Wear More Clothes and Drink Hot Water

Why do Chinese people say you should wear more clothing and drink hot water? Have you been to the doctor or a hospital in China? Maybe you've tried some traditional treatments such as acupuncture or cupping. I asked GoEast teacher Dana Chen 陈乔丹 what happens when you get sick in China. She shared her personal preferences as well as typical Chinese beliefs and customs to treat a cold and stay healthy. Dana has a Master's in Linguistics from Sichuan University, spent a year teaching Chinese in Spain, and likes to share stories about China with her students.


Do people often catch a cold in China?

We say getting a cold is zhao liang 着凉 and getting a cold gan mao 感冒, it's more serious. Your throat and your head aches and you're tired. You need to eat some pills. Last Winter, there was a bad flu, very serious. So many people got it and it was difficult to recover.

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Zhao liang 着凉 just means if you have a little cold and your nose is not so good, maybe because you didn't wear enough clothes. You know, Chinese people always like to wear a lot of clothes, especially grandpas and grandmas, they always give the baby too many clothes. Chinese people like to feel warm and don't like to be cold.

In Winter, my friend told me to wear more clothes (ni yao duo chuan yifu 你要多穿衣服). Is that something your mom and dad would say?

Yeah, they always tell you to wear more clothes. If a friend says it, it shows that she really cares for you, just like family.

In the USA, we often eat chicken soup when we have a cold. In China, is there a specific food you eat when you're sick?

When you have a cold you are unable to eat spicy food or salty food, oily food. Just very light stuff, without any taste, I think. Many people make rice porridge. I don't like it but when I'm sick, my mom wants me to eat porridge.

How do you treat a small cold?

Drink more hot water. Chinese always say this for any small sickness. Drink more water, wear more clothes. Especially hot water. Doctors say that too, because we have Traditional Chinese Medicine and our body has yin (阴 cool elements) and yang (阳 warm elements) and we should balance them.

You know that when we are young we are not allowed to drink cold water or ice cream. Only a little, only in Summer. Not like foreigners, they can drink cold water every day in the Winter. But for us, when we're young, if we eat ice cream in Winter, our parents must not know. We will eat it behind their backs.

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Do you usually take pills or use Traditional Chinese Medicine when you're sick?

There are many traditional methods. I use traditional methods mixed with modern (zhong xi yao 中西药). For me, I think that in fact the modern pills are more effective. People say that traditional medicine will heal the foundation, the reason why you got sick. It will make your body better but maybe slowly. People think that the modern, the Western medicine, will maybe only cover the problem. You will feel, "Ah! I'm ok!" but in fact you're not ok.

I think sometimes traditional medicine just makes you feel better in your mind. But you know they have many other methods, not pills, not medicine. Like massage or cupping or the needles (acupuncture) a lot of things. I don't know why but sometimes it works.

Sometimes with zhao liang 着凉, a small cold, we will put the cups on our back (cupping). After maybe 5 or 10 minutes, you take off the cup and there will be a red or red to black circle. If it's darker, that means you have too much cold or wind in your body and it helps you to get it out. Before, you feel you are so tired, like your body is heavy, and after, kind of relaxed.

How sick do you need to be to miss work or school?

If you have a fever maybe you need to not go to work. Sometimes, with a fever it's ok but last winter, many schools, more than half of the students are sick because of the flu. Then they will all have a rest at home and not go to school. It was a serious situation so the students who have flu don't come to school and can save others.

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When do you go to the hospital? How do you choose the hospital?

If it's very serious and I can't just buy some pills to handle it or it's like an emergency and I'm afraid, then I go to the hospital so I don't die. But most of the time I'm lazy and I don't like hospitals, they're really troublesome.

I will choose a hospital that I think is bigger because a bigger hospital makes people feel that the doctors are professional. Chinese people always like to choose a doctor that is professional or maybe older, has a high title. They will believe what the doctor says. If it's a young doctor, maybe they will doubt him.

Can you go to the pharmacy and ask them for advice if you're sick?

Yeah, it's ok because all the people who are working in the pharmacy, they have some basic medical knowledge. But, sometimes they will suggest this medicine for you but only because the company will pay them a little. I've heard that usually in the pharmacy, the pills that's easiest to see, these have some advertisement or payback for the workers. On the bottom, that's the cheaper ones and maybe they have the same stuff inside the pill.