On Thursday, April 3rd, between eight and fifteen more Tibetan monks and lay people were shot and killed by Chinese para-military police forces in Sichuan Province. They were marching on a police station where two monks were being held for possessing pictures of the Dalai Lama, a crime in China.

The incident began when monks at a monastery in the town of Donggu, refused to allow a military force of over a thousand troops into their monastery. The troops forced their way in, ransacked the place, and found the pictures. They arrested two monks. All 370 monks from the monastery, joined by some 400 or so others, marched to demand the monks’ release. Once again, the Chinese police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing several and wounding many.

China acts surprised and outraged that the Olympic Torch relay has been disrupted by demonstrations in Greece, London, Paris, and San Francisco. Anyone who is paying attention to what China is doing should not be surprised by the anger and determination of the protestors. Outside China, the Communist Party can’t control public opinion. For this, they are looking to hire a public relations firm.

Despite all the international frenzy over China, Tibet, and the Olympic Torch protests, life here in Chengdu, Sichuan, goes on as normal. Simply walking around the streets here, one wouldn’t even know that China was in the middle of an international firestorm.

For me, normal life has included a renewed study of Chinese medicine and martial arts. Last week I started interning in the teaching hospital associated with Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I spent the week in the oncology ward, working with cancer patients. I also began training in a martial art called Xing Yi Quan at a Taoist Temple. Doing these kinds of things are the reason I came to China.

I ride my bike along the river, which runs through the center of Chengdu, to the hospital, a trip which, depending on traffic, takes about forty minutes. Before eight in the morning is rush hour, when one has to compete with scooters, electric bikes, other bicyclists, cars and buses. Two-wheeled vehicles have their own lane. These bike lanes are protected from internal combustion vehicles by concrete medians filled with bushes and trees or bright blue metal gates. In the mornings the bike lanes move faster than the cars, which suffer from roads not designed for the number of vehicles now appearing on China’s streets.

At the hospital I’m paired up with a couple of friends and a very good translator. We spend every morning with a doctor, either seeing patients who come in for herbal formulas, or doing rounds in the in-patient ward. Those coming in to see the doctor in most cases recently had surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy and are seeking herbs to aid in their recovery. The doctor prescribes herbs to help with the side effects of Western therapies and to treat the root causes of individuals’ problems.

For example, we saw a 66 year old women who was recovering from cancer of the bile duct. She had an operation one year ago, and had parts of her bile duct and stomach removed. Previously she had had three gallstone operations. She now suffers from stomach ache, distension after meals and heart burn.

After asking her a number of questions, taking her pulse and looking at her tongue, the doctor determined she was suffering from Liver Heat Attacking the Stomach, a TCM diagnosis. The lack of a coat on her tongue indicates she has Stomach Yin deficiency, caused by Heat. She was given a formula to deal with the excessive stomach acid by generating stomach mucous to protect the stomach and to ameliorate the acid regurgitation, which in TCM parlance are signs of Heat. Included in the formula where herbs to nurture her stomach Yin. Hopefully by resolving the Stomach Heat, one can help avoid another appearance of cancer which may result from the chronic irritation she is experiencing.

Another day we visited three in-patients, all getting a combination of chemo and herbal formulas. Most of these patients were pretty far along in the development of cancer, and the intention of the doctor is to lessen the pain and increase both the quality and the duration of their lives. I’ll be spending every morning at the hospital, except Thursdays, when I teach, and plan to move around to various departments and see as much as I can over the next month or so.

Ten minutes away from Chengdu University is the Qing Yang Taoist Temple, one of my favorite places in Chengdu. There I’m doing Xing Yi Quan, or Mind Intent Boxing. It’s what’s referred to as an “internal” martial art, which means that one of its primary objectives is the cultivation of internal power, or Qi. It is a sister art of Tai Ji Quan. I’m getting private lessons with a man who has been practicing this form for over 25 years. I go there with a friend, Zhang Hui, who acts as translator and thus gets free lessons out of the deal. That, plus I help him with his English.

In Xing Yi there are five “fists,” or punch/block combinations, associated with the Five Elements (Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire). Over the next two months my instructor plans to teach me all five, and a “linking form” which includes them all.

Being in the hospital and doing martial arts reminds me of the positive side of China, the ancient culture that paid attention to the body and mind and cultivated techniques and practices aimed at improving both. Doing these things reminds me that the people of China are not the government, a distinction people from other countries are kind enough to grant Americans.

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