in medical neutrality beyond the conflict with China to preserve the benefits of their medical heritage and continue working as doctors. Also, mutual benefits are evident as traditional Tibetans are merging with more modern healthcare ways and patients are increasingly requesting integration of conventional methods.

New medical facilities and schools are growing in Tibet that merge traditional Tibetan medicine with more modern technology such as x-rays, MRI’s, antibiotic therapy and IVs. One such merging is happening in the Xinning, Amdo region of Tibet, where the Qinhai Tibetan Medical School connects with the Xinning Tibetan Medical Hospital.

The school includes a collaborative degree program of traditional and conventional medicine. At the hospital, traditional Tibetan doctors work with conventional Chinese doctors while innovating integrative treatments. There are several such schools and hospitals developing that integrate traditional and conventional ways.

Merging of Old and New

Scientific research efforts are also underway to use modern technological equipment for finding the active constituents of the plants that have been used for thousands of years by Tibetan healers. While traditional Tibetan healers use multiple plants in their remedies along with holistic methods, the research into active constituents may bring mutually beneficial “revolutionary drugs” and treatments.

Chinese authorities recognize such potential and are actively attempting to preserve ancient Tibetan medical knowledge. Employees of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine are working to translate Tibetan medical documents, and the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region dedicates at least 10 million yuan (~$1.5 million) per year developing traditional Tibetan medicine, which includes preserving twelfth-century documents.

Use of Tibetan Plants in Tibetan Medicine

Many of the herbs used by traditional Tibetan doctors are not found in other cultures’ medicines, and an estimated 70 percent of the botanicals used in Tibetan medicine are local to the Tibetan plateau area. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is known as “a gene bank for the world’s plateau plants.”

Many of these unique plants grow slow and don’t produce enough material to support a larger population’s medical needs. Therefore, an effort is underway to domesticate and cultivate wild botanicals unique to Tibetan land.

Tashi Tsering is the deputy chief of the Biological Research Institute of Tibetan Medicine (BRITM) at Men-Tsee-Khang in Lhasa, which is a hospital based in traditional Tibetan medicine that received quality-improvement funding of 256 million yuan (nearly $40 million) between 2014 and 2016 from the central government.

Cultivating Plants and National Success

BRITM has been working diligently to cultivate wild Tibetan herbs, which is no easy feat. Traditional Tibetan healers put extensive effort into learning what makes each plant medicinal, including many years of study and meticulous harvest and usage methods. These include efforts such as identifying which specific part of the plant to use and the correct weather for gathering.

Despite initially unsuccessful attempts at domesticating the Tibetan botanicals since 2011, Tsering and his team persevered and have since successfully cultivated at least 27 endangered medicinal plants.

The organization’s success is in part due to its careful efforts in mimicking the plants’ natural environment, including temperature, light, moisture and soil condition. BRITM continues to grow and improve its laboratory and technological equipment, aiding in the effort to cultivate valuable Tibetan plants.

While specific herbs are important in traditional Tibetan remedies, they are only part of the equation for health according to adherents of the ancient practice. Successes of Tibetan holistic methods have resulted in increased adoption of such ways.

Steps Towards Peace in Tibet

The president of Arura Hospital in Xining, Konchok Gyaltsen, explains that the combination of unique herbs and philosophy cause good health. For example, 94 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis at Arura Hospital are cured of the illness through medicated baths, psychology and dietary changes.

As several traditional Tibetan healers continue with medical neutrality working as doctors and researches, sharing ancient knowledge and leading schools and clinics, they rise beyond the desperate struggle in Tibet and help humanity overall. However, the self-sacrificing painful pleas for help from the Tibetan protestors against China are symptoms of major problems in the world.

The United States passed the bipartisan resolution 429 in March 2018, for “Commemorating the 59th anniversary of Tibet’s 1959 uprising as ‘Tibetan Rights Day,’ and expressing support for the human rights and religious freedom of the Tibetan people and the Tibetan Buddhist faith community.” The resolution also includes that “the Secretary of State should make best efforts to establish an office in Lhasa, Tibet, to monitor political, economic, and cultural developments in Tibet.”

With such support from the U.S., and collaboration between traditional Tibetan healers and conventional Chinese medical professionals, perhaps there is a way towards peace and respect in Tibet.

– Emme Leigh
Photo: Flickr