English Version
Chinese Version
 Letter from the Editor
 Cover Feature
 Art Scene
 Book Review
 Film Review
 Fast Facts
 In Short
 About Us
 Contact Us
International: $135 per year
U.S. only: $99 per year

I Will Turn You Into A Warrior
by Julia Yu
Have you heard of the Oakland Raiders?” Dr. Wang asks me. “Of course!” I reply, barely restraining myself from blurting out that I have idolized the team since childhood. “I treated Jerry Rice and Tim Brown today.”

I find these to be encouraging words coming from the doctor about to work on me for the very first time. We continue to chat, and it turns out that someone from the team had heard that there was a doctor practicing a unique school of Tibetan traditional medicine living in the Bay Area. They invited Dr. Wang to their training camp, and they liked what they saw.

He was offered a full-time position with the team. To their great surprise, he turned them down. “I have everything I need right here,” he says in his subdued, soothing voice. “My wife (a Swedish doctor) and sons (ages 4 and 1). My patients (he is booked solid through the end of the year, mostly with regularly returning clients). Why would I go running around looking for more work?”

This refreshing humility and freedom from overweening ambition belies 38-year-old Dr. Wang Hong’s very diverse background. But perhaps it is understandable, considering the place where his early education took place.

Born in a dirt-poor rural village in Yunnan Province on China’s far western border with Tibet and the Golden Triangle in Burma, Dr. Wang was educated in a Tibetan monastery.

“The monks were very strict, but I am thankful for the discipline they instilled,” Dr. Wang says with solemn gravity.

He spent more than ten hours each day studying classical Chinese literature and philosophy, traditional medicine (Tibetan and Chinese), and of course martial arts.

“Our most basic lesson was practicing stillness. The monks had us meditate, standing absolutely still, for hours at a time,” Wang recounts with a reflective smile. “Then they would test each student by putting a feather in front of his mouth and poking his guts. If the feather moved it meant that the student had not achieved complete tranquility and breath control.

“There is a Chinese saying,” Wang tells me, “One must be absolutely still before one can move like a wheel.”

The Wheel Turns toward Tragedy
Upon graduation from the monastery school, Wang tested well enough to be accepted into the first class of students to attend university since the end of Chairman Mao’s 1966-76 Cultural Revolution (a decade in which all of China’s schools were closed). He rode a train for the first time in his life, and after three days and nights riding on a hard wooden bench (the cheapest tickets available) he arrived in the capital Beijing and matriculated at the prestigious University of International Business and Economics.

Wang majored in philosophy, a subject in which he so excelled that he was asked to instruct graduate students. (He himself was still an undergraduate.) But his sense of stillness was disturbed, for as the far-reaching reforms of the 1980s progressed and the Cultural Revolution became a receding memory political ferment grew in China’s capital.

“I forgot the lesson of non-permanence which the monks taught me, and got carried away with politics,” Wang says this with a wistful smile that clearly conceals pain.
He was one of the student leaders of his university during the spring 1989 Tiananmen protests. Wang was in the Square when the Chinese military opened fire on unarmed protesters, and rolled their tanks through the streets of Beijing and into Tiananmen. That night Wang held several of his classmates in his arms as they bled to death from gunshot wounds.

“It was then that all the lessons of the monks came flooding back to me, and I knew that I had to change my life’s course and recover my ‘stillness,’” Wang says with quiet conviction.

Walk 10,000 Miles, Read 10,000 Books
The next stage of his youth found Wang leading the time-honored existence of an itinerant monk. The traditional routine pursued by mendicants seeking wisdom is to heed the ancient aphorism: “Walk 10,000 miles, read 10,000 books.” Wang accorded with this maxim, walking and hitchhiking to all of China’s sacred mountains, living off the land, and accepting food in exchange for treating ill patients and giving martial arts lessons.

“I traveled to every province in China, as well as to Mongolia and India,” Wang says quietly, not elaborating on how he managed to cross international borders. However, the detail in which he speaks left little doubt as to the veracity of his tales.
“Witnessing the massacre in Tiananmen Square was a wakeup call for me. While in university, I had grandiose visions of becoming a famous professor or a doctor ministering to powerful politicians, attaining material possessions and worldly attachments.

“But after watching all those idealistic young students killed before my eyes, I was shocked back to the lessons the monks had taught me about this life being illusion, that one must live simply and practice charity and compassion, and that living among and ministering to simple people is the path to enlightenment.”

Journey to the West
After several years of traveling in China and Asia, Wang returned to Beijing and began working in a traditional medicine clinic, where he met his wife-to-be, a Swedish doctor named Rachel Long.

“I had begun studying acupressure massage, meditation and martial arts in Sweden,” Rachel says. “And I was looking for the source of this wisdom in China.
“Unfortunately, all of the doctors I met were looking for something else entirely,” Rachel laments. “Money, a foreign wife, or ‘someone to drink with’ [a euphemism for a mistress].”

Then she met Wang Hong and, as Rachel describes it, she knew right away that she had found a true healer and her soulmate. The two married in 1992 and moved to San Francisco, where Rachel’s grandmother owns a house in the Diamond Heights district.

They now live next to Upper Douglass Park (“the eucalyptus trees remind me of my childhood village in Yunnan,” Wang says nostalgically), with a panoramic view of bright blue San Francisco Bay and the California coastal mountain range beyond.
“If I didn’t have such a peaceful place to practice here,” Wang Hong says, “I would have to return to the temple of my childhood to find the true strength of a child’s simplicity.”

Indeed Wang and Rachel have spent the past two years in Wang’s childhood village, building an herbal medicine, martial arts and language study center for local children. By doing this, Wang says he is passing the torch that he received from the monks 30 years ago back to the children of the western Yunnan mountain village that he still thinks of as home.

A Visit with Dr. Wang

Back to the top

Copyright 2003, by China Now Magazine. All rights reserved.