Sunday Snapshot | Traditional Chinese Medicine | China

This post was last updated on May 18th, 2014

Chinese Medicine


Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou are growing exponentially as millions leave their rural homes in search of better work opportunities. Visiting these cosmopolitan centers filled with ultra-modern skyscrapers and luxury-brand shopping, it is easy to forget that much of the country is as unlike those cities as wheat from diamonds.

Many Chinese still live in the vast countryside, in centuries-old villages where foreigners rarely tread. They work the land and fish the rivers, eking out a living and providing for their families the best way they know how. When sick, they often turn not to hospitals or doctors with newfangled Western techniques but to village practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. This ancient art relies on the use of herbal remedies and curious therapies such as cupping, where cups are suctioned to the skin supposedly to increase circulation. Often, these trusted healers set up shop right on the sidewalk. Locals will gather to compare ailments and strengthen their community bonds.

I always enjoyed coming across these impromptu clinics during my explorations because it was like being transported back in time. As the cities race towards modernity, large swathes of China remain nearly unchanged, continuing on much the same as they have since ancient times. There is something beautiful in that.

Heather Hall Putting aside a career in marketing, Heather moved with her husband to Shanghai in 2011 and spent two exciting years exploring the cultures and cuisines of Asia. Now back in the United States, she is eagerly planning her next expat escapade, which will take her to a yet another continent. Passionate about food, history and animals, Heather brings a curiosity and fun-loving attitude to most any experience that comes along. Read more about her adventures at and connect with her on facebook and twitter.

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  1. Tradictional Chinese Medicine is SO interesting. In Canada I used to see a naturopath who was also trained in TCM and so I got to experience a few things! I can’t imagine getting treated on the street in China though :)
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted…Roatan Rent: What $400/month Gets YouMy Profile

  2. I am fascinated by Chinese medicine. When I was still living in the UK my physiotherapist used acupuncture to cure chronic back pain. I never had any pain again afterwards. It was like a miracle. :-)
    tammyonthemove recently posted…The day I hung off a 50m high buildingMy Profile

    • Acupuncture is supposed to work miracles, but I’ve always been too afraid of needles to try it. I’m so glad it worked for you!
      Heather recently posted…Becoming a Celebrity in ChinaMy Profile

  3. @Dan Thank you for sharing the story.

    Living in Chengdu I have had the experience of trying cupping known locally as (拔火罐 Báhuǒguàn). One of the main beliefs is that a person is to “wet” and they use as a way to extract the moisture or ‘bad’ elements from the body. It is related back to the belief and practices of Feng Shui.

    I know that at time the local TCM’s clinics and hospitals here are backed up more than the western facilities. It is a very fascinating to watch, listen and discuss the pros and cons with different locals.

    For me I can say Báhuǒguàn has certainly helped me

    • Thanks Harley! I’ve heard from others that cupping worked for them as well. Thankfully I was never ill in China so I didn’t need the treatment. I’m sure it would have been an interesting experience, though!
      Heather recently posted…Becoming a Celebrity in ChinaMy Profile

    • James, I know people who had success with cupping but thankfully I never needed to try it. I’ll be interested to hear about your experience should you ever have it done!
      Heather recently posted…Becoming a Celebrity in ChinaMy Profile

    • Thanks, Corinne! I saw those roadside dentists in China, too, and was incredibly thankful I didn’t need to partake of their services!!
      Heather recently posted…Becoming a Celebrity in ChinaMy Profile

  4. Hey Heather – Thank you for the reply. I would not say I was ill or anything other than just wanting a massage. There are several places near where I live, where you can get a massage, Báhuǒguàn and guasha (scraping) for about 30 yuan (5 dollars).

    It was certainly painful while it was being done, I felt much better the next day. The guasha, scraping helps bring the heat to the surface of the skin and then the Báhuǒguàn helps to extract the moisture. I know some people think it is not effective, but I for one disagree.

    I have also had several goes at acupuncture both in China and the USA.

    I would encourage you to give it a try, but make sure locals are going first. Good way to find a reputable place.

    Thanks again for the great share!

    Enjoy some of our China Travel Tips from WindhorseTour.
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  5. Dan, it’s quite fascinating to know about the home remedies that the people in China use. Some of the medicine is what my wife is also studying about in her healthcare courses in college. She in fact is wanting to get into a college of traditional chinese medicine to study more on the varieties of the chinese medicine that she has yet to hear about.


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