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In Memoriam: Prof. Deng Zhongjia 1943-2022

Prof Deng Zhongjia

Prof. Deng Zhongjia, 1943-2022

It is with great sadness that I inform you of Prof. Deng Zhongjia’s passing on February 26, 2022. Prof. Deng’s prolific work and academic philosophy was perhaps the most important influence on the process of founding the College of Classical Chinese Medicine at NUNM thirty years ago.

Born into a family of professors in Shanghai, he contracted an optic nerve inflammation as a teenager and soon thereafter was declared blind. With the help of acupuncture, Chinese herbs and Qigong he was able to miraculously recover his eyesight, an event that inspired him to pursue Chinese medicine as a career. After graduating from Beijing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology in 1970, he was assigned to work in the mountainous regions of Kham in Western Sichuan at the time of the so-called Cultural Revolution when all intellectuals were sent to the countryside for manual labor or service duties. He moved to a remote hamlet near Mt. Gongga (25,000 feet) primarily populated by Tibetans, where he became the lone physician for a colony of lepers. Faced with a host of severely ill patients right after graduation, he devoted himself to the study of clinical Chinese medicine handbooks created over a span of 1,800 years. He administered herbal treatments based on his research and eventually succeeded in discharging all of his leprosy patients as cured.

Prof Deng Zhongjia

Prof. Deng exploring classical text archives with a colleague and American students, 2007

Dr. Deng used his remaining time in the solitude of the Sichuan mountains to read widely. He began with an extensive study of the Baizi quanshu (Collected Works of the 100 Masters), which contains the philosophical and cosmological framework for the synthesis of Chinese medicine knowledge in the Huangdi neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine) and other medical classics. He furthermore delved deep into a topic that was to become the second part of his life’s work and academic legacy—the complex and variegated world of Chinese herbal alchemy and prescription science. When being transferred to teach at Chengdu University of Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology in 1978, he soon distinguished himself in both fields and in turn became the Dean of the College of Foundational Studies and Chair of the Formula Studies Department. During 44 years of professorship at China’s oldest university in the field of Chinese medicine, he established leading schools of thought in these disciplines by personally mentoring a host of students who now have become renowned international teachers in their own right—including present and former NUNM professors Haosheng Zhang, Youping Qin, Heiner Fruehauf and Arnaud Versluys. He furthermore published a series of textbooks that continue to stand as authoritative sources in these branches of knowledge today.

Prof Deng Zhongjia with American students

Plaque: In memory and recognition of pioneering service and mentorship in establishing and developing the School of Classical Chinese Medicine at the National College of Natural Medicine
Dr. David Schleich, President
National College of Natural Medicine
June 25, 2007
鄧中甲 教授 協助美國國家自然療法醫科大學創建和發展經典中醫學校是功不可磨的

When I had the privilege to embark on a one-on-one course of study with Prof. Deng in 1990, a door opened for me that revealed the tremendous complexity, intellectual sophistication, and clinical potential of Chinese medicine. For two years I spent every minute he made available to me at his kitchen table absorbing the intricacies of Chinese philosophy, cosmology, and herbal studies over steaming cups of strong green tea. At a certain point he conveyed to me: “An education in Chinese medicine requires the brightest of minds. Nowadays, however, most intelligent young people tend to pursue forward-looking studies such as English, business administration, computer science, engineering or Western medicine. At the same time, our current Chinese medicine textbooks are stuck at the crude level of the Barefoot Doctor Movement of the 1960s and mirror the standardization efforts of Western medicine. Even though I am Dean of the College, I cannot influence the quality of education by requiring that our medicine is transmitted in the holistic and sophisticated way it resembled before 1949. I sincerely hope you will be able to bring what you have learned at this table to the Western world, from where we can import this more refined approach to our medicine back to China once it has flourished in a less restrained academic environment.”

NCNM Faculty

Prof. Deng with an early cohort of of faculty at National College of Natural Medicine, 2004

Prof. Deng’s mandate was one of the main factors that compelled me to establish the College of Classical Chinese Medicine at NUNM after my return to the United States in 1992. During one of his subsequent visits to Portland, Prof. Deng and I co-authored what was to become the influential article “Chinese Medicine in Crisis: Science, Politics and the Making of TCM.” This editorial detailed the historical reasons for the development of the standardized “TCM” model of education and contrasted it with a more original, holistic and multifaceted picture of the profession. It spelled out the raison d’etre for the College and became a manifesto for a more classically oriented educational philosophy in the rapidly expanding field of Chinese medicine. This publication not only prompted several Chinese medicine schools in North America to change their curricula, but stimulated debate about the future of Chinese medicine education in China itself when the translation reached mainland academic circles.

Prof. Deng will be remembered as one of the great scholar-physicians of Chinese medicine. His indefatigable research, writing and teaching activities laid the groundwork for the development of an educational movement in China that once again incorporated the highly developed intellectual roots of Chinese medicine—Asia’s grand old life science that had become reduced to a technical trade during the 20th century. His systematic approach to the Chinese materia medica, herb pairs and complex formulas, moreover, represents a major contribution to the clinical advancement of Chinese medicine. It gave rise to a clinical methodology that utilizes ancient prescriptions for the treatment of difficult and recalcitrant diseases in modern times.

Heiner Fruehauf, PhD
founding professor, college of classical chinese medicine
national university of natural medicine
portland, oregon


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