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Stroke Trek - Chapter 3

August 2000

Arrival in China

The "State of Stroke" in China

"How many stroke survivors currently live in China right now?" I asked Dr. Kong Lingzhi of the Ministry of Health. "Approximately 6 million," she responds.

"6 million?!" I say in a questioning tone of disbelief.

"Yes, 6 million."

"And how many new cases of stroke are there per year?" I asked, leaning forward in my seat.

"1.2 million."

"1.2 million!?", I say...thinking, hell, that's the population of Indianapolis, where I was born. "Yes 1.2 million," Dr. Kong responds.

"How many people die every year from strokes in China?" "800 thousand to one million." Again my response, "800 thousand to one million?!" "Yes, 800 thousand to 1 million," Dr. Kong responds.

Beijing, China

A few days before this meeting, I went to spend some time in one of Beijing's many parks. Yes, much of ancient Beijing still exists: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Gate, as well has numerous hutong districts. The four temples of interest I visited on this day, in Tiantan Park (Temple of Heaven), date back to the Ming dynasty (1366-1644) - with the 100 foot high, multilevel and elaborately decorated Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest being the central attraction. As I sat on a park bench within Tiantan Park, I glanced into the thick of the park's trees, where they seem to be lined and placed in an orderly, yet tranquil, fashion. Maybe 15 or 20 trees into this section of the park, I see an older Chinese man, slowly strolling past one tree, then another. Appearing then disappearing. And when reappearing from behind a tree during his stroll, the bottom half of a cane leads in front of him. And after his left foot has firmly planted itself, the lazy drag of his right foot follows. I sat on my bench and then could see the man turn left, strolling down another row made by these trees, and I could also see his right arm, locked at a 60 degree angle and gently bumping up against his midsection with every new step. Yes, the man had had a stroke. It was clear to me!


This man I saw in Tiantan Park was one of the 6 million "Nau zu zhong" survivors currently living in China, and, like Thailand and Myanmar, the number could even be higher. For a country with 1.2 billion people, China has a problem on its hands concerning not only stroke, but also health care in general. Dr. Kong stressed that the rapidly aging population is growing too old, too fast, for the Chinese medical establishment to keep pace. Because of the "one child" rule, that was public policy for years, families now do not only have people within the family needing attention from the disabilities of stroke, but families now lack a sufficient number of family member in regards to financial income, in order to take care of those who are stricken.

So where does that leave China's medical community? How does it manage this population, where high intakes of sodium and hypertension are the leading causes of stroke?

To Dr. Dongfeng Gu, Professor of Epidemiology at the Cardiovascular Institute, Fu Wai Hospital of the Chinese Medical Academy of Medical Sciences, "Prevention" is the only word that can describe where the country's priorities are focused. "We don't have the facilities to keep up. So, the only solution to the problem is prevention through education," he said, as I sat with him and two of his colleagues. With 1.2 million new cases of Nao zu zhong a year, 40% of those resulting in severe disability, Dr. Gu and his organization are reaching out to the local communities in an effort to spread stroke awareness. The progress is slow, which can be expected for a population of this size and a geographic area so large. But, so far, they have set up sites in 24 of the 31 provinces of China. At the same time, the World Bank has sites in eight provinces that not only educate people about strokes, but about personal health in general. Still, Dr. Gu and Dr. Kong's efforts have only been in existence for five years and only reach 5% of the Chinese population. In the meantime, China's population grows as does the number of people suffering from stroke.

What Happens When Someone has a Stroke in China


Once again, it really depends on how close this person lives to a city where medical facilities are readily accessible. But, after a meeting with Dr. Li Ying Cui of the Peking Union Hospital, I am under the impression that the Chinese population puts more of their trust in traditional Chinese medicine than in Western medicine. Western methods have proven to be extremely beneficial during the early stages after a stroke, but with thousands of years of practice and improvements, Chinese medicine has made herbal medicines and acupuncture the treatment for stabilizing the outcomes of stroke. Because there is a huge rehabilitation deficiency within the Chinese medical establishment, herbal medicines such as Dan Shen Co (a glucose), Ge Gen Su, Chuan Qiong Qin (used for micro-circulation and blood vessel expansion) and acupuncture are frequently used in the later stages of stroke treatment. And both, especially acupuncture, have resulted in numerous and consistent success stories.

Getting to Know a Chinese Stroke Survivor

I saw a number of stroke survivors in the cities of China, but it wasn't until I traveled west when I had the opportunity to meet one. And it was during this meeting when the confidence in Chinese traditional medicine became obvious. My travels in China were specifically focused on reaching the city of Kashgar, located in the western most corner of China. Along the way, I stopped in a town called Turpan. Dating back hundreds of years, Turpan was once a main stopping point along the Silk Road. Basically an oasis town, surrounded by the arid desert and mountains, Turpan is primarily an Islamic town where the majority of the citizens are Uiger, a minority group found specifically here in western China. To see most of the sights in Turpan, once must hire a taxi to get from place to place, and it was my taxi driver, Halik, who would introduce me to the Tursuh family.

Trupan Home

After driving down the dusty side streets of Trupan we arrived at their home. And immediately I saw the 48 year old Zunun Tursuh walking slowly down the street to greet us. An electrician for the government for 30 years, Zunan suffered a stroke on March 16, 1999, at the age of 47. With three children - 23, 11 and 15 years old - Zunan and his wife Raihangul have, like many, been faced with the effects of stroke.

At 2 am, Zunun woke up feeling like his right side was being sucked into the earth. Walking outside to get a breath of fresh air he thought nothing of what was happening. But, after this had happened three times, he realized that something was seriously wrong. After spending 24 days in the Urumqi hospital and 25 days in the Turpan hospital, Zunan walked out with his right side affected by the stroke, and it was then that he started to undergo acupuncture. Originally, Zunun's right hand and arm were completely frozen, but after 40 days of acupuncture, his arm, for the most part, hangs parallel to the rest of his body, making his confidence stronger. He is an extremely strong man, in both heart and mind and believes that, regardless of the limitations he has, he is not a disabled person. Yes, he can't do things that he used to be able to do, but say the word "disabled" around him and you can see that his view is completely different.

He says that acupuncture and herbal medicines like Beyoung Yak Marrow Bone Tonifying Powder, Plasmin and Tong Xin Lou have made a huge difference in his mobility and his energy since the stroke - and his wife confirms his dedication to taking them religiously.

Concluding this part of my trip. I asked Zunan if he knew of any other stroke survivors and immediately his arms started pointed in different directions. His neighbor over there, a guy two blocks away, a man in another neighborhood adjacent to his, and a man down the street who, after his stroke couldn't move his left side at all, but after acupuncture, is now driving a taxi.

Stroke survivors are everywhere, even in the far reaches of Western China.

Now off to my next destination.

©Greg Constantine, available at with the author's permission. For inquiries or reprint permission, contact

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