Tra­di­tion, tra­di­tion

The World of Chinese - - Cover Story -

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.

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