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My next theme is going to be Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM as it is often referred to, in and out of China. I’ll look at the background, the history, the various practices associated with this brand of “medicine” and then to be honest I’ll probably pour scorn on quite a lot of it.  But that’s me, and this is one of those topics it’s hard to remain serious about for too long – except in one area, and I’ll get to that a little later.

Before the series proper starts, I’d like to share a little fantasy business scenario that’s been playing through my head since I arrived in China.

My guy will never, ever have to eat flies again...

I’d like to go up into the hills of rural China, and find a handsome looking older Chinese gentleman, kind of like Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid, but Chinese rather than Japanese. He mustn’t be able to speak a word of English, and ideally he should be able to play some sort of traditional instrument that nobody has ever heard of in the West.

It would be really cool if he could do this blindfolded, and I want to take a picture of my sightless tai chi master stood by a table covered in sugar cubes, playing whatever the heck it is he plays. For this I will reward him with a hefty slice of my sugar selling business.

Something like this the "Yangqin" a cross between a xylophone and a dulcimer, it looks mystical enough doesn't it?

He will be pleased about this, because if he’s from rural China – he’ll need the money, and more importantly he will be amazed that gullible Westerners will in fact pay fifty pounds or more for a box of sugar cubes. Why?

Because these sugar cubes come with a back story, Mr. Chen (if that should prove to be his name) will (in my blurb at least) be a wise Chinese sage with the ability to “tune” sugar through the use of his harmonica substitute to cure a wide range of ills. In fact there may be a call center where young energetic Chinese pretend to relay these sicknesses to Mr. Chen, who will in fact be on the beaches of Sanya with two teenage honeys celebrating his new found wealth.

In exchange for this personal consultation and the wave of Mr. Chen’s bow (alright you don’t play a harmonica with a bow – but never mind), the Western alternative therapy seeker or practitioner will pay a princely sum of fifty pounds (plus postage and packing). And unlike all the other alternative therapies out there – we will offer a full money back guarantee if your disease isn’t cured by this sugar.

"Hello, sorry Mr. Chen's on another line Sir, but I am sure we have a cure for your over burdened wallet somewhere."

Once we have this out of the way, which should make the EU happy, it will be all plain sailing as the evidence shows that around 70% of our sugar eating chumps will get better, and the great news for Mr. Chen is that some of the 30% who don’t will be too lazy, or too polite to ask for their money back as well.

So why will our brand-new (but as ancient as the world of China) therapy succeed so well? That would be the placebo effect, and it’s on the placebo effect I want to spend a little time before we move over to TCM and why it’s such a success even when for the most part – it really doesn’t work very well. So tomorrow that’s where this theme will really begin.

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