Cupping in China

During my time in Chaozhou, I had the opportunity to visit a hot springs.  While at the hot springs, we were treated to many of the extra cost perks, such as the fish pool and the molten lava area.  Unfortunately, my group had too many people and so we could not all receive massages from the limited number of staff available.  We decided our trip leader, Edward, was most deserving of a massage and so he disappeared into the back room.  When we met up with him an hour or so later, Edward seemed very relaxed.  He then proceeded to show us his back.  During his massage, he had decided to also get a cupping treatment.  Essentially, the masseuse had placed many glasses all over his back and lit the tops on fire.  The cups act as suction devices as all the air is removed.  This creates large round marks all over the receiver’s back.

When we asked Edward what this was for, he began to explain to us the concept of yin and yang.  He told us that each person has a natural yin and yang but that the two can easily get out of balance.  This can happen from too much stress in your life, or a myriad of other causes.  When you eat too much spicy food or simply have too much anger and stress bottled up inside, your yang will overpower your yin. Supposedly, when you have too much yang your breath will begin to smell.  The cupping treatment is done to help remove the yang from your body and restore the natural balance of yin and yang.

When looking at this technique, and other traditional Chinese medicine techniques, it is interesting to see the fine line between science and religion that many attempt to draw.  These ways of doing medicine from so long ago are based on ideas of yin, yang, and qi, which all seem to be not provable through scientific methods.  Yet they also seem to work in healing many sicknesses and ailments. On top of this, many of these traditions have been built on religion.  As Palmer tells us:

Attempts to secularize the techniques cannot obliterate a millennia-long history of their being embedded in religion. The lineages of which many masters are the inheritors, the religious symbolism of the classical texts describing the techniques, and the magical content of the kung fu films and novels that permeate Chinese pop culture, all conspire to make the religious roots of Chinese body traditions resurface. (p 102)

No matter how hard we try, people will continue to eat special herbs or practice daily routines that they believe will help them live a healthier life.  While they may believe in modern science, people also tend to believe whatever helps heal them the fastest.  If their ancestors relied on a certain God or herb to get better, why shouldn’t they do the same?

The Chinese way of examining the body and health is definitely an interesting one.  I find it fascinating to hear about the one spot on my foot that will relieve my headaches or a certain herb that will clear my sinuses.  But after seeing up and close two people who have received a cupping treatment (Edward and Tommy), I’ve decided my yang will have to stay too high because I don’t plan to have cups lit on my back anytime soon.