Endangered ethnic medicine needs more protection


File photo taken in November 1995 shows a natural herbs market in Yulin City, southwest 

China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.   Photo by Xie Jiahua  



Endangered ethnic medicine

needs more protection 


By Zhong Qun, Lu Xianting and Li Baojie


Every weekend, Zhao Miaoyuan goes into the mountains to pick medicinal herbs in Jingxi, a small county in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The 56-year-old doctor practices Zhuang medicine, a traditional way of curing disease among the Zhuang people, an ethnic group largely living in Guangxi.

Located in the southwest of the autonomous region, Jingxi boasts a population of about 630,000, among whom 99.4 percent are Zhuang. Thanks to its geological conditions, the locality produces a large number of medicinal herbs used in Zhuang medicine.

“Zhuang medicine is amazing in treating some chronic diseases when Western medicine can’t do its job,” Zhao says.

He explains that it is similar to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), except that it uses special herbs mainly found in Guangxi.

However, while TCM is getting more attention around the world, Zhuang medicine is seriously endangered. The worrisome fate has been a big concern for Zhao, who has been in the field for more than 40 years.

“More efforts are needed to protect the cultural heritage,” he urges.

Zhuang medicine is usually passed on orally, without many written records, which makes it hard to be learnt comprehensively, Zhao points out.

This doctor currently runs the only privately-owned Zhuang medical school in Guangxi, but his students are mainly in their 50s or 60s. The number of young people seeking to inherit the skill is quite limited, because many of them don’t think it will help them build a career, according to Zhao.

“How can you expect them to learn it when they do not even bother to take a look at it?” he says.

In China, there are only about 1,000 doctors practicing this obscure branch of medicine, with about 300 working in Jingxi, according to official statistics.

Without systematic teaching materials and professional training, it is hard to keep the ethnic medicine wheel rolling, Zhao says, adding that insufficient funds also stand in the way of its development.



To protect the endangered ethnic medicine, Guangxi’s regional government passed a regulation in 2008 stipulating that local governments should increase funds for Zhuang medicine development and that medicinal herbs should be protected to avoid extinction.

In recent years, the Jingxi government also has promulgated a series of regulations which greatly encourage local farmers to grow medicinal herbs.

Another thing that hampers Zhuang medicine’s survival chances is a lack of manufacturing companies, says Sun Youming, director of Jingxi’s Chinese medicinal herb office.

“We are mulling preferential policies to attract more enterprises into the field,” Sun says.

In addition, Jingxi has stuck to the long-held tradition of holding a medicinal herb fair annually. Each year, vendors from across the country come to sell precious herbs and exchange ideas on the development of the Zhuang medicine during the Dragon Boat Festival. This year’s festival, which fell from June 10-12, was no different.

Jingxi is also building a distribution center to allow more medicinal herb transactions. The 1.1-billion-yuan project, to be completed by the end of this year, is expected to greatly boost sales of medicinal herbs.

But that is not enough, warns Jing Jun, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University. “What’s really important is to have the younger generation learn Zhuang medicine.”

“Zhuang medicine is part of our traditional culture, and the young people should be encouraged to preserve it,” the academic believes.

Jing suggests more funds be allocated in building Zhuang medicine schools and compiling books to enhance its reputation.

“I hope that more people will get to know Zhuang medicine better and help preserve it because it is an important part of our traditional Chinese culture,” says Zhao Miaoyuan.


Clockwise from left:  Photos published on March 17, 1990 shows unique clinical therapies offered

by practioners  of  traditioanl Zhuang medicine,  such as cupping with medicated bamboo tubes,

moxibustion with medicated thread or pucturing with a red-hot needle.  Photos by Deng Yaping



Photos taken on March 26, 1997 shows the ant wine production line (left) and

storage site (right) of Shenfu Group, a large ant products enterprise in south

China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.   Photos by Xie Jiahua 






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