Book review: Through the Great Wall by Dr Ralf Robert Rompard
Dr Rosemary Alexander reviews this account of learning acupuncture in 1970s China
I was very interested to read this book as I also studied acupuncture in Shanghai, although it was ten years later than Dr Rompard. In 1978 Dr Rompard was already practising acupuncture in Germany and had learnt some Mandarin before he went. He went on a course in China for four months with a group of doctors from other countries including France, Holland and Africa, only a few years after the cultural revolution had ended.
The first half of the book looks fairly kindly on the Chinese and their teaching apart from the constant petty rules and he showed how Mao Tse Tung was revered but the ‘Gang of Four’ is reviled at every opportunity. ’Five Element Theory’ was banned at this time, although it seemed to reappear by the time I visited a few years later.
As the doctors were invited by the Chinese government, their accommodation was basic and noisy and they were not allowed to ask awkward questions. Their sojourns at the ‘Seaman`s Club’ and attempts to chat up women were prioritised.
No mention was made of the ‘sea of grey’ of Mao suits and frightened people which I encountered and the attempts to get dollars on the black market.
My group was organised by a Hong Kong surgeon so we had better accommodation and teaching I suspect, as we paid. Towards the end of the book I could see that the doctor was very fed up with the stubbornness of the staff and constant supervision that they had to endure, even their rooms appeared to be bugged.
This book would be of interest to acupuncturists, as the treatment of patients is detailed, as well as doctors interested in China and how a Communist state treats its people. At the turn of the century China was a thriving modern country under Empress Cixi and this book highlights the deterioration and the worst features of communist rule.
Dr Rosemary Alexander is a GP and part time hospital doctor in North London