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Health Standards and China

CHINA | Wednesday, 12 October 2011 | Views [590]

Your average Chinese person does not understand anything about health.  I don't say this to be stereotypical.  It's just true.  Most of my Chinese friends' knowledge seems to be largely based on old wives' tales and sorcery.  At least in America, I could count on my friends and family to at least consult some sort of quack pseudo-scientific article on the internet to bolster their inane claims about health or health care, but it appears our Chinese friends don't even do that.

Case in point:  This week, our school is doing renovations on part of our one teaching building.  They are re-painting and installing a sprinkler system.  (Installing a sprinkler system 3 years after the building is built could be the topic for a whole other column.)  Thus, our classrooms are full of fumes from whatever goes into the sprinkler conduits and certainly from all the fresh paint.  Going into certain sections was enough to cause one to be light-headed within a few minutes.  But our Chinese administrators felt no qualms about putting me, my fellow teachers, my pregnant wife and all of our students in such an atmosphere for hours on end.  It was not until we raised an even bigger stink ourselves that they even considered changing the venue for our classes.  We literally had to refuse to teach.

Now, we have been moved to another wing of the building which still has some smell, but not as much.  To keep the room ventilated, we keep the ceiling fans going full blast and have the windows flung wide open.  And now, these health-conscious Chinese are losing their minds because the fans, they say, are giving them colds.  Breathing paint fumes from directly across the hall is just fine, apparently.

There are several reasons for the woeful lack of medical knowledge in China.  First off, you've got a culture that did without universities or schools of higher learning for decades.  Most of our students come from families where the head of the family (usually the grandparent) didn't get educated at all.  Thus, the prevalence of old wives' tales abounds, and they are treated as seriously as any actual solid medical advice.  

Second, the Chinese have little grasp of cause and effect, which I theorize is because their educational model of "read, memorize, repeat" does not prepare them to think critically, think outside the box, or actually make application of what they learn.  One of the most popular pieces of medical advice in China is not to drink cold water.  This goes back to a time (which is still current in some places) where people had to boil water to make it potable.  They did so, of course, to distill out the impurities and germs that were in the water supply.  Because it was boiled, the water was hot when they drank it.  Now, generations later, they simply drink hot water because they think hot water is more healthy.  They believe that simply the temperature of the water can cause major maladies.  The joke amongst the Americans here is that cold water causes cancer, and hot water cures it.  It's not far from what the Chinese believe.  My wife went to an actual doctor for a stomach ache once, and the doctor concluded that she had the stomach ache because she drank too much cold water.

Third, as the example immediately above illustrates, Chinese doctors have absolutely abysmal training.

The Chinese seem to have no clue that the fan in my classroom is not giving them cold.  It couldn't possibly be because they don't wash their hands after wiping their butts.  You will never see a Chinese public toilet with soap at the wash basin.  They are concerned that not wearing enough clothes gives you a cold, but they are blissfully unaware that the rhinovirii and the staphococci they are carrying on their very hands are at the root of their illnesses, ALL of which they immediately run to the hospital for, receive an IV, and then are back at school the next day spreading their illnesses to their 7 roommates, their classmates, and whatever unfortunate person uses the desk immediately after them.  God help us all with what we must be stepping in, since every one of them feels free to spit on the floor and cough up whatever mucus they can in public areas.  

I'd like you also to bear in mind that my province is on the same latitude as the lower portions of Texas and Florida.  It's a tropical climate that is conducive to the growth of citrus fruit.  It's mid-October, and I am perfectly comfortable outside, even in the pouring rain, with shorts and a T-shirt.  These kids are running around in jackets, and the sight of a fan running makes them freak out.

Oddly enough, they won't bat an eye when it's freezing and snowing outside.  Students will sleep in unheated dormitories with the windows wide open in the middle of January when there are icicles outside.  They will come to class with frostbite on their hands.  But let someone turn on a fan in early autumn and they are freezing to death!

I try to understand the Chinese and their culture.  I really do.  But their health standards are one thing that I don't think I'll ever fully understand.

Tags: china, culture, disease, health

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