How do foreigners think of Chinese medicine

Chinese medicine

What is TCM?

TCM is the abbreviation for traditional Chinese medicine. It includes: Medicines (herbs and animal products), medical and mental practices (for example moxibustion, acupuncture, Qi Gong and others) and diet are ways to stay healthy.

Qi Gong and Tai Qi Quan are considered safe practices. The herbs, on the other hand, can contain herbs or substances that can cause allergic reactions. If you plan to use traditional Chinese medicine for your illness, find out beforehand that you are not allergic to any of the substances you will be consuming.

In China, however, you also have the choice to get Western medicine. Therefore, the doctor may ask you whether you want Western (Zhong Yao 中药) or traditional Chinese medicine (Xi Yao 西药).

Take out insurance or not?

If you are planning to live in China, consider getting private health insurance.

If you are emigrating to China, you should definitely negotiate good health insurance in your contract. And check beforehand what this covers everything in order to avoid unpleasant situations in the event of a serious illness.

Your health insurance should definitely include the following benefits:

  • Treatment costs such as: examination by a specialist, operations, treatments
  • Ambulance
  • The repatriation to the home country, in extreme cases

Carefully check the hospitals that work with your health insurance company. If you are further from where you live, be aware that traffic jams are common in China.

Hospitals in china

China is a huge country, but the standard of health services varies greatly from one city to another. Of course, you will find very good hospitals in the big cities - both state and private clinics, whose doctors have studied in the West. Hospitalization and costs vary, but in general the costs in international hospitals are quite high. So if you have insurance, check beforehand that it will also cover the costs of international hospitals.

State hospitals are cheaper. Payment is made before the consultation or treatment (and there is usually a long queue). Most state hospitals have a pharmacy.

Make sure the hospital in question has English speaking staff. Unless you are fluent in Chinese or have someone you can fully trust to translate, including when it comes to the right dosage.

Remember, it is not uncommon in China to give a gift to the doctor treating you. This is an important part of the Guangxi process, which is very important in Chinese society.

In addition, it can be a typical situation that you are surrounded by people who are interested in your state of health. Even if there are many foreigners living in China, a foreigner in a state hospital is still a rarity, especially if he or she wants to practice TCM. Forget your privacy!


Chinese food is absolutely delicious and it differs greatly depending on the province. This means that even if you are very picky about it, you are sure to find something you like.

But remember that Chinese food has ingredients that your digestive system is not used to. And you could be allergic to some substances. So be careful.

Gluten and peanut oil are very common in Chinese food. Therefore, you should inform the waiter about the ingredients you are allergic to (in Chinese, it is best to have written text) and ask him about food that does not contain these ingredients.

Chinese food offers many options for vegetarians: tofu, rice, vegetables and fruits form the basis of most meals.

There are also a few restaurants that offer gluten-free food. But these arise mainly in big cities. So there is also the possibility for people with gluten intolerance to enjoy traditional Chinese food without the risk of an allergic reaction.


    Bridie Andrews, Mary Brown Bulloc, “Medical transitions in twentieth-century China” - Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2014;

    Neil Munro, “Chinese strategies for getting health care: guanxi and its alternatives” - Glasgow: Center for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, 2013.

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