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Do Traditional Chinese Doctors Know What They Are On About?

As a Westerner in China you see traditional Chinese medicine stores all over the place. They contain shelves of strange concoctions and herbal medicines that we have never seen or even heard of before and which would certainly be frowned upon by any doctor from back home. But when we were offered the opportunity to visit an actual traditional Chinese doctor we thought we would go along just to see what it’s all about!

We were staying with a couple in Harbin that had been trying for a baby, and this particular doctor was recommended, as her “readings” were accurate and she can tell you what is wrong and how you can fix it using traditional methods. I say “readings” as the way she diagnoses is by placing 3 fingers on your wrist like she’s taking your blood pressure, and from this can discover all of your ailments! (Sounding skeptic warning bells here!!!)

So this how we found ourselves on a long and bumpy bus ride to the outskirts of Harbin in an area that even our host, a stout and proud Mongolian, said he wouldn’t want to visit at night! The doctors surgery looked like any other clinic and we paid our 3 Yuan each (about 60 cents) took a number and waited our turn.

The strangest part of this type of diagnosis is it appears that visiting this doctor is a communal affair, everyone waiting just sits around listening to others diagnoses, adding ohhs, ahhhs and nodding occasionally. Our friends went first and they were quite impressed with the doctor’s ability to read them and predict things they had wrong with them just from feeling their arms. As we didnt understand a word that was said we figured we would just see what happens when Tommo’s turn came around…


Tommo’s reading was done with the help of our friends as interpreters….which was interesting as the doctor would talk in mandarin and this would be interpreted to our Mongolian friend by his Chinese wife, who would then in turn interpret in English to us! It was the most mental game of medical Chinese whispers we have ever played!!!

The doctor has a small pink cushion that you place your wrist on and she places her 3 middle fingers on your pulse and the reading begins. Now, from a skeptics point of view, it does seem like “cold reading” and she asks if you suffered head aches, stomach aches, sore shoulders all until she landed on something, but who doesn’t suffer from these at some stage anyway right??? All in all she hit the mark about 50% of the time, and with odds like that diagnosing by flipping a coin may have been as accurate.

Something interesting she did pick up on with Tommo is the fact that he hasn’t been eating regular meals and that he has been eating too much meat, which with our constant travel has been true, we never know when we will be having our next meal and the abundance of street BBQ has been a little too irresistible to Tommo! Then again, as she would have known we weren’t locals, it’s not a far stretch to assume that our meal times may have been disrupted due to our lifestyle…


With me she picked up that I have back issues and even pointed out the exact location where I have the biggest problem, the accuracy was freaky! But she told me that this is because of something with my heart, but then failed to advise what it was or how I can actually fix it hmmmm riiggght!

Other than that we are both fit and healthy…..phew! Cause we thought for sure she’d be trying to sell us some crazy tiger testicle tea with the ground horn of unicorn concoction but nope, we just have to eat better! It turned out this doctor was not out to up-sell at all, you pay your tiny fee and she gives you general health advice. However questionable her “abilities” we certainly weren’t getting ripped off!

For less than a dollar it was interesting to see a side of medicine that we have never experienced before but as our Mongolian friend said “don’t take it to heart, if you want BBQ then have BBQ”  Wise words we think!