Ma Fan, president of Shaoyang International Institute of TCM, has devoted herself to the promotion of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and the cultivation of European TCM practitioners, since she moved to France in 1992. For the past several decades, she has conducted lectures on TCM and Chinese culture in European countries.
Ma was born in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, in southwest China's Sichuan Province, in 1964. Her grandfather and her parents were teachers.
Ma obtained a bachelor's degree from Luzhou Medical College, in Luzhou, a city in Sichuan, and a master's degree from Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan.
While she lived in Chengdu, Ma often took her foreign classmates around the city to buy what they needed, and to practice qigong (a Chinese breathing exercise) and traditional Chinese martial arts, such as tai chi. While she was a student at Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ma met and fell in love with a young French student, who would eventually become her husband.
After she graduated, Ma gave up an employment opportunity in Chengdu, to follow her love to Montpellier, a tourist destination in southern France. In the early days after she arrived in Montpellier, Ma encountered challenges and setbacks, brought by linguistic barriers and the failure to earn a living through her TCM expertise.
With her husband's support, Ma tried her best to improve her French, and she kept sending out her resume in the hope of finding a job related to TCM. At that time, TCM was not widely known, or promoted, in France. Most French people knew nothing about TCM.
Several months later, Ma received an offer from a TCM school in northern France. She accepted the offer, even though she would only have two students and she would not be paid a salary.
The hard-earned job enabled Ma to improve her French, grasp a systematic understanding of the development of TCM in France, and regain her self-confidence.
Gradually, Ma developed a clear plan for her TCM career in France, which she began by opening her own TCM clinic. Initially, Ma set up a simple ward, with a bed made and assembled by her husband, because she did not have the money to rent a house. Although the French had a strong curiosity about TCM, they still maintained a wait-and-see attitude toward Ma's clinic.
Her first French patient was a truck driver who was plagued by low-back pain. Traditional Chinese acupuncture produced miraculous effects. To express his gratitude, the man sent Ma a new massage bed, and he helped her promote the clinic.
Since then, Ma and her clinic have grown in popularity. Ma has often travelled across France, and to other European countries, to provide free TCM lectures, to promote TCM culture in Europe.
Ma eventually decided to establish a TCM school, because she found it difficult to systematically impart TCM knowledge to local people through lectures, which only lasted two or three hours per lecture.
Establishing an Institute
In 1995, two Swiss girls visited Ma's clinic, and they said they wanted to learn TCM. While studying at the clinic, they advised Ma to open a TCM training school in Switzerland. Their suggestion coincided with Ma's idea of opening a school.
With the support of a Swiss friend, Ma received the administrative approvals for the school, in Lausanne. However, recruiting students to a school that did not have a reputation turned out to be a headache.
In the beginning, the school had only five students, all of whom were recommended by Ma's previous students. Ma could not earn enough to make ends meet for the school. Nevertheless, Ma persisted in pursuing her dream.
Surprisingly, her school caught the attention of local mainstream media. In 1997, a Swiss newspaper published an extensive report on Ma's TCM training school, which resulted in many people applying for admission.
The success of the school bolstered Ma's morale, and encouraged her to open Shaoyang International Institute of TCM, in Lyon, in 1998. Since then, Ma has shuttled between France and Switzerland to manage her career.
During past decades, thousands of Europeans have followed Ma, to learn about TCM. "Most of them are French. Some study TCM out of interest, some out of professional needs, but they all have one thing in common — loving TCM, and full of curiosity about Chinese culture," Ma says.
Some of Ma's students have visited China to deepen their TCM studies. Some have also established their own clinics and/or schools, becoming the backbones of TCM's development in France.
Shaoyang International Institute of TCM has become a significant platform in the development of TCM in Europe, and in the promotion of cultural and people-to-people exchanges between China and France.
In 2004, Ma was elected president of the French Federation of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in recognition of her tremendous contributions to the TCM development in France and other European countries.
Ma received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and the French Palm Chivalric Medal of Education, two State-level, French honors, in 2008 and 2009, respectively, for her contributions to the cultural and education development in France.
Seeking Common Development
It is with a great sense of pride — and honor — that Ma reflects on the number of Europeans who are eager to learn about TCM and Chinese culture. She says she was lucky to have studied TCM.
In addition to managing her school, Ma has participated in various activities involving overseas Chinese in Lyon.
While she was president of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, in Lyon, she worked closely with the local government to organize Spring Festival galas and sports meetings for the Chinese residents, to showcase to the community the positive images of Chinese people.
Ma has also paid close attention to the development of Liangshan, and she has supported various public-welfare undertakings in her hometown.
In 2022, Ma returned to China and visited her hometown in Liangshan. She was deeply impressed by the great changes in her hometown. She hopes she can serve as a bond to connect Liangshan enterprises with their overseas counterparts in carrying out exchanges and cooperation and achieving common development.
As president of European Alumni Association of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ma vows to unite alumni to continuously expand the influence of TCM in Europe.
"It is TCM that has made my life different, allowing me to walk out of my hometown and into a wider world. I will remain committed to promoting greater understanding of TCM culture in Europe, and to boosting cultural exchanges between China and France through development of TCM," Ma concludes.
Photos from Interviewee
(Women of China English Monthly January 2024 issue)
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