Ancient medicine or political project?

February 21, 2019 | Health

I started thinking about research when I was walking down the hallway in the Robbins one day and I saw a booth giving out information about research grants. I picked up a pamphlet and sent an email to my professor, Darren Tellier, asking if he wanted to do a research project with me. When we met, I asked him if he recognized any gaps in our acupuncture literature that needed investigation. He brought up Traditional Chinese Medicine, also known as TCM.

In recent decades, the practices of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been rapidly growing in Canada and they have become professionalized under a banner called “Traditional Chinese Medicine.” I set out to learn about TCM and where it came from. It might seem simple enough, but there are actually some discrepancies in the definition.

If you look at public information, particularly Canadian sources like the government, acupuncture regulatory bodies or professional associations, TCM is used as a catch-all term that represents the medical theories and practices developed over thousands of years in China. But historians, anthropologists and sinologists who study the historical precedents of TCM have found that “Traditional Chinese Medicine” was actually a political project developed in China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1950s and ’60s. And so we have a large majority who think TCM is a 2,500-year-old ancient medicine and a handful of scholars suggesting that it’s only six decades old.

Because of this enormous gap in how it’s perceived, I decided to investigate the history of TCM and its implications for the education, practice and regulation of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in Canada today.

In Canada, there are very few universities or even professors researching acupuncture or Chinese medicine, and Darren told me that I’m the first student in the 20-year history of our program to pursue an undergraduate research grant. Our three-year diploma program is a professional training program, and it’s a very condensed three years. Many of my classmates also have jobs or children to look after, and they don’t have the time to take on research. But I’ve always been really interested, so when I saw the opportunity come up, I decided to go for it.

— Brenda, 3rd year Acupuncture student

Brenda received a USRI grant for her research on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and will present her findings at Student Research Day on April 23.

If you would like to share your research, creative work or scholarly activity, visit for how to apply. Deadline is March 8.




WANTED: This sticker

New this year, faculty members can access a digital or hardcopy version of this sticker. If they think your work should be shared at Student Research Day, you may just find one beside your mark. Even if you don’t, you should still consider applying.

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