A licensing exam requiring doctors of traditional Uyghur medicine to answer questions in Chinese is threatening the future of the indigenous medical practice, according to doctors from the ethnic minority group in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
Uyghur masters of traditional medicine in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs chafe under policies eroding their language and culture amid an influx of Han Chinese, have passed on knowledge of the practice using their native language for centuries.
But in order to receive a license allowing them to open their own practices as fully qualified doctors, Uyghur traditional medicine doctors must pass an exam that contains questions given only in Chinese, barring those who speak only their native language from attaining the top-level qualification.
Abdumijit Abliz, a doctor from Hotan, told RFA’s Uyghur Service he and seven others took the exam on Sept. 15 to apply for the full doctor’s licenses, but all of them failed because they could not answer the section in Chinese.
“We did not go to Chinese school,” he said after taking the exam, which is administered in Hotan by the Chinese and Traditional Medicine Management Office of Xinjiang’s Department of Health.
“We learned traditional Uyghur medicine from our fathers, who learned the profession from their fathers or other masters in the Uyghur language, and the profession was developed in the Uyghur language,” he said.
“With that as the case, how in the world we are supposed to take the exam in Chinese?”
Barred from carrying on the tradition
The eight had passed the lower-level assistant doctor exam, which contains no questions in Chinese, with high marks in 2006, he said.
But without passing the test for the full doctor level-qualification, doctors cannot open their own clinics and are limited to working as assistant doctors in other hospitals for lower salaries.
More importantly, without clinics they cannot train the next generation of doctors, threatening the future of the tradition, Abdumijit Abliz said.
"We cannot pass on our knowledge to the next generation because we can’t train students without a professional doctor’s license since we are not allowed to open clinics with an assistant doctor’s license,” he said.
“If things continue like this, Uyghur medicine will disappear.”
The eight doctors have taken their complaint about the questions to the Chinese and Traditional Medicine Management Office in Urumqi, saying they should not be required to know Chinese to be considered fully qualified, Abdumijit Abliz said.
An official at the office contacted by RFA said their complaint about the Chinese-language section of the test since was the first since the questions were introduced by the national Ministry of Health in 2000.
The section, which counts for 120 out of 600 points on the exam, contains questions related to diagnosis, contagious disease, and the law, and are selected “directly” by the Ministry of Health, said the official, who refused to give his full name.
“Until now nobody complained about the 120-point section,” he said.
“Even though Uyghur traditional medicine doctors do not understand the questions in Chinese, they just guess and some of them get lucky enough to pass the exam because it’s multiple-choice.”
Any changes to the section, which is standard across tests given for licenses in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine, would depend on a decision by the Ministry of Health, he said.
“We have to ask the ministry about how to deal with language problems in that section, but we do not know what they would say.”
Abdumijit Abliz said that the eight doctors had asked test administrators to have the controversial section translated into Uyghur but authorities had refused, so they left their answers to those questions blank.
“This is a profession that has been carrying on only in Uyghur and was developed in Uyghur, and its fate is deeply intertwined with the Uyghur language,” he said.
Reported by Rukiye Turdush for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.