Keeping Healthy in China
August 17, 2011
“Keeping in good health”: though it can be practiced in a multitude of different ways in any number of countries, this generally refers to any practice with the long-term goal of prolonging one’s life. This can be performed through the enhancement of your physical state or direct prevention of disease. Traditional Chinese medicine has a very particular culture surrounding its views on health. Its theory is comprised of instructions that one should follow which include elements of the masculine and feminine (Yin and Yang), five lines of biochemistry, specific focus on proper recuperation from injury and illness, and sustaining life, health and vigor. It is generally held that through being energetic and keeping in good health, you can increase the pleasure of your mental state. To regulate one’s life like this and to follow Chinese methods, one can achieve a stable physical state which, through a focus on prevention, can prolong life.
“Preserve one’s health; keep in good health” Zhuang-zi said in The Book of Changes, “Practice healthy living on a daily basis as one should constantly strive for self-improvement.”
It is a traditional belief that the human’s vital activity follows the natural objective to carry on. The human body has the ability to adapt to spontaneous changes. If humans can understand the rules of maintaining a healthy body then they can take steps to keep in good health and adapt efficiently to changes, preventing disease and the need for excessive healthcare in their later years. This philosophical thinking is at the root of Taoism and thus core for most of China’s health practices throughout history.
Ancient Chinese Practices:
1) Chinese Herbal Medicines
“Shennong tastes all kinds of herbs and encounters seventy kinds of toxic substances in a single day”… This is a legend in Chinese medical history which demonstrates that medicine originates from a ‘trial and error’ process taking years to master. This story could be dated back to the early civilizations of China.
There are many kinds of Chinese Herbal Medicines, such as Ginseng, Radix astragali, Bai Zhu, Licorice, Chinese angelica and prepared Rhizome of Adhesive Rehmanni. In total there are more than 10,000 different Chinese herbal medicines, each having their own special function to keep people in good health. For example, Ginseng helps with vitality and can also relieve a cough which promotes saliva or other bodily fluids. The radix astragalus is warm and is ingested via tablet. It helps with sore muscles and for those lacking vital energy. In the Jin Dynasty, the alchemist Ge Hong kept detailed records and summaries of various medical practices attributed to Chinese Jin’s hermetic art.
2) Tai Chi
Another famous, ancient method for people to keep in good health is “Tai Chi”, which is a practice where people use gestures and physical motions to keep the body strong and in good health. It’s history goes back past recorded history, with its first recorded beginnings in Chinese history estimated around 2850 B.C with the Book of Changes. The point of Tai Chi is that even though movement and stillness may seem antithetical, The Dao, or The Way, teaches that in movement there can be peace and in peace, movement.
Modern Chinese Practices:
1) Healthy Eating
Another way to maintain good health was by maintaining a physical balance through healthy eating. This is still practiced in China today as much as ever. We can keep the body balanced and healthy through a balanced diet of different kinds of food. For example, Ginseng Chicken Soup (pictured below) is popularly known to be a healthy, medicinal dish.
In addition, there is a complex categorization system of Hot and Cold in traditional Chinese culture. The belief is that your internal temperature should be kept balanced, something that can be controlled by eating properly as each type of food and dish has a temperature assigned to it, which doesn’t necessarily pertain to it’s actual temperature (though ice cream is still considered “cold”).
2) Health Food
There are many kinds of health foods that are becoming more popular in China today, especially imported foods. There have been an increasing number of famous foreign brands available to Chinese people in the last decade, for example, Nutri-Lite snack and energy bars are becoming particularly popular in China and imports of American Pecans have soared in recent years.
Another part of maintaining good health in modern-day China, especially with younger people, is going to the gym. It has almost become a fashion or a way of life, for younger people to keep fit by going to the gym and also offering an avenue for stress relief.
Chinese Medicine Around the World
Chinese medicines, especially traditional Chinese medicines and acupuncture, are becoming more globally fashionable. Traditional Chinese medicines use mostly natural ingredients from wild animals and plants.
The earliest known exposure that Chinese medicine gained to the western world was in the late 18th Century as some practices are known to have been found in the United States.
Then, during the early years of the 19th century, European medical scientists applied acupuncture techniques in clinical procedures. They discovered its positive effects which resulted in additional studies and papers being written on the subject. Afterwards, China’s acupuncture techniques continued to spread to the US through Europe’s medical literature.
Today, the majority of American states have given acupuncturists the necessary licenses and registrations for official practice, however there remain discrepancies within some states laws. New York, for example, states that a doctor must undergo 300 hours of training to be able to gain a license, and someone without medical training has to study 3 years of the curriculum to be able to perform the acupuncture treatment.
Legalization of these practices has evolved alongside the diffusion of acupuncture’s popularity within the US and has also helped the development of some areas of Western medicine.
In 1993, the American Medical Association became open to the previously non-conventional medicines after an investigation into the market in 1992. It involved a broad spectrum of ideas including acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage, and music treatments.
At the end of 1994, the United States Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which also opened the gate to pharmaceutical companies to begin the production of natural and herbal medicines.
– Amy Xu, CPG Sourcing Associate