Healing the Oriental Way

Decades of pungent fumes from roots, insects and herbs cling to the air inside a small apartment. A grand configuration of square drawers reigns over one wall, and a woman stands before it dutifully dispensing the curative ingredients from them.

An old man perched behind an ageing wooden desk takes his patient's wrist face-up on a small cushion. For five minutes, he adjusts his fingers ever so slightly over the veins to feel the pulses, and then he wordlessly writes down his diagnosis in a calligraphic scrawl.

Here in Dr. Choi Man-Bit's practice in Hong Kong's North Point district, this is how for decades patients have been cured using wisdom distilled over thousands of years. It's also how millions of people in China, and a growing number in Western and other countries including Russia, prefer to get healed.

Zhongyixue, or Chinese medicine, is one in a family of Oriental medicine that also includes Japanese and Korean branches. Clinics commonly provide two types of treatment: herbology and acupuncture.

Herbology draws from the 500-odd herbs, insects, roots, branches and leaves usually available at each clinic to boil down into a liquid, ingestible medicine. Some common ingredients include angelica, wolfberry, chrysanthemum, lily bulbs and apricot seeds.

In acupuncture, a doctor places hair-thin, sterilized needles at specific points on the body.

Chinese medicine is guided by Taoism. The philosophy of tao, literally "path," says a person is at an ideal state when his or her path is at harmony with the path of his or her surroundings.

"In Western thinking, a person is opposed to nature. In Eastern thinking, a person is tao, and harmony is the goal," said Vera Terekhova, a lecturer at the Moscow Medical Academy's philosophy and political science department.

"For that reason, Chinese medicine is oriented toward healing man of all that's opposed to his surroundings," Terekhova said.

In countries with Western medical systems, however, Chinese medicine goes through hurdles before integrating because there is a belief that, as Terekhova said, "Chinese medicine is based on myths, whereas Western medicine relies on empirical knowledge."

Igor Tabakov / MT
An authentic set of square drawers contains the herbs and other curative ingredients at the Kanti center for Chinese healing.
But doctors who know both methods tend to see Western and Chinese medicines as complementary, not mutually exclusive.

"In Asia, Western medicine and Oriental medicine have co-existed well for decades," said Dr. Leslie McGee, president of the Sacramento, California-based American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. "A well-trained practitioner of Oriental medicine is equipped to understand the interplay of the two systems."

For cancer patients, for example, acupuncture can be used to ease the side effects of chemotherapy.

The Oriental method, Dr. McGee said, gives better results in some cases: sinus infections, menstrual discomfort and pain syndromes.

Unfortunately, Russia's federal organs do not have a system to regulate the Chinese medicines that are sold in the country: Problems lie not in illegal herbs and roots, but in the quality of medicines that legal ingredients become after entering the country.

The federal health watchdog, Roszdravnadzor, doesn't let unauthorized ingredients pass inspections, said Alexei Zabkin, head of Roszdravnadzor's press service. However, because it knows nothing about how the imported ingredients are then prepared in-country, it's impossible to say whether the Chinese medicine sold here is safe for consumption.

Because of this, Roszdravnadzor cannot advise on the safety of Russia's Chinese clinics, Zabkin said. The Health and Social Development Ministry also declined to give advice, saying this was out of its sphere as a primarily legislative body.

Moscow has only a smattering of Chinese clinics.

Kanti, in the Druzhba shopping center, is a trustworthy source of Chinese healing -- Chinese officials often stop by as part of their itineraries, the most recent being Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan in June. Their doctors, however, were tight-lipped about their services, declining to comment on anything about their clinic for this article.

The center is split by method, including therapeutic, gynecological, massage and dermatological, and most doctors in the pristinely clean green and white halls received their training in China.

Kanti partners with Druzhba's Qiancaotang, or Thousand Herbs, pharmacy, which sells many kinds of pills and medicines that are imported already prepared at varying prices.

The Kanfu Center for Chinese Medicine has doctors trained in China who communicate with patients through translators, for an authentic experience. They offer massage and acupuncture.

Dr. Gui Ziangun's practice, the Center of Traditional Eastern Medicine, offers baguanfa, or suction cup therapy, where heated cups are placed over acupressure points for healing. The doctor, who was trained at the Henan Medical Institute in China and went through two years of practical training in Beijing, also offers massage and herbological cures.


Center of Traditional Eastern Medicine,
8 Ul. Malaya Dmitrovka, Bldg. 1, 694-0217, M. Pushkinskaya.

Kanfu Center for Chinese Medicine,
12 Ul. Tryokhgorny Val, Bldg. 2, 205-0053, M. Ulitsa 1905 Goda.

Kanti, third floor of Druzhba shopping center,
4 Novoslobodskaya Ul., (499) 973-0906, M. Novoslobodskaya.