Many Chinese hospitals offer Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) —some exclusively, some reputably. TCM facilities account for 12 percent of national healthcare, and the industry is worth 60 billion USD across China (including a billion-dollar state subsidy).
Backed by officials who see it as promoting traditional Chinese wisdom and values to its citizens and the outside world, TCM, in ordinary conversation, can refer to both the practice found at accredited hospitals and universities, and the under-regulated industry of health supplements, miracle doctors, and dodgy private “wellness” centers. Certainly its theories echo historical Western thinking—such as the Galenic theory of humors, or Robert Burton' s Anatomy of melancholy—that is now contrary to much of modern medicine. According to basic TCM theory, the body is composed of “elements” in constant flux, such as fire, qi, yin, and yang. When these are in harmony, the body is healthy; an imbalance or incongruence between fluids or forces causes illness.
In practice, TCM doctors usually treat illnesses such as fevers, colds, inflammations, and upsets with an pharmacopeia of herbs (many of which have equivalent Western synthetics; indeed, the latter are often included in the “traditional” cure). Treatments such as moxibustion (“cupping”) and acupuncture are more controversial, and relatively few patients would choose TCM to cure cancer. But as long as TCM occupies a place in China's narrative of national rejuvenation, it will continue to find investment from official institutions.-H. R.