Zhongyao 中药 (Chinese herbal medicine) is well known throughout the
world--and in many places it's actually taken seriously! While Xiyao 西药
(Western medicine) focuses on treating symptoms, Chinese medicine goes after
the root of the problem, seeking to regulate the delicate vital balances in
the body by compensating for certain deficiencies with elements found in
daziran 大自然 (Mother Nature).
If all that sounds a lot more complicated than simply popping a Quaalude,
fear not! The Comrade, ever solicitous of his waiguopengyou 外国朋友
(foreign friends ), is here to describe and prescribe some time-tested
traditional Chinese medicinal remedies for many common maobing 毛病
One thing you can count on in China (besides an abacus) is laduzi 拉肚子
(diarrhea). Sooner or later, even those of us with Great Leap Forward-forged
cast-iron stomachs that can (and have!) digested bowls of sawdust eventually
wind up with it. As if having to spend bantian 半天 (half a day) sitting on
the toilet isn't bad enough, you also have to listen to all your friends
and relatives give you advice on how to rectify your sodden condition. It's
enough to make your touteng 头疼 (head ache).
A sure-fire cure for even the most persistent laduzi 拉肚子 is to simply
soak some yangmei 杨梅 (sour plums) in baijiu 白酒 (Chinese white lightning)
for a few months and ganbei 干杯 (cheers)! And don't forget: there's
no drinking age in China, so be sure to use this remedy on your children, too!
If bianbi 便秘 (constipation) is your problem, 5000 years of history and
tradition dictates that a bar of soap up your butt is the cure.
The Comrade's personal panacea and prescription for pleasure is, of course,
erguotou 二锅头 (Beijing backyard moonshine). That's why he always carries a
flask of it in one pocket and a jar of cu 醋 (vinegar) in the other. Wanyi
万一 (just in case) the Comrade gets drunk, a couple of swigs of vinegar are
just what the daifu 大夫 (doctor) ordered to sober right up! (Speaking of
vinegar, wash with it every day to keep your face looking white and
For a sore throat, just wet the tip of a kuaizi 筷子 (chopstick), dab it in
salt, and touch it to your uvula (that little thing that hangs down in the
back of your throat). If you don't outu 呕吐 (vomit), this is a guaranteed
For relief from fashao 发烧 (fever), try the following therapy: have someone
rub a spoon vigorously up and down your back until your spine is nearly
exposed. The excruciating pain will cause you to sweat until the fever
For simple chronic yaosuanbeitong 腰酸背痛 (backaches), try baguanzi 拔罐子,
a process by which someone smears black grease all over your back, lights a
fire in a medicated glass jar and then slaps the burning contraption down
onto your flesh, open-mouth side facing down. After the fire burns out they
yank the jar off and it makes a popping sound like when you pull a plunger
out of a toilet bowl. The bizarre procedure leaves your back looking like a
giant pepperoni pizza, but hey, don't argue with success. It's
good for the flu too.
Other antics include dianxue 点穴, or pushing on pressure points to cure
illness or paralysis and even improve eyesight. While the above curative methods are practically mianfei 免费 (cost-free),
there are many Chinese herbal medicines that come with a hefty price tag.
Renshen 人参, or Ginseng, sells for up to ?500 per gram. That's more
expensive than baifen 白粉 (cocaine)! While Ginseng is basically an
all-around bupin 补品 (restorative substance), one of its vital uses is to
prolong the life of someone on their deathbed just long enough to give their
relatives a chance to get to the hospital to gaobie 告别 (say goodbye).
There are also many other buyao 补药 and natural 'cures' to be found in the
animal world. And the general rule for Chinese medicine is: the closer the
shengwu 生物 (living creature) is to miejue 灭绝 (extinction), the more
diseases it can cure when ground up, boiled and ingested!
To help heal a burn and prevent or heal a scar, try eating gezi 鸽子
(pigeon). Guibie 龟鳖 (turtle) is also known for its curative powers, as is
the "dried oviduct fat of a Chinese forest frog." To boost vitality and keep
up your overall resistance to illness, ground-up lujiao 鹿角 (deer antlers)
are tops, as are shark bone powder, snake powder pills, dog kidney capsules
and cow penis. Huguoyao 虎骨药膏 (tiger bone medicated patches) work great
for sore muscles and joints. And then there's shedan 蛇胆 (snake gall
bladder) to improve your eyesight.
During a recent visit to his neighborhood yaodian 药店 (drug store), the
Comrade picked up some medicaments that, from the descriptions on the
labels, sounded too good to be true. The box of a certain product made from
bear guts reads, "functions and indications: clearing away the heart fire,
reducing fever, calming the liver, improving the eyesight and relieving
apasm. It is suitable for treating aterioclerotic, hypertension, angina
pectoris, coronary heart disease and arrhythmia. Acute and chronic
hepatitis, icterhepatitis and liver cirrhosis, cholecystitis,
cholelithiasis, (among other things, various kinds of epilepsy), preventing
and controlling attacks, affection after delivery, infantile, diabetes, sore
throat, bronchitis, asthma, epidemic hemorragic conjunctivitis and nebula,
hemorrhoid, injury, anti-fatigue and recovering physical strength." But what
good is it, really, if it can't raise the dead?
The label on a bag of caterpillar fungus boasts, "it can build up the health
and also has the special curative effect in treatment for asthma,
tuberculosis and many other diseases.?According to the label on a package
containing the reproductive organs of a deer, its contents have the
medicinal properties necessary to treat "back or knee pain accompanied by
cold sensation, limited movement of the joints, spermatorrhea, dizziness and
If all this sounds a little extraordinary to you, that's because it is.
Chinese medicine, like the Chinese language and holding chopsticks, is too
complicated and mysterious for you round-eyes to possibly comprehend
- but don't let that discourage you from trying!
A fun game: After boiling your pot of Chinese medicinal herbs, toss the gunk
into the street for taren 他人 (someone else) to step on and subsequently
get the illness which the medicine was intended to cure!