6 Strange Chinese Beliefs
I always find it amazing how humans have found so many ways to do the same things and used so many different lenses to view the world through. If we isolate a certain group of people and their methodology for interacting with each other and the world around them, we’ve got a culture. I’ve spent about 2.5 years exploring China’s, and while that’s not nearly long enough to completely understand this country, a lot more shit makes sense than when I was fresh off the boat. However, there’s some shit here that will remain inexplicable to me until the day I leave. A lot of it revolves around traditional Chinese medicine. Even if I understand why some people believe these things, the rational part of me will never be able reconcile how blatantly unscientific it is. Here’s a small sampling of such beliefs.
1. Special maternity aprons that keep out background radiation
With the general ignorance of a lot of science stuff in China there are predators waiting to take advantage in the form of selling useless, overpriced crap. Heavy, metal-lined maternity aprons are one such example. An entire industry has sprung up over the last 20 years over these things that are supposed to protect the fetus from background electromagnetic radiation. Of course, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest fetuses are harmed by electromagnetic radiation, but why take that chance?
2. Temperature is determined by the date, not the thermometer
Perhaps one of the more maddening quirks of Chinese medicine is its opinion (yes, opinion) on how temperature works. If I walk around in shorts and a T-shirt on a beautiful, 70°F day in September, I leave a wake of pointing and murmuring behind. Mostly about how cold I must be. I’ve never really cracked this phenomenon; my only theory is that it’s some type of weird group think. It can be uncomfortably humid, swamp ass weather near the end of September, but nope, it’s time to break out the long underwear because winter is coming. When winter does eventually arrive, having grannies pinching your jeans just to make sure you’ve got enough layers on (as if I’m too stupid to dress myself because I’m a foreigner) gets old pretty fast.
To get a grasp of how frustrating this topic is for foreigners in China, enjoy reading this epic rant.
3. Consuming rhino horn is a cure-all
Everyone knows about this one. If you think eating something that is almost chemically identical to your fingernails will cure cancer, typhoid, etc, then you are not very smart. No, it’s not that. It’s ignorance. Despite supposed newer, harsher laws outlawing the purchasing of endangered animal products, the Chinese government has done little in the way of public awareness. In an IFAW poll, 70% of respondents were completely clueless that ivory comes from dead elephants. In fact, education is the problem that lies at the center of all of these unscientific beliefs, but environmental preservation is not a particularly useful thing to teach in schools if your only concern is growing the economy.
4. Electric fans, the silent killer
Do you have an electric fan in your room? Well, you may be killing yourself (it’s definitely that and not the pack of cigarettes you smoke every day inside your apartment). “Fan death” is more of Korean phenomena that still really hasn’t been dispelled, but I think it has definitely bled over into China. My Chinese co-teachers are always hesitant to turn on the fans in our classrooms (sans AC), even it’s 90°F+. Parents don’t want them on either because the children will apparently get sick. Yes, that’s definitely from the fan and not the layer of long underwear and jackets you’re making them wear at the height of summer. Just when I thought the fan BS, couldn’t get any weirder, my boss tells me I shouldn’t sit too close to the fan in the office because it causes autism… Antivaxxers, welcome to paradise!
5. No left-handers allowed
China is not really known for individuality, so if you’re one of the 10% of the general population born left-handed here, too bad. You will be forced to convert to using your right hand like a normal person. Sure, much of the developed world went through its whole “devil hand” phase, but the difference is that at some point we realized what we were doing was ridiculous and wrong. There are no allowances for left-handers in China; no special scissors, desks, musical instruments, no nothing. If a child picks up a pencil or something else with their left hand, at best, teachers will put it in their right hand, at worst, the child earns a slap with a ruler for doing something that's already preprogrammed in their brain.
6. “Hot” and “Cold” Foods
If someone suggests to you that pineapples hot and apples are cold, you’d probably shrug and walk away. That’s typically what I do when I hear any nonsense related to Chinese food therapy. In the West, a meal can be broken down into its nutritional components. Meat gives you protein, vegetables give you fiber, vitamins and minerals and so on. In China, this goes out the window. Instead, different foods are supposed to have a warming or cooling effect on your qi, or life force. Raw and steamed foods tend to be cooler and dampen your qi while roasted and/or spicy foods tend to be warmer and help you circulate your qi. Personally, I think paying attention to your caloric intake will probably help you out more.
Actual Benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine
There’s a lot to scratch your head about up there, but I don’t want to end without being fair and saying that sometimes and in some ways, I do think that TCM can be beneficial. "Western medicine" is a bad name. It should just be referred to as "the scientific method applied to medicine." Which is why I think it's the best route when you have something like cancer or AIDS, for example. There's evidence to backup certain treatments. TCM doesn't have a lot of scientific evidence to back up what it's selling. BUT. I do think holistic medicine can have a benefit if used in tandem with science. If you've got a cold, feel free to take a disgusting mixture of various unidentifiable plants.