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
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
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
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