Traditional Chinese Medicine Primer

Key Concepts Taoists believe that the world is made up of two opposing but interdependent forces: negative yin, representing darkness and the female, and positive yang, standing for light and masculinity. Both are essential for good health: when one becomes stronger than the other in the body, we get sick.

Another concept is qi, the energy or life force behind most bodily functions. It flows through channels or meridians: if these are blocked, ill health can ensue. Acupuncture along these meridians is a way of putting your qi in order.

It's not all inner peace—to be healthy you need to be in harmony with your environment, too. The Five Elements theory divides up both the universe and the body into different "elemental" categories: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. Practitioners seek to keep all five elements in balance.

Brush up on traditional treatments at the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, in Central. The least morbid and most enlightening exhibits compare Chinese and western medical practices, and show Chinese medicines of both animal and plant origin. Elsewhere, dusty displays of old medical equipment send macabre thrills up your spine. Reaching this museum is a healthy experience in itself: you pant up several blocks' worth of stairs to the Edwardian building in which it's located. Get here on the Mid-Levels Escalator: alight at Caine Road and walk west a few blocks to Ladder Street. The museum is just down the first flight of stairs, on the left.

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