The Snow Symposium: Cultural exchange with a medical twist

  • The unveiling of a bust of Edgar Snow was part of the Snow Symposium's celebration of the 80th anniversary of Snow’s arrival in Bao’an, where he spent months interview Mao.
Traditional Chinese medicine and its potential for helping with U.S. pain-killer addictions were among the topics explored at the 17th Edgar Snow Symposium in Beijing and Tianjin.

The symposium is an academic and cultural exchange between UMKC, Kansas City and China. It takes place every two years and always offers sessions on the pioneering journalism of Edgar Snow, a Kansas City native who opened China to the West with his reporting on Mao Zedong and his rise to power.

The School of Medicine has been tied to the symposium from its outset in 2000. The Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation was started by Mary Clark Dimond, wife of UMKC School of Medicine Founder Dr. E. Grey Dimond, who was friends with Snow. UMKC also holds the archive of Snow’s papers.

This year’s program added a look at traditional Chinese medicine, including a visit to a hospital and the China Academy of Chinese Medical Science.

Steven Waldman, M.D., J.D., MBA, associate dean for International Programs at the School of Medicine, was among the 43-person Kansas City area delegation, the largest ever to travel to the symposium, which alternates between China and Kansas City. In addition to the School of Medicine, UMKC schools of business, computing and engineering, and law were represented in this year’s delegation, along with the Honors College, the Conservatory of Music and Dance, libraries and liberal arts.

It was the first Snow Symposium trip for Waldman, who is advancing the school’s emphasis on international medicine, including exchange programs. And Waldman, who has written top textbooks on pain management, sees possibilities in his field for traditional Chinese medicine.

Practices including herbal remedies and acupuncture “are not separate in China, but part of the continuum of care and pain management,” Waldman said. “We’re interested in how we might use traditional Chinese medicine to help patients caught up in the national opioid epidemic.”

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The American Society of Addiction Medicine estimates almost 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription pain relievers, and 586,000 are addicted to heroin, another opioid.

At the symposium, Kansas City government was represented by Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, and University of Missouri curator John R. Phillips, vice president of the Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation, also made the trip.

Phillips, whose practice with the firm Husch Blackwell LLP includes health care law, said the look at Chinese medicine added to the symposium’s advancing of understanding and cultural ties between the countries.

“The in-depth discussions between physicians from the two countries and the interest in sharing information with UMKC struck me as truly wonderful,” said Phillips, who also is on the board of the Saint Luke’s Health System.

He noted that some Saint Luke’s physicians already use acupuncture for their patients’ pain management.

This year’s symposium included sessions on the significance of Snow’s 1936 interviews with Mao, and marked the 80th anniversary of his coverage of the Red Army’s Long March.

Waldman said the Snow Foundation, which sponsors the symposiums along with the Beijing Friendship Association, has been instrumental in improving understanding between two countries that didn’t speak to each other for decades.

“The foundation’s work is a model for how we can improve communication with other countries such as Cuba, North Korea and Myanmar.”

He added: “Edgar Snow is highly revered in China, almost larger than life, like a combination of Santa Claus and Abe Lincoln. It’s hard to imagine how well known his name is, unless you go there.”