Although TCM originated in ancient China, part of it's beauty is that it reaches beyond the boundaries of any nation or race. At Five Seasons TCM, we are constantly searching for stories of incredible individuals in the field of TCM. In honor of black history month, we cannot wait to share with you the story of Diarra Boubacar, a legendary TCM doctor who has been practicing in China for more than two decades.
From having zero patients because of his skin color to becoming the most loved black TCM doctor in China, Diarra truly embodies the spirit and essence of a TCM healer. And his Chinese, wow, is jar-droppingly good with a perfect Sichuan accent that blew our native Chinese-speaking team members away!
Here is a brief version of his incredible story.
As the first non-Chinese person to earn a doctorate in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in China, the now 57-year-old Diarra Boubacar grew up in a family of Red Cross doctors in Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa. He first came to China in 1984 to study the Chinese language, and later TCM in 1986. Back then, TCM was only taught in Chinese and in many cases, ancient Chinese, which is even very difficult for native Chinese to understand (we still need to use a dictionary or translation guide when we look at ancient recipes and writings)! Additionally, there were very very few black people in China back then. His skin color alone made him “less trustworthy” in the eyes of the Chinese, and thus made studying and practicing TCM a huge challenge for him. He told Xinhua Newspaper that what inspired him was to find similarities in TCM and traditional African medicine, while improving his Chinese skills by studying and reciting the classics like the Huang Di Nei Jing.
After 10 years of vigorous learning, he became the first foreigner to receive a doctoral degree in acupuncture from Chengdu University of TCM and would go on to become a happy husband to a Chinese wife, Yang Mei.
However, as a "black" person, he stood out in a TCM hospital. The early days of his career were tough. For his first three days of clinic, no patients showed. On the fourth day, finally, a female patient opened the door of his office, yet she immediately ran away after seeing him. "I had to run after her, saying I could help her with the problem," Diarra told Xinhua Newspaper with a good laugh.
“She said she wanted a Chinese medicine doctor. I told her I am one and if I am not effective, I will not take any money from you,” he promised and eventually convinced her with his perfect Chinese.
Without surprise, Diarra was able to cure her. This patient then brought her parents, husband, husband’s friends, parents’ relatives…Gradually, Diarra became one of the most popular doctors in the hospital because of his excellent treatment results.
As patients started to line up in front of his office door, many interesting conversations were held between him and his patients. One time, a 36-year-old female patient could not stop staring at Diarra. “Are you afraid of me?” he asked.
“No… no… it’s just…”
“Just what?” he asked with a smile.
“It’s just that you are so black!”
Diarrah laughed after hearing her candid and innocent “concern.” He replied: “That’s because I am a Wa (a Chinese minority group in Sichuan, whose people have much darker skin than the Han Chinese)!”
The entire office of patients laughed, and the female patient’s doubts dissipated right away. Everyone began to call him “Dr. Di” or “the Black teacher.”
Of course, Diarra’s hands and humor did not stop in the private hospitals of China’s big cities. In 1997, he joined a WHO training project in the Yunnan province. Since then, he has trained more than 3000 village doctors and helped the minority communities with their health care, all of which he did without charging a penny. Here is a video of Diarra’s journey to Chinese villages by China Daily.
Even though Diarra is practicing in China, he has not forgotten about his people back in Mali. Since the pandemic, he has donated more than $3000 to his country and made sure to send all Malians living in China bags of TCM tonics and PPEs to protect them from the pandemic as much as possible. He said one day, he wants to bring TCM to Mali. "I want to have this big center," he described his vision to China Daily.
"I want to (build) not only a hospital but also an educational center where people can come and learn about Chinese medicine as well as do advanced research into both TCM and African herbal medicine.”
At the same time, he also wants to share his culture with the Chinese. He said: "Africa is not one country, it is 54 countries. Different countries have different customs. Many think Africa is only one country (full of) famine and war. We have more than that."
We love and admire Dr. Diarra because of his complete dedication to his patients, the tremendous respect he has towards TCM, and his love towards his own culture. We feel so fortunate to get to learn of his story. We hope to see his TCM project in Mali coming into fruition in the near future!
If you have any incredible and inspiring stories around TCM that you feel should be known, please share them with us.