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Table of Contents
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 132-136

Study on current trends in the development of traditional Chinese medicine in Australia and policy proposals of internationalization of traditional Chinese medicine education in future

1 Teaching and Research, Department of Traditional Chinese Rehabilitation Therapy, School of Rehabilitation Science, Shanghai University of TCM, Shanghai, China
2 School of Rehabilitation Science, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, Sydney, Australia

Date of Web Publication24-Sep-2019

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Lei Fang
School of Rehabilitation and Science, Shanghai University of TCM, Shanghai 201203
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_32_19

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With the rapid rise of China's economy and the deployment of the Belt and Road Initiative, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), one of the main components of Chinese culture, has become an important aspect of foreign exchange. Therefore, recent research has focused on how to effectively spread TCM culture internationally and improve TCM acceptance. Australia is currently a representative region with decent TCM development. Taking TCM development in Australia as a starting point, this article analyzes the challenges in TCM development, discusses countermeasures to address these issues, and provides recommendations for improving the international development and dissemination of TCM.

Keywords: Australia, cultural communication, education, internationalization, traditional Chinese medicine

How to cite this article:
Fang L, Wang B. Study on current trends in the development of traditional Chinese medicine in Australia and policy proposals of internationalization of traditional Chinese medicine education in future. Chin Med Cult 2019;2:132-6

How to cite this URL:
Fang L, Wang B. Study on current trends in the development of traditional Chinese medicine in Australia and policy proposals of internationalization of traditional Chinese medicine education in future. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2020 Jun 5];2:132-6. Available from: http://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2019/2/3/132/267703

  Introduction Top

As an important aspect of Chinese culture, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) plays a significant role in the process of international communication. From the assistant role in control of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (非典型肺炎) outbreak in 2003 to Tu Youyou (屠呦呦) receiving the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (诺贝尔医学奖) in 2015, the effectiveness of TCM has gained increasing recognition. Meanwhile, as a unique industry in China's international service trade, TCM has spread to 168 countries and territories.[1] According to the data released by the Australian Bureau of Immigration and Statistics (澳大利亚移民统计局), the number of immigrants from mainland China increased from 118,640 in 1996 to 427,590 in 2013, ranking third among all countries receiving mainland Chinese immigrants (excluding Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan or international students and laborers based in Australia).[2] The large number of Chinese immigrants in Australia has created an increased demand for TCM, causing TCM to spread rapidly within the country. Thus, studying the status quo of TCM and problems related to its development in Australia can provide ideas for promoting TCM development worldwide.

  History of Traditional Chinese Medicine Development and Its Difficult Journey in Australia Top

TCM was introduced into Australia in 1848 along with the first wave of Chinese laborers.[3] However, seeking legalization for TCM practitioners and treatment faced various obstacles. In 1880, a ban on the entry of Chinese workers into Australia obstructed TCM development. It was not until the late 1960s when the first acupuncture college appeared in Sydney. In 1972, China and Australia established diplomatic relations, and TCM began to recover. In 1989, the Australian Federal Government (澳大利亚联邦政府) passed the Drug Administration Act (药品监督管理局法), which began to be implemented in February 1991. The law included Chinese herbal medicines under the management of supplementary medicines, which are equivalent to vitamins, mineral elements, and plants. As a result, Australia became the first Western nation to recognize Chinese medicine as a drug in legal practice. In August 1995, the Victorian Department of Health and Social Services (维多利亚卫生和社会服务部) began to investigate the current status of TCM in Australia and considered how to manage the industry through legislation. In August 1998, the Victorian Government announced it would be the first to legislate the management of TCM in Australia. In May 2000, the Victorian House passed the TCM Administration Law, which was the first TCM law in a Western country. Thus, TCM practitioners in Australia have the same legal protection as practitioners of Western medicine do. TCM practitioners have the title of doctor and can join the Australian medical insurance system.[2] The Australian Federal Government completed the registration of national TCM practitioners on July 1, 2012. As a result, TCM practitioners have obtained legal recognition and protection in Australia, which is the first time TCM practitioners have been officially recognized and registered in a Western nation.[4]

  The Status Quo of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners in Australia Top

According to the Australian Health Authority (澳大利亚卫生局), as of January 2016, there were 4588 registered TCM practitioners in Australia, including 178 people who were allowed to register but could not practice medicine.[5] These TCM practitioners were 35–60 years old, and most were registered acupuncturists. TCM practitioners are primarily concentrated in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland [Table 1] and [Figure 1] and [Figure 2]. Many TCM practitioners who have been practicing in Australia request the government's regulations, due to the demanding conditions for TCM registration are demanding. For example, it is necessary to provide medical insurance registration, demonstrate English proficiency, carry no criminal record, obtain continuing education credits, and perform clinical work for a registration period of 152 h or more. Moreover, the approval process is lengthy and complex. Most complaints focus on the English proficiency requirements. According to the registration standards, the International English Language Testing System test for acupuncturists and TCM practitioners has increased from six to seven points per course, making it more difficult for Chinese practitioners who are old and have moderate English-language skills to register, despite having rich clinical experience. As a result, it is often native English speakers or Chinese individuals with good English skills who are more likely to be registered. Although some individuals in the Australian Chinese Medicine Association (澳大利亚中医药协会) believe the inclusion of TCM in legislative management is a confirmation of TCM's status, the present status of TCM can be considered a double-edged sword. Thus, how the Australian government manages TCM is a decisive factor that will either limit or promote future TCM development.
Table 1: Registration status in Australian states

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Figure 1: Composition of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in Australian states

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Figure 2: Distribution of Australian traditional Chinese medicine practitioners by age

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  Status Quo of Traditional Chinese Medicine Education in Australia Top

In addition to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT皇家墨尔本理工大学), Victoria University of Technology (VUT维多利亚理工大学), University of Technology Sydney (UTS悉尼科技大学), and University of Western Sydney (UWS西悉尼大学),[6] a number of other institutions provide TCM education, such as the Sydney Institute of TCM (SITCM悉尼中医药学院) and Sydney Oriental Medical College (悉尼东方医学院), among others. In all, 14 institutions accredited by the Australian Ministry of Health (悉尼信息技术学院) provide a total of 28 professional education diplomas in TCM. In addition, many Australian universities that do not offer a TCM major are conducting TCM research, including the University of Sydney's School of Information Technology (悉尼信息技术学院), as well as its Department of Health Sciences (卫生署), which have conducted TCM-related research and postgraduate education.

TCM curricula in Australian colleges and universities are different and have yet to be unified. UWS's College of Health Sciences offers an undergraduate TCM program. In November 2014, under the guidance of President Xi and Prime Minister Abbot, UWS established a partnership with Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (北京中医药大学) to establish a TCM center integrating medical services, education, research, and cultural exchange. Moreover, the Department of TCM at RMIT has a collaborative partnership with Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine (南京中医药大学), which includes a 5-year undergraduate syllabus based on the syllabus of NJUCM and using the same textbook translated into English. In this program, 50%–65% courses are in TCM, where as 35%–40% courses are in Western medicine. The professors of TCM courses are selected by NJUCM, and students' clinical internships are completed at NJUCM. In 1994, an acupuncture school was transferred to UTS and became the Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (针灸系), which offers a 4-year bachelor's degree. The program encompasses anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, clinical skills, meridians, clinical features of the disease, and massage. UTS and the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine (广州中医药大学) became sister universities, and students can apply for internships at the latter institution during their final year.

The Australian Ministry of Health requires the completion of four educational programs[7] for TCM practitioners to register: the Australian medical environment, restricted Chinese medicine, internal medicine, and clinical practice. The accredited educational institutions include RMIT, UWS, VUT, UTS, the Endeavour College of Natural Health (奋进自然健康学院), the Southern Natural Therapy Institute (南方自然疗法学院), and the SITCM (南方自然疗法学院). Each institution undertakes different teaching tasks in accordance with the four abovementioned areas [Table 2].
Table 2: TCM practitioner education courses for registration

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  Suggestions for the International Development and Dissemination of Traditional Chinese Medicine Education Top

Accelerate transforming the theorization of traditional Chinese medicine internationalization education into practical application

In terms of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western countries, TCM examines diseases based on the ancient Chinese philosophy, emphasizes a holistic view, integrates humans and nature, and applies analogies with other methods of understanding the world; TCM is a dialectical mode of thinking. In contrast, Westerners mostly consider problems in terms of logical thinking. Therefore, Westerners often find it difficult to understand, learn, and develop an interest in basic TCM theories (e.g. yin and yang and the five elements阴阳五行). However, such theories play important roles in TCM treatment methods and techniques, such as massage and acupuncture. Therefore, in teaching TCM to non-Chinese students, basic TCM theory should be clearly demonstrated and illustrated, beyond explaining the basic concepts. The theories of yin and yang and the five elements should be combined with specific problem analyses and clinical practice to complete the transformation from theory to practice.

Improve the standardization of the English traditional Chinese medicine curriculum

Although the TCM curricula of Australian colleges and universities are complete, which is a result of the above mentioned cooperative partnerships, the teaching materials originate from different Chinese schools, such as NJUCM, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, and Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine. Thus, there is no set of unified and standardized textbooks for non-Chinese TCM programs.[8] As a result, TCM schools should establish standardized English courses for TCM in non-Chinese contexts, especially in terms of standardizing the translation of professional TCM terms (e.g. TCM, Meridian and Acupoints, and Tuina) to avoid the further spread of existing inaccuracies. The word “acupoint,” for example, has multiple translations in different teaching contexts; it means “acupressure,” “acupoint pressing,” “pointing therapy,” and “Dian xue” in Chinese Pinyin transliteration and “Dim Mak” in Cantonese transliteration. Such standardization will take time since the translation of many terms will require considerable scrutiny and discussion. Regardless, all national TCM colleges and universities should jointly pursue standardized English-language TCM courses and cooperate with foreign-language colleges. To accelerate this initiative, professors should be encouraged to teach English courses for TCM,[9] and to increase motivation, be rewarded for their service.

Enhance traditional Chinese medicine market operation and publicity, promote cooperation and co-construction with world-renowned universities, and enhance traditional Chinese medicine's professional status

Universities such as UTS and UWS have faced operational problems, including low undergraduate and graduate enrollment. Enrollment is closely related to future employment prospects and interests. Schools can adjust according to the current situation, conduct market research, change research directions, and importantly, conduct TCM-related research in cooperation with world-renowned universities. At present, Taijiquan (太极拳) and acupuncture are the most widely studied fields. Top domestic TCM researchers should be encouraged to cooperate with internationally renowned institutions or individuals to gradually improve the understanding of the scientific and practical nature of TCM worldwide. China should establish a foreign education communication institution for TCM culture, train personnel with specific clinical experience, conduct foreign TCM teaching, medical treatment, and scientific research, train high-quality and interdisciplinary TCM talent to enrich overseas teaching,[10] and send excellent domestic TCM teachers to Australia for teaching, exchange, and training.

The Chinese traditional Chinese medicine administration should establish an official partnership with the Australian Ministry of Health

It is recommended that the State Administration of Traditonal Chinese Medicine (中国中医药管理局) and Australian Ministry of Health establish a cooperative relationship. China can send high-level TCM practitioners to Australia to work in medical care and organize the training of Australian TCM practitioners. At present, most Australian TCM practitioners work individually, and there is not a formal TCM hospital.[11] China can assist the Australian Ministry of Health to establish TCM hospitals as well as hospitals that integrate TCM and Western medicine. There should also be a focus on market-oriented operations to benefit the lives of Australians and consider people's needs as a fundamental guarantee. For example, TCM hospitals that are covered by most medical insurances should be established, and these hospitals must provide relevant preferential policies in examination and treatment, and regularly hold public welfare lectures to improve the awareness of TCM among the Australian people.

The belt and road initiative should seek to expand the influence of traditional Chinese medicine culture

Australia is a commonwealth that relies heavily on the US and UK politically and militarily, while being economically dependent on China. Due to China's economic rise, President Xi has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路). In addition to economic and trade cooperation with foreign countries, cultural exchange is an important factor for China to build stable relationships with other countries. TCM is important for the spread of Chinese culture. Historically, TCM culture has been a pioneering force in China's communication with other civilizations. For example, in 219 BC, Xu Fu (徐福) traveled to Fusang (Japan日本扶桑), which resulted in TCM being brought to another civilization for the first time. Beginning in the sixth century AD, acupuncture and moxibustion began to spread abroad, first in North Korea and Japan, and then in Europe after the seventeenth century.[12] Thus, to further expand China's influence worldwide, we should focus on the role of TCM in cultural communication. The Chinese government can provide TCM and traditional culture scholarships for outstanding Australian students,[13] so that they can study in China, experience the traditional and formal TCM culture, and accumulate excellent practical experience. In turn, they will become promoters and spokespersons for future spread of TCM. TCM can also be taught in Australian primary schools, introducing the relevant herbs and their functions according to the characteristics of native plants in Australia, thus cultivating an interest in Chinese culture among the students from an early age.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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Jibiao J. Thinking of standardization construction of TCM international education. J Nanjing Univ Tradit Chin Med (Soc Sci Ed) 2015;16:269-73.  Back to cited text no. 8
Jing L. English teaching reform under the trend of internationalization of Chinese medicine education. China Sci Educ Innov Guide 2008;12:15.  Back to cited text no. 9
Miao P, Senlin Y. Research progress on international education promoting the internationalization of traditional Chinese medicine. J Chengdu Univ Tradit Chin Med (Educ Sci Ed) 2015;17:6-7.  Back to cited text no. 10
Yang Y, Wang ZX, Guo Y. Research on current situation of standardization of Chinese medicine and acupuncture in Oceania. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu 2013;33:351-6.  Back to cited text no. 11
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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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