By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Upon first inspection, it is merely a box, and a small one, at that. But upon opening, it contains what looks like a cross between a fanny pack and a g-string. In fact, what millions of people, in China and now in the United States, have discovered is that it contains life-saving (at the very least, life–enhancing) medicine—in a portable, simply–delivered fashion.
The yuanqi dai—or, “original vitality belt,” fastens neatly around your waist. The small, but potent, bag of Chinese medicine, affixes to your abdomen. A strap of material ties at the back of your waist and zips together with velcro. Presto—you have Chinese medicine delivered on command, constantly, easily, as you are walking, sitting, breathing, eating and even sleeping, with no one else even noticing. You wear it under your shirt.
The yuanqi dai is one of the many products distributed by Dr. HUiwu Lai’s 505 Group. But more importantly, it has revolutionized the way ordinary people can receive treatment using Chinese medicine, without having to spend excessive amounts of money on a doctor.
Lai, 69, has made similar patches for the knees, for the waist, for almost anywhere, available on a universal level.
“My happiest moment is when I receive thank you letters,” he said, “from the people I’ve cured.”
He said over the course of his lifetime, he has received over two million thank you letters.
A family tradition
Lai’s grandfather, during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, succored American and other foreign Christians in China that were being harassed and executed by nationalistic Chinese rebels.
His grandfather hid them and treated them with Chinese medicine. Eventually, he founded a church. His father, when he was old enough, took over as the leader.
Lai had been interested in Chinese medicine from the age of 6, never having a formal teacher, but reading what books he could get his hands on.
He was shocked into a life of caring for others, like his grandfather, with the outbreak of another major political upheaval—the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s.
Lai was born in Shaanxi Province, shortly before the movement broke out.
His eldest brother, 20 years his senior, had already seen war and conflict.
Even before the Chinese Communists came to power in 1949, his brother had been taken by the Nationalists —who were fighting the Communists in a civil war— as a soldier.
For some reason—Lai doesn’t know—his brother had made the mistake of writing a letter to the Soviet Embassy in China.
A complaint, an appeal for help, an outrage—again, Lai doesn’t know. But that single letter determined the fate of his entire family.
When the Cultural Revolution broke out over 20 years later, the Communist Party knew about that letter.
“My brother was pidou,” which means, “struggled against,” said Lai.
Like others considered to be enemies of the regime, he was paraded in public and criticized. His father, suspected of sheltering his son, was also pidou.
Lai, who was in a top middle school at the time, heard about the tragedy and came home.
Unable to do anything, he exerted himself at school. While other students divided themselves into the usual two factions of the time, fighting against each other, Lai founded his own faction, a third.
His aim was to rally around the disgraced and outcast former leaders Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi and as a symbolic gesture to them and anyone else in society that had been pidou—to offer succor.
He organized for classmates to deliver food and water to teachers and students and others that were being imprisoned and tortured by leaders of the revolution in the school.
After the Cultural Revolution ended, through a friend’s help, he went to school for two years and learned how to repair electric motors.
When he graduated, he borrowed 2,500 yuan ($357) and founded his own factory.
Soon, the factory was garnering 100,000 yuan ($14,269) a year.
This got the attention of the provincial leaders and, as they visited his factory and got to know him, they eventually asked him to become their secretary.
Thus began his lifelong mission to nurture others.
It had started in school, but now it has spread to the entire province, then the country.
It had started with concern for his family, then classmates, then teachers, but now it has spread to all the farmers he saw as he toured the province.
He watched as local farmers reeled under sickness and poor hygiene.
“They had all kinds of diseases, gastrointestinal trouble, hepatitis, you name it,” he said.
Lai’s interest in Chinese medicine had remained with him as he grew up and moved forward in life. Now, he found an outlet.
He began to treat the villagers. He began to have successes. The leadership noticed.
Eventually, a newspaper supported by then-president Deng Xiaoping, called the zhongguo laonianbao —“News for the Elderly”—supported Lai in starting a factory producing Chinese medicine on a large scale.
Unlike in the United States, where newspapers and media companies generally stick to related endeavors, in China, newspapers would open up subsidiary operations, companies engaged in all sorts of enterprises.
The Chinese medicine factory was one of them. Lai had found the realization of his mission.
In 1992, the Chinese government formally recognized and granted approval for the factory to operate at the national level. This was the beginning of Lai’s 505 Group.
“This was hard to come by,” he said.
After that, Lai’s products were distributed everywhere.
In the U.S.
While his parents were still alive, he traveled back and forth between China and the United States, but not frequently and didn’t stay here long.
But now that his parents have passed away, he’s moved to the United States for an extended period.
He can’t say how long, but he has already made a contribution.
Established in his name, he has endowed the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine with a scholarship for students who exemplify “virtue” in their practice. The scholarship was founded with a donation of $100,000 and provides $8,000 a year for the full length of study.
Having contributed to healing for so long, one might wonder if Lai might be bored living in Sammamish with its multiple strip malls, sedate country clubs and suburban tree–lined streets.
“Your attitude determines everything,” he said. “You must be broad-minded.”
Besides his contribution to the UW, he also supports a number of local Chinese groups committed to social justice and other philanthropic causes.
He probably has a few more thank you letters yet to receive.
Mahlon can be reached at email@example.com.