Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

People don't like to be treated, and many go to the doctor only as a last resort. This attitude to their health is unacceptable for the people of China, who are used to treating what does not hurt yet

Xi'an. Ancient pagodas and watchtowers are full of life. Around shops, cafes and stalls with street food. Especially crowded in the center, where the four main streets of the city converge. The roads are clogged with cars, mopeds and cycle rickshaws…

I walk, barely managing to dodge: drivers and pedestrians spit on the go. I have already encountered this in various Chinese cities. But Xi'an is one of the largest cultural centers of the Celestial Empire, a city with a 2200-year history, the capital of eight imperial dynasties. It was here in the II century BC. e. The Great Silk Road was laid, which introduced the Western world to China. And the locals, as they coughed up in public thousands of years ago, do the same thing today.

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

— The Chinese think saliva is dirty, so they get rid of it, — 20-year-old Yust Zhang explains to me (Justus Zhang), a student at Shanghai University of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). – According to TCM, an abundance of phlegm in the body is harmful to health. Doctors remove it with drugs or acupuncture. But many people just spit, this is still considered normal. Until the 1980s, in all public places there were special spittoon vases – tangyu. And they were always given to the newlyweds for the wedding.

Emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) used golden spittoons, and when China became a People's Republic (1949), the new authorities decided that everyone should have accessible tangyu: spitting in specially designated urns is better than underfoot. Hygienic spittoons were in every home, regardless of the social status of the owners, in hotels and restaurants.

Even during official visits of foreign delegations, the leaders of the PRC preferred to have tanyu on hand. In 1982, at a diplomatic meeting with Margaret Thatcher, Chinese politician Deng Xiaoping did not hesitate to cough up into the snow-white pot located by his chair, after which the “Iron Lady” called him “a vulgar old scoundrel.”

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Interestingly, Deng Xiaoping himself tried unsuccessfully to ban spitting in the 1980s. But personal example worked better than prohibitions. The centuries-old habit could not be eradicated even in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when city officials fined 50 yuan ($7.50) for spitting and recommended the use of paper bags so as not to shock foreign guests. According to statistics, 300 million Chinese people spit all the time.

— I heard that people in the West swallow, —Just Zhang is surprised. —It’s wild for us.

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With a needle

Hong Kong. The most European of the Chinese cities. Passers-by answer me in English, and on the roads, instead of the frightening Asian chaos, there is civilized traffic of cars and double-decker buses. English influence uprooted many mainland habits on the island. Hong Kongers in every possible way avoid comparisons with the Chinese. At the same time, like other inhabitants of the Celestial Empire, they buy exotic herbs and practice acupuncture.

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

“Today, more than 7,000 TCM specialists work in Hong Kong. While most city dwellers still prefer Western methods, many choose acupuncture to improve their overall health,” says Hoi Ning, 25, a TCM practitioner. . In China, the whole body is treated as a whole.

The clinic where Hoi Ning works is visited by about 300 people daily. If there are not enough rooms, doctors receive patients in a large room with 10 seats. There are curtains between the beds. They are mainly treated for allergies, insomnia and general malaise. One appointment costs 25–40 US dollars (hereinafter, prices are given as of 2016. — Note by I decide to experiment. Hoi Ning examines my face and tongue. He asks how I eat and sleep, after which he feels the pulse.

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

— We distinguish 28 types of pulse. By rhythm and sound, you can understand what a person is sick with, – she explains. -To make a diagnosis, I also need to feel your body. 12 internal organs are connected with 12 meridians – channels through which qi energy flows. Over the years they get clogged. As a result, qi accumulates in some organs, while it does not enter at all into others. This leads to illness.

There are special acupuncture points on the meridians, of which there are about 700 in our body. The doctor sticks thin needles into points located on one channel in order to direct the flow of energy to the diseased organ. Hoi Ning has a diagram of the human body in his office with meridians and points. But it is conditional. Each person's points are located differently and are at different depths. Finding them is the task of the doctor. After a 15-minute examination, they stick a dozen needles into me: in the neck, arms, legs, chin. I lie still for half an hour, trying to listen to my feelings.

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

— Do you treat yourself this way too? — I ask the doctor after the procedure.

– Certainly. My colleagues and I give each other acupuncture if one of us is unwell, and drink herbs,” says Hoi Ning, writing me a prescription. “Here: boil a mixture of dry herbs for about an hour, drink once a day.

— How many funds do you use in total?

— Of the 6,000 known healing agents, we use today about 360. These are plants, minerals, animal and human organs. The most expensive medicine in Hong Kong is the human placenta. It is ground into powder and drunk with infertility. Ten grams of this powder costs about $20. For the effect, you need to take five grams a day for several months. Most medicines can be bought at the market, but the pharmacy is better -there is a wider choice and better quality.

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

< h3>AWARD
Alternative Science

In 2015, for the first time in the history of the Nobel Prize, a specialist in the field of TCM was awarded. Tu Youyu, an 85-year-old Chinese woman, won the Physiology or Medicine Prize. An ordinary pharmacist, she devoted many years to creating a cure for tropical malaria, working as part of a secret project on behalf of Mao Zedong.

The drug was supposed to help the soldiers of Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War. Together with colleagues, Tu Yuyu studied 2,000 potions and folk remedies described in ancient treatises, and in 1971, based on one of the recipes, she developed an effective antimalarial remedy.

The drug was called artemisinin (from Latin Artemisia – “wormwood”). The medicine is recommended today by the WHO. In fact, this is the first time that the global scientific community has recognized TCM.

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Recipe for longevity

Beijing. Here is the oldest pharmacy in China – Henyantang. She has been working since 1405. The assortment of medicinal herbal and rice soups alone has about 200 options.

The pharmacy is located an hour's walk southwest of the Forbidden City, in a one-story gray building. It's hard to tell it apart from other shops. Inside, in the windows, I do not see the expected magical roots or animal organs.

The shelves are filled with the usual packages of medicines. One in three pharmacists says that they are all made from natural ingredients, and according to the imperial recipes of the Ming Dynasty. But what surprises me more is that mostly young people come to the pharmacy.

“Taking care of health from a young age is natural for us Chinese,” explains 62-year-old Zhang Gaoyun, a former tour guide. “The main reason for the popularity of TCM, including among young people, is that it is available and working. TCM methods are about 5000 years old. The ancient doctors did not graduate from universities. They just practiced all their lives, collected knowledge from their fathers and grandfathers, studied the healing properties of various herbs. Today, doctors write prescriptions based on ancient knowledge.

It is believed that the world's oldest pharmacopoeia appeared in China about 4,500 years ago. This is Shen Nong's Treatise on Roots and Herbs, named after the compiler, the “king of medicines”, the legendary Shen Nong, who is believed to have ruled in the 3rd millennium BC. e. This herbalist described 365 medicines of plant, animal and mineral origin.

“We even prescribe herbs for babies —on the second day after birth, a child is sometimes washed in the mouth with a special decoction,” says Zhang Gaoyun.

— Many Chinese, especially housewives, study the properties of medicines themselves. My mother was well versed in herbs. She had six sons and a daughter. As soon as one of us fell ill, she became our doctor. For a cold, she brewed ginger tea, for a cough, she steamed an orange or a pear. Sometimes I pretended to be sick for the sake of this delicious medicine. But the treatment for heat stroke was a real torture. My mother smeared sesame oil on my back, after which she scratched it with an old coin or a spoon to bruises. But, you know, I didn’t go to the hospital until I was 40. Only when it was necessary to pass a mandatory medical examination. My daughter is a doctor who specializes in TCM. Also, I exercise every day. I forgot what hospitals are.


TCM uses about 1500 ingredients of animal origin. Rare and endangered species are especially valued. So, to increase the potency, the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire eat the embryos of pangolins (mammal lizards). The scales of these animals are believed to cure cancer. Seahorses are used for asthma and heart disease, and rhinoceros horns are used for fever.

Especially barbaric in China is treated with brown and Himalayan bears, listed in the Red Book. According to the principles of TCM, the bile of these animals helps with many diseases. In China, about 10-20 thousand bears are grown on farms in special cages that do not allow the animal to move. Bile is drained through a tube from the gallbladder of a living animal.

Today, many animal species in China are on the verge of extinction, such as the Tibetan wolf or tiger. Rhinos in China have already disappeared, and their number in the world since 1970 has decreased by 60%, as has the population of African elephants. 70% of the tusks have been exported to China in recent years.

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In a healthy body

Luoyang.< /strong>One of the four ancient capitals of China. It's only six in the morning. The roads are still unusually deserted. However, in the park near the ancient city walls, there is nowhere for an apple to fall. The Chinese do gymnastics together. Here are middle-aged women waving fans. Nearby, elderly men froze in the pose of a tree. Another group of people cut the air with their swords to the sound of music. Young people nearby are exercising on treadmills…

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

This picture can be seen in many parks and many Chinese cities. It looks like a daily flash mob all over the country. The Chinese are a collective nation. Everyone does what is accepted in society. And in society it is customary to be healthy. Although the country is bad with the environment, but this does not prevent the Chinese from being fit and energetic even at 70 years old. They have many ways to take care of their health. One of them is qigong -traditional Chinese gymnastics.

– “Qigong” literally translates as “energy work”. It is one of the components of TCM, just like acupuncture or herbal medicine,” explains Liu Yuantong, Qigong master at Life Qi Center. He has been studying Qi control since the age of seven, and has been teaching it to others for 35 years. Qigong includes physical exercises and spiritual practices. They help to direct energy flows to the necessary zones – from organs where it has accumulated a lot, to organs where it is not enough.

It is believed that qigong originated about 5000 years ago thanks to the Taoist priests and began to develop with the spread of Buddhism. The first Buddhist temple in China was founded in 68 near Luoyang. The local monks believed that enlightenment could be achieved through meditation, contemplation, and exercise. This technique was later perfected in the famous Shaolin. It is located in the neighborhood, 50 km from Luoyang. Shaolin monks developed the martial art and unlocked the resources of the body. Partially, their achievements are used in qigong.

Until the 20th century, only a select few practiced this gymnastics. It became massive under Mao Zedong. Professional instructors were hired for budget funds to teach qigong for free to people in stadiums and parks.

—The state spends a lot of money on disease prevention. After all, it is cheaper to prevent them than to treat them,” continues Master Liu. “Most Chinese understand this. That is why so many people in my country take care of their health.

Master Liu believes that in addition to physical and spiritual practices, it is enough to do just five things to improve the physical, emotional and spiritual level of our lives:

– You need to keep your posture – the correct position of the body ensures the correct flow of energy, and the stoop changes the direction of qi, which causes diseases. I advise you to work on your thoughts, do not clog them with negativity. It is also important to get enough sleep and just relax. And finally, watch your diet. In fact, there is no better medicine than healthy food.

Aleksey Vodovozov

Toxicologist, science journalist

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

Almost everything that was really working in TCM has already been studied and integrated into scientific medicine. Tu Yuyou was awarded the Nobel Prize for the development of the antimalarial drug artemisinin, but before the one-year-old wormwood, which served as the source of the active substance, more than 2,000 plants were tried in vain, to which TCM attributed antimalarial properties. Only one has passed the test of science.

TCM exploits the same phenomena as alternative medicine: indirect psychotherapy, “diagnosis” of non-existent diseases and their “cure” with dubious drugs and approaches, the issuance of “regression to the mean” (it is natural for a person to recover, not to get sick) for the effect of treatment.

In addition, a lot of cases of poisoning and deaths have been described against the background of the use of TCM drugs.


You are what you eat

Shanghai.The most populous city in China. And it smells like food. I go to the first diner I can find to eat some soup. The waitress, hearing my slightly cold voice, says that soup is the best medicine. And he brings a bowl of broth generously seasoned with ginger. He says it will help. Well, that seems to help.

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

In Shanghai, I get the feeling that everyone here is constantly eating, not just for the sake of satiety, but for the sake of health. On every corner there are mobile braziers that work day and night. It is not customary to reheat food here: they cook it at once from freshly bought products – in many houses in Shanghai there are no refrigerators in the old fashioned way. Quickly grilled in the garden & nbsp; – and immediately eaten. This is how food retains nutrients.

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

“You can often hear from TCM adherents that food should have a double benefit,” says Yixin Zhang, a student at Shanghai University of TCM, who studies diet therapy. “For example, ginger or green tea are tasty and healthy. Most Chinese generally know what food is healing. Especially the older generation. Traditional Chinese cuisine has more vegetables than meat. This is due to the fact that Asians have a hard time digesting meat. Worse than Europeans. We Chinese try to eat food that harmonizes yin and yang.

For the Chinese, these concepts are as important as qi: everything in the world is divided into yin (feminine) and yang (masculine). Their imbalance disrupts the flow of qi. Therefore, the Chinese diet should also be balanced in color, taste and aroma. For example, if the dish is salty or bitter (yang), it is complemented with something sweet, sour or spicy (yin). Fried food (yang) is complemented with steamed rice (yin). Ingredients of blue and green shades (yin) are mixed with yellow and red (yang).

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

“For example, duck is yin, it needs to be balanced with a yang ingredient such as ginger,” Yixin Zhang continues. and color, refers to yang. And the sign “yin” is present in the hieroglyph “moon”, therefore it is responsible for everything cold and wet. With a cold, we eat yang foods, and with a sunstroke, we cool the body with yin foods. For example, watermelon.

Food was treated as early as the reign of the Zhou Dynasty (1027-256 BC). In ancient China, cooks had the same status as officials. The professions of a cook and a pharmacist were often combined. In many ways, Chinese medicine has evolved through an attempt to find the elixir of life. After all, the emperors of ancient China cared about two things: longevity and life after death. Therefore, having ascended the throne, they immediately began to equip their own tombs. And they desperately searched for the elixir of immortality: in herbs, food, and even chemical elements.

Healthy Interest: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Maintains Its Popularity

So did the first ruler of the Chinese state, Qin Shi Huangdi (3rd century BC), who built the Great Wall of China. Having taken the throne at the age of 13, he immediately ordered the construction of his mausoleum to begin. According to ancient sources, it was built by 700,000 people over 36 years. Exact copies of historical palaces, castles and hundreds of mercury rivers were located in the tomb. The burial was discovered 37 km from Xi'an quite recently, in 1974, along with 8099 clay statues of the soldiers who guarded it, & nbsp; – the Terracotta Army.

In the museum hangar, the soldiers lined up in several lines. I go around the perimeter of the army, assessing the scale of imperial ambitions. Silent foot soldiers and archers were supposed to instill fear in anyone who approaches the tomb. But today, scientists are frightened by the abnormally high content of mercury in the soil, which is why the tomb has not yet been opened. By the way, it was from mercury that Qin Shi Huang died – he took it as an elixir of immortality.

Photo: Hemis/Legion-media (X4), Legion-media (x6), Getty Images ( x3)

Material published in the magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 9, September 2016, partially updated in February 2023

Natalia Mayboroda

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