Rediscovering traditional Chinese medicine with Kuang-Yi Ku

Various cultures around the world have developed their own alternative systems of medicine that have passed on for generations down the line. Practiced in many parts of the world, these alternative forms of medicine are often considered cultural myths since their effectiveness cannot be proven using contemporary scientific analyses.

Type Update
Published on 29 September 2021
Part of Embassy of Food
Rediscovering traditional Chinese medicine with Kuang-Yi Ku
Part of Embassy of Food

One such long-standing alternative practice can be found in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where the genitals of a male tiger are consumed with the promise of increasing virility. Regardless of the effectiveness of this method, the huge demand for wild animals in TCM has posed to be a cause for concern for endangered species. With the Tiger Penis Project, Kuang-Yi Ku attempted to resolve the long-standing conflict between health, culture and environmental conservation by reinterpreting Traditional Chinese Medicine through the lens of advancing technology.

Originally from Taiwan, Kuang-Yi Ku was a practicing dentist before he decided to develop his career as an artist and designer. “I think the main reason that I’m interested in this topic is that when I was in medical school, I did see there was a limitation of scientific research and medical research because we don’t ask the ethical, social, or cultural questions to the teacher or professor, and we only focus on the practical value of the medicine itself. However, medicine contains so many issues because it’s related to our health and body and has so many cultural layers which stand behind the medicine itself. So that’s why I tried to look for another possibility, by combining new methodology into medicine.” Graduating from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2018, his love for both the arts and sciences took shape as the Tiger Penis Project.

Tiger Penis

Using design as a tool to explore new possibilities for Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Tiger Penis Project attempts to bridge the knowledge gap between western and alternative medical practices by employing biotechnology. “Some of the medication and remedy of Chinese medicine does need to use certain herbs or animal parts as ingredients for the patient, and some of the ingredients in the medical book are from endangered animals or endangered plants so it caused a severe conflict between protecting endangered species and preserving traditional Asian medical heritage.” Akin to the processes of growing cultured meat, the project attempts to recreate necessary animal parts used in TCM by using the animal’s DNA and the powers of 3D printing with modern biotechnology.

With this project, Kuang-Yi’s aim is not limited to TCM but to incorporate and provide a pathway for various traditional, alternative medicinal practices to preserve and continue their cultural practices. He believes that in doing so, this might also open up the possibility of combining western and traditional medical practices:

“I started to believe in that it's not binary to choose a specific medical system, like Chinese medicine or western medicine or alternative medicine or mainstream medicine. It's more that you need to find a collaborative way, we should work together between different medical systems and not choose from a binary situation.”
— Kuang-Yi Ku

Blurring the lines between health and personalization, Kuang-Yi’s project has multifold aims, from a scientific perspective to bring more legitimization to traditional medicine, yet from a cultural perspective to protect a long-standing tradition, while also keeping in mind the ethical issue of preserving endangered species.

Read the whole article written by Ruben Baart from Next Nature Network here. And come visit the Supermarket of the Future in the Embassy of Food during Dutch Design Week 2021, where Kuan-Yi’s prototypes and stories are on show.

This interview came about as part of the Embassy of Food 2021, one of the World Design Embassies. Curators Annelies Hermsen and Chloé Rutzerveld researched seven projects within seven themes and interviewed designers about technology, food waste, health, education, protein transition, non-food and packaging. Ruben Baart of Next Nature Network turned the interviews into the articles.

The Embassy of Food is made possible in part by the DOEN Foundation, Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Albert Heijn and the Dutch Design Foundation.

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