Traditional Chinese Medicine

A beginner's guide to traditional Chinese medicine

Everything you need to know about Chinese medicine but been too afraid to ask with professor Zhang Mao Ji from Long Zhong Tang

Nicole-Marie Ng

A traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) consultation was the last thing we expected when we checked into the new Six Senses Duxton. The five-star hotel chain with luxury resorts in the Maldives and Oman prides itself on adopting the physical environments it finds itself in – and for its first branch in Singapore, it's working closely together with its neighbours on Duxton Road to provide coffee (from Monument Lifestyle), yoga and yes, even TCM consultations for its guests.

We sat down with professor Zhang Mao Ji from Long Zhong Tang, a practitioner of over 40 years who specialises in complex medical conditions. His customers often go to him as a final resort, after western medicine no longer proves effective or if doctors have told them nothing else can be done. He shares with us his philosophy on life, health and what TCM is all about.

How did TCM come about?

TCM is a collection of knowledge that's been passed down for thousands of years. By eating certain items, people become aware of how it affects their body. The father of Chinese medicine, Shen Nong, spent his days testing hundreds of herbs and now we're left with a repertoire of about 2,000 herbs handed down through generations of examination from physicians like Zhang Zhong Jing. For example, when people first ate lamb, they knew it made them feel warm, so they paired it with ginger and dang gui (angelica root) for its same properties of warming the body. Combining this into a soup helps to increase the body's vitality, especially for women after they've given birth.

People also realised that pressing down on certain points on the body – through acupuncture or massage – has healing effects because it affects the meridian points of the body. In the early days, it was trial and error but we now have over 5,000 years of records to pull data from.

What's the difference between TCM and western medicine?

Western medicine classifies ailments into viruses and bacteria and they treat those specific problems. But TCM is a living medicine, we look at the whole person and how they feel. A lot of things can be considered a part of TCM: what you eat on a day to day basis like barley, vegetables, green beans or bird's nest. These are herbs that help to heal the body.

Now when you have diarrhoea, the doctor might prescribe you with charcoal pills. That's something they learned from Chinese medicine. Charcoal can be used for that and can also be rubbed on wounds to stop bleeding. Different types of charcoal can have different healing properties.

What's a typical TCM consultation like?

First, we observe the overall disposition of the person, then we have to ask questions, it's not just about what they say in response but how they answer the question. Finally, we have to take the patients pulse as well as look at the colour of their tongue. This is known as wang wen wen qie in TCM.

Next, there are eight principles of differentiating syndromes in TCM, and one of the most important is making sure that yin and yang are balanced. We don't just look at one particular organ but of how the body is functioning through its 12 meridian points. Different herbs affect different functions in the body so we need to find the right group of herbs. My job is to find the right combination of herbs to balance your yin and yang.

People might find TCM very mysterious and confusing but they need to realise that it's actually a well-documented study of herbs and how they affect ailments.

Is TCM more for preventive care or do people see you when they're very sick?

We do both. For example, when we work with Six Senses, the people we see aren't sick but we can help them with jetlag and overall wellness. But if they have some health issues, they can also consult the doctor and we can provide advice or prescription. We also provide tea for the guests at the hotel that they can take in the evening and the morning to aid with sleep and digestion.

Long Zhong Tang is located at 36 Duxton Rd.

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