top of page

China Trip Blog


This is a short account of my September 2010 Study Trip to Hangzhou Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Guang Xing Hospital affiliated to Zhejiang University).

(photo: my first day, taken in the Famous Doctors Hospital')

Old Chinese Story of the Three Doctors

We received a talk one afternoon during the trip from one of the senior doctors, Dr Zhan Head of Tuina, who told us the story of the three doctors. It isn't word perfect, as it is purely from my memory and also how I received it:


The story tells of a Prince who dies and is taken away to be buried. A doctor happened to be passing by and brought him miraculously back to life. The King was obviously over the moon about his son being brought back to life and said to the doctor "you must be well known throughout the kingdom for your incredible medical skills". The Doctor answered "I am the youngest of three brothers who are all doctors. My eldest brother cares for his patients by giving advice on food, exercise and lifestyle to keep his patients well - he is the most famous throughout the kingdom. 

My middle brother cares for his patients through acupuncture and herbs to rebalance them back to good health when they become ill, and he is the next most renowned, I am simply a surgeon who is called upon when all else fails, therefore I am the least famous".

Dr Zhan said, his view of the story is that the first two doctors are how Chinese Medicine works and the third doctor, the surgeon, is how Western Medicine works. There is a need for both types of medicine. Keeping people healthy is of paramount importance, and then if they become unwell, acupuncture and herbs can be used. Only when these methods are not sufficient, is western medicine appropriate, which includes the powerful drugs and surgery.

Everyday Life of the Chinese People

Following on from the story of the three doctors, this brings me to tell you about my observations of everyday life whilst I was in China. From my hotel bedroom window, every morning I saw people in an adult playpark! At first light, around 6.30am, there were women in there 60's doing arm and leg exercises in unison, a man was on a cross-trainer and some people were still in their pajamas! Around the West Lake at dawn many practiced the art of Thai Chi and Qi Gong and others were involved in ballroom dancing - it was a very sociable affair!

Next door to our hotel we could receive a foot massage (similar to reflexology), neck massage or full body massage (tuina or acupressure). We were greeted with a cup of chrysanthamum and goji berry tea on arrival, which is a tea for the summer months we were kindly informed. The tea appeared in many places be it a lecture in the hospital, having a massage or in a restaurant.

Massage of the body is an excellent way of keeping the muscles free of toxins which build up when we are stressed. It can be deep muscle massage, shiatsu, tai massage - anything which improves the flow of blood and qi in the body. My foot massage was incredible; the young woman told me (even though neither of us could speak any English) that I needed more sleep! that's jet lag for you!

Breakfast took a little time to adjust to, but eventually I really enjoyed it which consisted of rice congee, aduki bean porridge, boiled rice, marinaded tofu in soy sauce, chilli and bayleaf, bean sprouts, pickles and rice flour dumplings! Lunch was also a big event in fact one amazing place we ate at was a food market on the top floor of a department store. Lots of different little stalls selling fresh food - you could point at what you fancied such as chicken, tofu, shitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, pak choy, cabbage, broccoli which they would weigh and you would pay in the region of £4.50 for two people! It would then be freshly cooked for you in the kitchen behind the stall. They added slices of root ginger, fresh herbs and infused oils. It was the best food I've ever tasted, simple, fresh and incredibly tasty!

The Acupuncture Department

We observed two doctors, Dr Bao who was Head of Acupuncture, and Dr Zhou. Dr Bao was incredibly busy, treating between 6 and 10 patients at any one time and when we arrived at 8am the place was already a hive of activity. Very little privacy was on offer for the patients but they simply revealed the part of their body which needed treating and took their shoes and socks off. People were very friendly towards us after we had been there three or four days, as many of the patients received treatment every day or every other day. We became acquainted by saying "Ni Hao" which means "Hello" in Chinese.

The following are a small selection of the conditions and treatments we saw:

Facial Paralysis (Bells Palsy): this was very common. We saw people ranging from a young woman aged 14, men in their 30 and 40's, and also women in their 50's with varying degrees of one-sided facial paralysis. Dr Bao said it appeared to be very common in Asian people, who seem more susceptible to it for some reason. Perhaps it was because people are in and out of air conditioned buildings then immediately into intense heat (it was sometimes 38'C outside whilst we were in China and also extremely humid).

In the acute phase of the condition (up to 15 days), treatment included the needles being inserted and taken out very quickly, within seconds, to stimulate the qi of the meridians of the affected side of the face. Only after 15 days were the needles retained and gentle electro-acupuncture applied.

We observed one woman in her 50's who was in the acute phase. We saw her treated every day, over a two week period and we definitely saw a big improvement during that time. Her face was initially very dropped on her left side, and she couldn't close her eye properly. By the time we were leaving to return to the UK, she could close her eye lid and her mouth wasn't as dropped. She was happy with the progress she had made because she gave us the 'thumbs up' sign when we asked with sign language how she was.

Cervical Spondylosis: This was also very common. We were lucky enough to see an X-ray of a patient, which showed bony growths on the edges of the cervical vertebrae, rather like a birds beak. Many people suffering with this condition reported numbness in their fingers and sometimes radiating pain down their arm.

Quite often patients would say "Oh I also haven't been sleeping well and I have tinnitus, so will you put some needles in for these too?" and Dr Bao would laugh and say "of course!".

Prolapsed Lumbar Vertebrae: Again very common indeed.

Treating Winter Diseases in the Summer time: This was very interesting to observe because this isn't a treatment which currently happens in the UK as far as I know. We saw a man being treated for Chronic Lung Qi Deficiency, which manifested as bad chest complaints during the cold winter months (recurring colds and coughs, bronchitis). The treatment was one of warming the lung cavity with ginger and moxa and also the Kidney energy (lower lumbar region). This is a picture of the man being treated.


Chronic Lung Qi Deficiency being treated with a cake of ginger and moxa. The moxa would warm the ginger, the ginger juice would soak into the Lung cavity and also the lower lumbar region (warming the Kidney energy). Ginger juice is energetically warming in nature.

This patient also received acupuncture treatment.

This patient received treatment every day during a two week period of a specific part of the summer months to be most effective.

Stroke We saw many people who had suffered a Stroke. On a number of occasions we were lucky enough to follow Dr Zhou on her Stroke Ward round. We saw her treat a man with acupuncture who had recently had a stroke which included strong needle manipulation of a Heart point on the Heart meridian close to He1, but not actually He1, due to proximity of the artery and nerves in the axiliary), LI11, Pc6 if blood pressure ok, if blood pressure high choose TB5 instead, Bl40, Sp6, Shishencong. LI4 needled pointing towards little finger if hand closed in a fist, otherwise pointed to 1st mcp. She said the prognosis for patients who received acupuncture within 15 days of a stroke was extremely good and that acupuncture can be very effective up 6 months after the first attack, however prognosis isn't as good after this time although acupuncture is very effective for these patients in avoiding another attack.


Fire Cupping This lady was receiving a cupping treatment to benefit her back. The cups are administered by creating a vacuum by using a small flame to take the oxygen out of the cup. The vacuum then brings the blood up to the surface of the skin. The cups are said to draw 'Wind' out of the body. Cupping can also benefit the flow of qi up the spine.

Scalp Acupuncture Scalp Acupuncture is used on the motor sensory nerve areas of the head. Dr Zhou informed us that needles can be left in for upto 12 hours - yes hours! These patients are treated on a regular basis both with scalp acupuncture and also points along the affected side of the body.

Obesity We observed a young woman in her early twenties who was being treated for obesity. The doctor said the patient had not received any advice on changing her diet because it wasn't necessary in this case because she was constitutionally fat! The needles were inserted along the meridians of the abdomen, but not in actual acupuncture points. Electro-acupuncture was applied.

My observations of this type of treatment is that some people are constitutionally susceptible to a build-up of fat in particular areas of their body and this treatment simply breaks down the fatty tissue and helps the body to expel it.

The patient we observed had lost 40 kilos in three month (the photo opposite is of this patient after the three month period. Bruising can happen occasionally, as can be seen on the photo). We were informed that treatment of this kind works best on people between the ages of 25 and 50. After this age the metabolism slows down and the fatty deposits are more difficult for the body to expel.

Acute Back Sprain A woman came into the outpatient's department with acute back pain. The doctor inserted Yaotongxue which are extra points on the back of the hand, opposite side to the pain, and asked the patient to move around. The patient did as she was told, even though she was in a lot of pain. These needles were retained for 10 minutes, then the woman was able to lie down on the treatment couch to receive further treatment which consisted of strong palpation of the disks (diagnosis was prolapse of disk) and acupuncture needles inserted around the vertebra affected and the sacrum with strong manipulation of the needles. I saw the patient again 30 minutes after her treatment and she was laughing and looking a lot happier, so she obviously felt a lot better in this short space of time.

Other conditions observed:

Herpes Zoster (Shingles) of the abdomen and also the head, perennial and allergic rhinnitus, tinnitus, trigeminal neuralgia, headaches, impotence, incontinence, insomnia, frozen shoulder, knee and general joint pain, sports injuries, chronic cough, vertigo, thyroid-ectomy post-surgery pain, bi-polar disorder, dizziness, sprained ankle, tennis elbow, prolapse disks, myopia, rheumatoid arthritis pain.

bottom of page