Photographer Peikwen Cheng offers us a glimpse into a dream world of creativity and imagination-defying art creations. The subject of his unearthly black and white photographs is Burning Man. The week long festival held in the hostile Nevada dessert is a celebration of creativity and radical self-expression. Burning Man welcomes all, but documentation of the event is closely guarded—Peikwen Cheng is one of the few Burning Man Creatives with permission to take photographs.
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All rights reserved. For more detail on these diverse ingredients in traditional Chinese apothecaries go here. The organ is alive almost eight hours after I watched Paul Iaizzo remove it from a sedated pig in a basement lab, connect it to tubes simulating arteries and veins, and spark it back into rhythm with an electric jolt, as a paramedic would shock a human heart back to life. More than grotesque, I find it hypnotic and beautiful. A pig heart at the University of Minnesota continues to beat hours after being infused with a synthetic version of bear-bile acid.
For over a millennium, Chinese healers have prescribed bear bile for epilepsy, heart pain, and other ills. Bear bile can benefit the human body. A robust market for bear bile still exists. In Asia bears are farmed for their bile, kept alive in small cages, with catheters inserted to drain their fluids. Animal welfare groups decry the practice, which is inarguably inhumane. Few subjects ignite more heated debate in health circles than traditional Chinese medicine.
Cultures from the Arctic to the Amazon and Siberia to the South Pacific have developed their own medicine chests of traditional cures. But China, with one of the oldest continuous accumulations of documented medical observations, offers the biggest trove for scientists to sift through. The Chinese record dates back to the third century B.
For more than 2, years, generations of scholars added to and refined the knowledge. The result is a canon of literature dealing with every sort of health problem, including the common cold, venereal disease, paralysis, and epilepsy. This knowledge is contained in books and manuscripts bearing such enigmatic titles as The Pulse Classic third century , Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold seventh century , and Essential Secrets From Outside the Metropolis eighth century.
Traditional medicine remained the primary form of health care in China until the early 20th century, when the last Qing emperor was overthrown by Sun Yat-sen, a Western-trained doctor who promoted science-based medicine. Today Chinese physicians are trained and licensed according to state-of-the-art medical practices. Yet traditional medicine remains a vibrant part of the state health care system.
Most Chinese hospitals have a ward devoted to ancient cures. He has called the 21st century a new golden age for traditional medicine. From a research perspective, it very well may be a golden age. But the practice of melding the modern with the traditional is also spreading among health care consumers. The internet has fostered the growth in herbal remedies, which are often cheaper than doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals.
A patient can read about a traditional remedy online, order the herbs on Amazon, and watch YouTube videos on how to prepare them at home. The result is a growing alternative health sector, which in saw U. Others rail against its use of animal parts and warn against the potential dangers of its herbal formulas. According to ancient Chinese formulas, rhino horn can be used to treat fever and headaches. In Vietnam I found patients using it to treat hangovers and the side effects of chemotherapy.
Multiple scientific studies have determined that rhino horn, which is made of keratin the same substance as human fingernails , induces little to no discernible pharmacological effects when ingested. But some patients using rhino horn may find relief because of the placebo effect. Rhino horn sales in Asia are a primary factor pushing rhino populations toward extinction. In addition to bears, many other animals—including several threatened species such as tigers, leopards, and elephants—are poached in the wild or farmed for their parts.
But modern medicine has its own controversial practices. The effectiveness of many popular antidepressant drugs remains hotly debated, with some studies showing they are barely more effective than placebos. Yet these drugs are extensively marketed and widely prescribed by physicians, generating billions of dollars in revenue. When considered alongside other notable examples—the overprescription of opioids, doctor-endorsed fad diets, and questionable surgeries—Western indignation over traditional Chinese medicine can seem more hypocritical than Hippocratic.
This is where snake oil might offer some illumination. Long synonymous with swindling, snake oil actually refers to a traditional Chinese ointment derived from the fat of the Erabu sea snake. Historians believe that such ointments were introduced to the U. The substance acquired its shady reputation when American hucksters began selling mineral oil as Chinese snake oil. The falconers, and the hawks they captured and trained, are contracted by the farmer to patrol his fields as the fruit ripens from August to October.
Studies have shown that fat in the Erabu sea snake, an ingredient in some traditional Chinese remedies, contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. Omega-3s are known to reduce inflammation and harmful cholesterol, improve cognition, and help alleviate depression. They are now used in several skin care products. In the s Japanese scientists fed Erabu fat to mice and observed that their ability to swim and to learn their way around mazes improved.
Greek physician, considered the father of Western medicine, prescribed an extract of willow bark for fevers. Aspirin is hardly the only case of a modern drug hiding among traditional treatments. In , the year Cheng finished his Ph. A shop at a market in Guangzhou, China, specializes in deer parts—including antlers, penises, and tendons—used in traditional formulas.
One obstacle to acceptance of Chinese medicine in the West is the controversial use of animal parts. During the Vietnam War, Tu had been tapped to work on a secret military project to help the Vietcong combat malaria. The disease accounted for roughly half their casualties. Western health researchers were also trying to solve this problem, screening more than , compounds. But Tu wondered if an answer might lie in classical Chinese medical texts. She tested several plants related to fever and found a remedy based on a yellow-flowering herb called wormwood Artemisia annua.
The drug derived from her research, called artemisinin, has been credited with saving millions of lives and earned her the Nobel Prize for medicine. My nose is freaking out as I follow Cheng on a tour of his labyrinthine lab at Yale, where his team is analyzing the characteristics of a variety of herbs to investigate their medicinal value. The back of my throat tingles.
I think I might sneeze. On his desk, Cheng has a bobblehead doll in his likeness. A gift from the staff, it depicts him in a suit rather than the slightly baggy sweaters he generally favors, but it captures his thoughtful demeanor, receding hair, and large earlobes, which according to Chinese tradition signify longevity. On first impression Cheng may seem like a stereotypical advocate for traditional Chinese medicine. Herbal prescriptions, many dating back millennia, are a big part of traditional Chinese medicine.
The recipe for mixing Yinqiao, a herb treatment for the common cold, is shown here. One belief is that the body consists of opposite but complementary qualities, or yin and yang, that maintain its healthy balance. Treatments following the four properties and five flavors are thought to promote balance. Herbs are labeled hot or cold for their ability to treat ailments considered related to either cold yin or heat yang.
Different flavors are believed to have specific healing properties and the ability to target specific body areas and organs. National Center. Each patient is unique: People suffering from the same symptoms may receive significantly different prescriptions. Depending on the prescription, an herb may be processed in various ways to extract its healing properties in their proper potency. The Paozhi processing stage distills herbs to their essence by crushing, roasting, burning, or frying to eliminate impurities.
The grinder is sometimes used on soft herbs, like mint, the mortar and pestle on hard ones. The herbs are steadily boiled, often for hours, causing a chemical change believed to blend their healing properties. The medicine is consumed in a broth or tea of reed roots or applied as a patch at acupuncture points. Generic remedies can be sold as pills or in packets, but some say teas from raw herbs are more effective. Cheng has focused his research solidly in the realm of science, developing antiviral drugs for chronic diseases, such as hepatitis B.
But he has also wondered whether there were other cures, based on herbs like wormwood, awaiting rediscovery. He opens a jar and hands me a pinch of a powder—a mixture of four herbs he calls PHY During the s Cheng noted that many cancer patients stopped chemotherapy because of its side effects, including diarrhea and severe nausea. Patients who completed the full course of chemotherapy tended to live the longest, so curbing the side effects, Cheng reasoned, could increase life expectancy.
He also knew that Chinese medicine had many herbal treatments for diarrhea and nausea. Over the past 20 years, they have proceeded from tests on mice to patients undergoing cancer treatment, overseen by the National Cancer Institute. As Cheng had hoped, almost all the patients who took the herbal formula experienced relief from nausea and other gastrointestinal distress, but something else happened: After analyzing tumors in mice that were given the formula, Peikwen says, researchers noticed a significant increase in tumor-eating macrophages—white blood cells that gobble up cancer cells.
The way the herbs interact appears to be the key. To date PHY has been used in eight human trials alongside different chemotherapy drugs and radiation to treat colorectal, liver, and pancreatic cancers, Peikwen tells the audience. Peikwen and I hurtle into the heart of China on a modern bullet train. Meanwhile, ancient China flashes by, an endless patchwork of farms under a gray winter sky.
I can say this part of China looks like a version of Kansas—tabletop flat with neatly furrowed fields as far as I can see. But among the wheat, rice, and rapeseed are plots of herbs tended by thousands of farmers. As the global appetite for herbal remedies has grown, Chinese farmers have devoted increasing amounts of acreage to hundreds of medicinal plant species. Apothecaries at Chengdu Tongrentang traditional pharmacy fill herbal prescriptions, dividing the mixtures into single doses that are folded into paper envelopes.
At home, patients will brew them into a tea to drink. Producing medicine-grade herbs is extraordinarily difficult. Or ask a coffee grower:
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All rights reserved. For more detail on these diverse ingredients in traditional Chinese apothecaries go here. The organ is alive almost eight hours after I watched Paul Iaizzo remove it from a sedated pig in a basement lab, connect it to tubes simulating arteries and veins, and spark it back into rhythm with an electric jolt, as a paramedic would shock a human heart back to life. More than grotesque, I find it hypnotic and beautiful.
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Since the s, China has witnessed great changes to its landscape during the rapid process of urbanization and modernization. Photographers from different generations have recorded these changes from their unique perspectives. For the ongoing group exhibition Landscapes , French curator Claire Crozel of Magda Danysz Gallery selected works from five leading figures of contemporary Chinese photography: Through their real or dreamed landscapes, represented in the most objective or the most absurd way, these photographers represent the vibrancy of China's photographic scene from the s to today," Crozel told the Global Times. Artworks on show at the exhibition Photos: Courtesy of Magda Danysz Gallery.
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