Chinese Medicine, Health and Well-being

Health and well-being are most important in life, both physically and psychologically and when we are unwell, we seek medical assistance. Unfortunately, this can be difficult for many Chinese patients in the UK who have difficulty communicating in English. They are unable to translate their symptoms or the medical terms for diseases and illnesses.

For these reasons in Manchester, health centres for Chinese people were established to overcome these problems. Chinese people therefore have two choices of medical care: Western medicine with the usual NHS via GP’s appointments and their own Chinese medicine through private practitioners and medical herb shops. Patients can still use both if preferred, with guidance from the Chinese Health Information Centre (CHIC) which is staffed by doctors who understand Chinese people and their culture.

As well as housing the Chinese Library, Manchester’s Central Library Service has supported smaller projects such as “Dim Sum Little Pieces of Heart”, an anthology of British-Chinese stories published by Commonword in 1997.  

Chinese Health Information Centre

Established in 1987 by Doctor Chui, the Chinese Health Information Centre (CHIC) which is based on Holdsworth Street in Manchester city centre was formed to reduce the language and cultural barriers of health within the Chinese and English community. Further aims were to promote and educate people about diseases and how they can be prevented. CHIC provides the Chinese community with a more personal approach of health service by means of volunteer Chinese GPs who see patients three times a week. CHIC is the only ethnic group practice which provides its own interpreting support.

Additionally, CHIC also provides telephone enquiry and drop-in services for people, health information leaflets, health talk sessions, monthly diabetic screening, exercise activities, parenting, drug awareness and first aid classes. CHIC is another way of drawing the Chinese community together with some 8,000 patients registered and rising each year. These activities help the community to build self-confidence as well as giving the opportunity for isolated community members to make new friends.  

Types of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theories align with the Buddhist and Taoist teaching that daily living should be kept in balance with the human body. Like the Yin-Yang with the five elements in cycles, one body part cannot work without the help of others.

 The body system is viewed as a whole vessel, with many channels for which life force ‘qi’ (blood) flows through functional models of what we otherwise know as organs. Treating the body as a functional system means when medical problem occurs (e.g. a disruption in the flow qi); treatment focuses on the cause to encourage qi to flow again and heal itself whilst the body rebalances with dietary rehabilitation and gentle exercise like Tai Chi.

 Besides asking general questions about how patients feel and their family histories, diagnoses of conditions are established by feeling for the radial artery pulse, along with observation of the tongue, body odour, checking different parts of the torso for tenderness and differences in body part temperature can all provide important information about the patient’s well being.

Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments branch into these major types: –

• Acupuncture – A technique of inserting and manipulating fine needles into specific acupuncture points on the body, this is often used to relieve pain along with the use of Moxibustion (the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb) to warm and encourage blood circulation.

•Herbal Medicine – Medicine is made with a complex combination of Chinese herbs that cure problems and balance the body. Each remedy is tailored to the patient depending on their health problems. It is often brewed from its crude form into a medical soup.  

•Dietary Food Therapy – Rebalancing the body from excess or deficiencies with food to replenish needed nutrients.

•Die-Da – A popular Chinese liniment which can heal external damage such as bruises, sprains and sore muscles.

•Cupping – A massaging technique using glass cups on the body. A vacuum effect is created by warming air inside the cup with matches, to make the cup expand and then cool. Used with massage oils, the cups are slid around the body. The slight vacuum effect gives a reverse pressure massage.

•Tui-Na – Hands on body massage using acupressure (thumb presses), rubbing, percussion and stretches. Its purpose is to rebalance the body and open the body’s defensive qi to encourage its movements in the muscles.

 During the 1990s large steps in China were taken to rebuild cultural sites that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  Literature on liberal trends surfaced, for example texts on feminism such as those by noted scholar Dai Jinhua (1959 – present), a Marxist feminist scholar.

Mental Health

Chinese mental health issues are still not widely discussed in the community, but nevertheless are being addressed in Manchester by projects such as the SEVA Project and the Kwan Wai Project. The Kwan Wai formerly known as the name Chinese / Vietnamese Mental Health Project was set up in 1999 as one of the many projects at the Wai Yin Chinese Women Society as a result of needs identified during research funded by the National Lottery. The name was changed to the Kwan Wai Project in 2002.  Kwan Wai means support and caring. The project is funded by Manchester Social Services Department,


SEVA is a Hindi word which means service to your community, bringing honour to you and your family. Seva is a new initiative in Manchester which started in January 2011. The Team was formed as a partnership between Wai Yin Chinese Women Society, the Pakistani Resource Centre and the African and Caribbean Mental Health Service (ACMHS). The purpose of the SEVA Team is to help minority ethnic communities develop services which can support people suffering from mental health problems.