Cultural & Business Guide

Chinese medicine


Chinese traditional medicine is well known worldwide. In the western countries it is considered a complementary practice, while in China (and in the Chinese oversea communities) it is still the type of treatment that the Chinese prefer.

Of course, in China, western medicine and practices are adopted in many hospitals, where actually, Chinese traditional medicine and western medicine coexist.

What is CTM?

CTM is the acronym for Chinese Traditional Medicine, which includes: drugs (herbs and animal derived products), medical and mental practices (i.e. moxibustion, acupuncture, qi gong, and others) and even food itself is a means to keep healthy.

Considering that generally qi gong and tai qi quan are considered safe practices, drugs may contain herbs or substances which can cause allergy. If you intend to take Chinese traditional medicine for your illness, make sure that you are not allergic to the composition of the drugs you are going to use.

Anyway, in China, apart from traditional medicine you also have the choice to receive western medicine, so no wonder that if you have an appointment with a doctor in a Chinese hospital, you may be asked if you prefer to have Chinese traditional medicine (Zhong Yao 中药) or western medicine ( Xi Yao西药).

Insurance or not insurance?

If you are planning to go to China, you’d better take into consideration the possibility of getting a private health insurance.

Generally speaking, if you move to China for work reasons, consider to include benefits such as a good health insurance in the negotiations of your contract, and do check what it covers in order to avoid unpleasant situations especially in case of serious illnesses.

The basic conditions which need to be satisfied in order to have a minimum health insurance coverage are as follows:

  • Medical expenses such as specialist check-up, surgery, treatment
  • Emergency transport
  • Repatriation in extreme cases

Carefully check the hospitals that have agreement policies with your insurance. If they are too far away from your house, consider an issue of traffic jams in Chinese cities.

Hospitals in China

China is a huge country but the standard of sanitary service varies from city to city. Of course, in the biggest cities you will find high-level quality hospitals, both public ones and private clinics where doctors may have studied at western universities. Hospitalization and fees vary, but generally fees in international hospitals are quite high, so if you have an insurance, check beforehand if the service of an international hospital is covered.

Public hospitals generally request more affordable fees that have to be paid before the visit or service (and generally after a long queue!) and most of them have a pharmacy inside.

Make sure that the hospital you refer to has English speaking staff, unless you speak fluent Chinese or have a person you trust who can translate for you even the posology of drugs.

Do not forget that in China it is not uncommon to pay or give a present to the doctor who treats you. This is a deep part of the guanxi process that plays a very important role in the Chinese society.

Furthermore, it may be a typical situation to be surrounded by people who are curious about your clinical situation: even though in China there are many foreigners living, a foreigner in a public hospital may be seen as a rarity and curiosity anyway, especially if he/she is willing to take Chinese traditional medicine. Forget privacy!

Allergy to…

Chinese food is absolutely delicious and really varies deeply from province to province, so even if you are particularly picky, you will surely find something you will be fond of.

However, pay attention that in Chinese cuisine there are ingredients uncommon to your digestive system, and you may appear to be allergic to some products, so be careful.

Gluten and peanut oil are very common and present in many Chinese dishes, so it is better to inform the waiter (in Chinese, better if you have a written text) about the ingredients you are allergic to, and ask for food with no content of such ingredients.

Chinese food offers a lot of possibilities for vegetarians: doufu (tofu), rice, vegetables and fruits represent the basis of daily meals.

Last but not least, there are very few “gluten-free” restaurants, but they are growing in big cities, so for people with celiac disease there are also possibilities to taste real Chinese food without the risk of having allergic ingredients.


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: Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, 2013.

External links

Project 2014-1-PL01-KA200-003591