2011 Student-Faculty Fellows: Carthage College

Mentor: Dan Choffnes
Students:  Samuel Haswell, Kala Istvanek, Scolastica Njoroge, John Tackes III

Traditional Medicine in Contemporary Beijing

The Carthage College Team in Beijing

Project Abstract

Dr. Du taking the pulse

For four weeks in July and August 2011, our research team studied the practice of healthcare in Beijing. In modern China, patients can choose to be treated by Western medical techniques, traditional Chinese medical approaches, or a combination of the two. There is also an active sector of self-care and preventive medicines. To better understand the choices people make when facing health-related decisions, we went to a hub of urban social life, the public park, to interview people about healthcare. In one investigation, we talked with people about their past illness experiences and learned how they decided whether and where to seek medical care. We also discussed with them the outcomes of their treatments. We gathered a large set of case studies that are helping us assess the factors influencing patients’ choices in medicine. In a second investigation, we characterized the practice of yangsheng, “life nurturing,” folk medical activities. We asked people about their perceptions of classical Chinese exercises, modern sports, diet and nutrition, herbal home remedies, and emotional health. There was considerable diversity in peoples’ beliefs in folk medical practices, with a broad range of sources of health information, an interesting outcome that we are still studying. We also had the opportunity to tour private and public hospitals of Chinese medicine, observe traditional medical treatments, and interview patients, doctors, medical students, and graduate researchers in the clinical setting. The student participants will share their experiences at an upcoming research seminar on our campus. We intend to prepare two manuscripts for publication, and also plan to give at least two conference presentations this year.

Samuel Haswell

Pharmacists filling prescriptions

The collaborative research project I participated in with Nick Tackes investigated Chinese conceptions of Western versus Chinese medicine. To gather our data we conducted interviews in parks and hospitals in Beijing. We collected narratives of illness histories to investigate how Chinese people have treated their health problems, both chronic and acute, in the past. While in China, I learned a great deal about traditional Chinese medicine, but I also gained a profound appreciation for Chinese art, cuisine, and the hospitality of the Chinese people.

Kala Istvanek

Kala Istvanek conducting park interview, Huairou, July 2011

Every morning those in my research group awoke about 4:30 A.M. to prepare ourselves to step out into overpowering humidity and make our way to the park to do interviews. The heat was dreadful, but I would do it over again just to continue the conversations. Our goal was to find out how Chinese view health and what they do to stay healthy, but we learned far more from our interviewees. They told us about their hobbies, their grandchildren, and the best places to visit in China. In our down time we explored the streets to better understand how these people live. We have taken the information gathered from our interviews back to the States to compare our interviewees’ health practices with those written about in Chinese texts such as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine. We hope to have our research published so it may act as a window for further studies of health practices in contemporary China.

Scolastica Njoroge

Scolastica Njoroge interviewing male patient in Beijing

Our research group spent four weeks during the summer of 2011 interviewing and observing people in public parks and hospitals in Beijing. We sought to discover whether popular knowledge and practice of everyday wellness activities adhere to formal traditional Chinese medical doctrine. We discovered that people’s decisions on everyday health activities are influenced by a plethora of advice from numerous sources ranging from television programs to brochures found in grocery stores to Chinese formal and classical medical texts. We analyzed responses to our questions on why some Chinese pursue health promoting activities and considered how these activities benefit their health. We discovered that, although people have varied reasons for practicing health promoting activities, their main motivation is to prevent disease from occurring.

John Tackes III

Nick Tackes, Kala Istvanek, and Zhao Shuhong interviewing in park, Huairou, August 2011

My month long adventure in Beijing revolved around studying the healthcare experiences of local Chinese. I considered the relationship between the treatment decisions of these people and commonly held beliefs regarding the medical efficacy of both Chinese and Western medicine. Commonly held beliefs suggest that Chinese medicine is proficient at treating chronic conditions, while Western medicine is effective in treating acute conditions. Moreover, this set of beliefs does not seem to affect or be affected by the treatment decisions or experiences of Chinese. On many mornings we spent time interviewing Chinese in a local park, asking them about their previous experiences with illness. We discovered that in many cases they chose medical treatment which ran counter to commonly held beliefs. These outcomes suggest that the commonly held beliefs of the Chinese are not a primary factor in shaping healthcare decisions.

The group in front of the Chinese Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences