China might seem in a hurry to modernize, but when it comes to health, ancient rituals still prevail. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), now on spa menus worldwide, is as old as the Middle Kingdom itself. Sharpened bones dating back 6,000 years are believed to have been early acupuncture needles, and the first known medical text—with traditional herbal remedies for everything from acne to malaria—was compiled here some 3,000 years ago. Meanwhile, food has long played a role in prevention, per the proverb: “He who takes medicine and neglects his diet wastes the skills of the physician.” And Taoism, founded by philosopher Lao-tzu in the sixth century B.C., stresses the need to balance yin and yang to allow the flow of energy known as chi. Today, China’s parks fill each morning with people practicing the measured, fluid movements of tai chi. For a nation on fast-forward, it’s a welcome reminder to make time to slow down.
Vital Stats: China by the Numbers
1.3 billion people
600 B.C.: Lao-tzu writes Tao-Te Ching (The Book of the Way)
5.7 percent overall obesity rate
Where to Find Balance
Beijing:Hias Gourmet offers hands-on classes for cooking authentic, health-conscious Chinese food. A sample menu: pig’s trotters with daikon and ginger followed by hongdou tang (sweet red-bean soup). You’ll tour the city’s markets for ingredients before heading into the kitchen of a restored siheyuan (courtyard house) in the Dongcheng district. The instructor, Adlyn Adam-Teoh, also shares recipes for home remedies such as a warm drink made of ginger and dates to ease coughing. Classes from $47.
Shanghai: The first modern TCM clinic in China’s most cosmopolitan city, Body & Soul kicked off the now global trend when it opened in 2003 with its certified doctors, herbal pharmacists, and multilingual service. Treatments include zhenjiu, or acupuncture with moxibustion, which involves placing a lit herbal stick near acupressure points. Initial consultation $147.
Suzhou: The 6,400-square-foot Dragonfly Therapeutic Retreats—in the picturesque city of Suzhou, about 62 miles west of Shanghai—has therapists trained in tui na (“push grasp”) massages, aimed at unblocking chi pathways to alleviate everything from bad backs to indigestion. One-hour massages from $26.
Yangshuo: With its rice fields and limestone peaks, Yangshuo, in southern China, looks like something out of a scroll painting—the ideal spot to learn tai chi. In the village of Chao Long, Long Tou Shan Martial Arts provides instruction on an outdoor terrace. There are also classes in qigong, which emphasizes breathing. One-hour classes from $8.
Bring It Back
A lightweight wool top ($265) from Hangzhou-based fashion collective JNBY is great for travel.
Shanghai label Urban Tribe designed this necklace ($232) with lava and jade—believed to have healing properties.
Wei Beauty’s pomegranate buffing beads ($20) exfoliate and purify your skin.
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