TCM: Shanghai Chinese Medicine Guide
One way for Expats to improve their health in Shanghai is to try out traditional Chinese medicine, aka TCM.
TCM covers much more than just herbal medicine. It also includes acupuncture, nutritional theory for your diet, traditional physical exercises, remedial massage and more.
We have a list of Shanghai Chinese medicine service providers at the end of this article.
Not everyone believes in the scientific basis for traditional Chinese medicine, but trying out some TCM medicines and TCM therapies while here often convinces expats that there is some truth behind it.
Some expats even sign up for short- or long-term courses to learn more about the subject. One Shanghai expat, Doris Rathgeber, took it a step further: she became a fully-fledged traditional Chinese medicine doctor, and opened her own TCM clinics in Shanghai; Body & Soul Medical Clinics.
You can find a list of many Shanghai TCM clinics and hospitals below.
TCM is protected in the Chinese constitution and promoted by the Chinese government. Article 21 of China's constitution states: "The state develops medical and health services, promotes modern medicine and traditional Chinese medicine... all for the protection of the people's health."
The State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology, established in 1986, is a bureau under the jurisdiction of the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) (formerly the Ministry of Health) and oversees the development of TCM in China.
Many provinces have state-run traditional Chinese medicine Universities which train specialized TCM doctors for state-run TCM hospitals (中医医院, Zhōngyī yīyuàn).
There are about 3,000 Chinese hospitals which specialize in traditional Chinese medicine. In 2012 TCM doctors accounted for approximately 12.2 percent of all registered medical doctors in China, rising from just 10.3 percent in 2007.
Chinese doctors who train and practice in Western medicine at the more prevalent Western medicine hospitals (西医医院, Xīyī yīyuàn) also take some TCM studies as part of their medical training.
When you visit a Western medicine hospital in China, the doctor will often prescribe you some Chinese medicine (中药, Zhōngyào) along with Western medicine (西药, Xīyào).
Research into traditional Chinese medicine is part of the government's main National Basic Research Program (Program 973). A major emphasis of this program is to use Western-style clinical testing and standardization procedures to promote wider acceptance of TCM outside of China.
In 2009 alone, the Chinese government invested RMB 10.97 billion (US$1.8 billion) supporting TCM, a 165 percent increase over 2005.
Shanghai Chinese medicine occupies a leading position in China's TCM development. It has several TCM Universities and hospitals.
The Shanghai government, through its local "Healthy City Project," which is connected to the much larger international "Healthy Cities Project", directed by the WHO, actively promotes knowledge and use of TCM to Shanghai residents.
In September 2013, it sent out a complimentary package to all Shanghai residents, including a manual of practical knowledge and advice for using TCM theories for diet and exercise.
Unfortunately, most Shanghai expats who received this package will have a hard time reading the Chinese.
Brave Shanghai expats can venture to one of the specialized state-run Shanghai Chinese medicine hospitals to try out TCM, or they can also enquire to foreign-managed clinics and VIP wards, which often have TCM divisions or doctors on their staff.
Shanghai expats can also try out traditional Chinese acupuncture (针灸 ZhēnJiǔ ) and massage (按摩 ÀnMó) at various Shanghai massage establishments. Two popular TCM therapies also available at some Shanghai massage establishments are Cupping (拔罐BáGuàn) and Scraping (刮痧 GuāShā).
Cupping therapy is placing ball or bell shaped cups, usually made from glass, onto the back and neck and creating a vacuum effect, which draws toxins out of the skin and body. Often fire is used to create the vacuum effect, which is then called Fire Cupping (拔火罐BáHuǒGuàn).
There is a tingly feeling when the cups are twisted on. This can be quite disconcerting the first time, but is not very painful and after you get used to it quite comfortable. The cups will be left on for 15-30 minutes.
Once finished, there will be dark, circular, slightly-sore bruises where the cups were placed. These normally disappear after a few days to one week. The first time you try this treatment, however, the bruises can last up to 3-4 weeks before completely disappearing, especially on very white skin.
The marks can be embarrassing, but expats who go to Fitness clubs in Shanghai will notice many Chinese people with these dark marks on their backs and realize it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Cupping is used for back and neck pains, as well as respiratory diseases such as common colds and bronchitis.
Scraping therapy is using a wooden or bone scraper to scrape the skin around the back and other parts of the body. Some people find this painful, while most people feel little discomfort. Oil is put on the skin to lessen the pain.
Scraping is used to treat respiratory diseases such as common colds, flu, bronchitis, asthma, as well as chronic pain, headaches and stomach problems.