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Doctor with royal credentials

By Wang Chao and Andrew Moody | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2014-03-14 13:42

 Doctor with royal credentials

Jiang Yongsheng gives a patient acupuncture treatment. He says that Chinese medicine needs localization and works differently for different races. Wang Chao / China Daily

A Chinese acupuncturist basks in the shadows of Norman Bethune

He could well have a calling card embossed with the words "By appointment to", for in Mozambique when the high and mighty want acupuncture, the man they go to is Jiang Yongsheng.

In fact Jiang has treated so many of the country's top people, including presidents and ministers, that he is often called the "royal doctor".

Around Maputo they tell the story of a government minister who was carried on a stretcher into Jiang's house and who walked out two hours later with the help of nothing more than a cane.

Among the 15 standing committee members of the Mozambique political bureau, 13 are said to have received treatment from him.

All this helps explain why Jiang, 71, has been allocated a big house with a beautiful garden in the area where ministers live.

Outside the white fence of his front garden, blossoming jasmines give off a feint, elegant fragrance. Jiang's wife constantly picks flowers and strings them together to make necklaces, regalia that will later be hung around the necks of visitors to add to the ambience of calmness and well-being.

If there is any exaggeration in the tales of the great Jiang, he is not admitting it. In fact he proudly embraces them and is the first to tell you that as an acupuncturist there is none better.

That confidence has no doubt been nurtured by treating more than 200,000 people in Mozambique over 13 years.

Like many Chinese doctors in the country, Jiang came here in 1991 with a medical team from Luzhou, Sichuan province, where he was the director of a traditional Chinese medicine hospital. Before he arrived, Sichuan had been sending medical teams as humanitarian aid to Mozambique for 16 years, from when the country gained its independence from Portugal.

Jiang arrived a year before the country's 15-year civil war ended in 1992, and over almost a quarter of a century he has seen many people come and go. But Jiang put down roots as deep as those of the lush flame tree that graces his front yard.

Over those years, many other acupuncturists have joined him in Mozambique, coming from Cuba, Russia, and Portugal, but they practiced a non-Chinese style of acupuncture.

When the first Chinese medical team arrived with a couple of acupuncturists in the 1980s, people were still suspicious about the ancient Chinese practice, he says.

"Not until 1991 did it suddenly become popular in Maputo, thanks partly to our doctors.

"In one case a farmer who could not walk was carried into the clinic, essentially feeling that he had nothing to lose, and after two weeks of treatment he managed to walk out, even if his steps were halting."

News of the wise Chinese man who could perform medical wonders quickly spread, and patients flooded into the small clinic, some from out of town.

Jiang says he has kept records that show that from 1991 to 1993 he treated 52 cases of people who could not walk, and 20 were able to discard their walking stick after treatment.

Christos Perdikoulis, a man of Greek descent who lives in Maputo, says Jiang is "as good as God". Perdikoulis runs a car repair shop and much of his time is spent under chassis, work that causes neck pain, he says.

"I got to know Jiang through repairing his car, and was lucky enough to get treatment in his home," Perdikoulis says.

His teenage son is now learning Chinese, he says, and he would like him to go on to learn traditional Chinese medicine.

While Jiang has grown to have a sense of tremendous achievement in Mozambique, things have not always been so good. In the last year of the civil war, he says, he often heard gunshots outside his house. Several times gangs stormed in and ransacked everything, including his beloved medical books. On at least one occasion this happened as he hid in the house.

Jiang says that within three years of his arrival he had become so well known that he was chosen as the personal physician of the then president, Joaquim Chissano, and frequently flew with him in the presidential jet. Chissano called him "my family's best Chinese friend", and invited him to go fishing with him on weekends and during holidays, Jiang says. Through him the president learned some rudimentary Chinese.

Jiang would later also treat the current president, Armando Guebuza.

These days at his clinic Jiang receives patients by appointment only, with a limit of between 10 and 15, and he only treats close friends at home.

"As with everything, Chinese medicine also needs localization," Jiang says, adding that for different races, techniques vary. "For white people like Portuguese, the skin tissue is looser and it is hard to nail the acupoint easily and the effect is minor; but with Africans the skin is more elastic and you can see reactions. That's why acupuncture is more effective on Africans."

When friends visit, which seems to be every day, Jiang likes taking pictures and his wife complains he has bought at least 10 cameras with similar configurations. As they all enjoy themselves, Jiang the acupuncturist becomes Jiang the photographer, circling the room snapping shots.

Pictures of treasured moments hang on the walls of his house, including shots of him with government ministers and group photos of him attending award ceremonies.

Jiang obviously enjoys the limelight his work has brought him, but whether it all makes sense financially is another question.

One of his friends tried to persuade him to leave, saying it was too hard to make money in Africa, he says.

"You could earn more washing dishes in a restaurant in the US than you can doing what you are doing here," he quotes his friend as saying.

However, he has stayed, because he enjoys being needed, he says.

"Since the country gained independence, China has invested billions in many areas through aid projects such as government buildings, railways and roads. But this medical team is the one that really directly helps the Mozambique people."

Although Jiang says he is not in practice for the money, he seems to live comfortably. When he moved to the current house, almost all the furniture was donated by people he had cured, he says, including tables, vases and cabinets.

In some Chinese media, Jiang is often referred to as the "Chinese Norman Bethune in Mozambique", something, perhaps unsurprisingly, he likes. Bethune was a Canadian who went to China in the 1930s as a battlefield surgeon to help Chinese armies fight in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression.

Apart from photography, one of Jiang's other hobbies is watching Chinese soap operas on CCTV 4, the free Chinese satellite channel broadcast in Chinese, and his favorite is those with doctor themes. Just a couple of years ago the family's TV set was a small one, "but now I also have a 32-inch TV to watch soap operas, so I have nothing to complain about", he says.

Approaching retirement, Jiang is lobbying the Mozambican and Chinese governments to open an acupuncture institute in Maputo. "We already have a Confucius school here, and we need to spread Chinese culture other than the language, such as Chinese medicine."

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