Chinese Beliefs and Traditions in Health Care

In China they have about 1.3 billion people, making up a little more than 20% of the world’s population. It’s no surprise that with that many people in one country that the culture there would hold many different beliefs and traditions. Chinese are known for many things and their health care practices are one of them.

They use different medicines to treat the ill, have different techniques to insure that women have a good pregnancy and a healthy baby as well as old family traditions from how a family is ran to what they do when someone passes away. A lot of these traditions can compare to other cultures where many are also so different it takes some understanding to get used to them.

Family plays a huge role in the Chinese culture. As in a lot of cultures, the Chinese family is run by the father and husband of the household. He makes most of the family decisions and plays a huge role in the decisions his children make. Traditionally the father would arrange marriages for his children, guide them in the career to go and make sure that he raised strong kids who would help contribute to the family when older. Today the father figure still plays a dominant role but no longer arranges marriages for their children.

He does however still influence them on their decisions but does not make them for his children. In most cases children will live with their parents until married. It is not uncommon however for a newly married couple to stay living with the husbands parents for a short time after marriage.

Even though fathers in the family play a huge role, mothers play a greater role in the daily lives of their children. The Chinese preferred to have son’s who would be able to take care of them when they were older. Daughter in-laws were considered the low man on the totem pole and in the old days were actually considered slaves to their in-laws, doing whatever was needed to make their mother-in-law happy.

Mothers of sons felt they had every right to treat their daughter-in-laws like that since they themselves had to go through the same thing working their way up from just wife, to mother, to mother-in-law and hopefully grandmother. This mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship seems harsh, especially with how things have changed over the years. In many cultures the mother-in-law isthere to help support her son’s new wife and guide her into her role as a wife. In the United States, mother-in-laws look to the daughter-in-laws to help give their son a happy life as well as provide them with grandchildren. The Chinese mother-in-laws are also there to help raise the children and much more. They usually are there to make sure the pregnancy and labor go as smoothly as possible and that all traditions are upheld.

Pregnancy and child bearing play a huge role in Chinese culture. They have many beliefs that need to be followed to insure that the mother to be is carrying a perfectly healthy baby and will have an easy and successful delivery. “The Chinese traditions for pregnancy start as soon as a husband and wife get married. The first thing that is done is the husband will carry his bride over a pan of burning coals when entering his home for the first time to ensure his wife will pass through labor successfully.” After that first step the rest of the traditions begin once the mother finds out she is pregnant.

They carry many traditions starting from what the mother to be should and shouldn’t eat, what things can and cannot be done during the pregnancy, traditions to keep evil spirits away as well as traditions to make sure nothing is done that might cause bad luck for the baby. Pregnant women must be careful of everything they do in the Chinese culture. It is believed that they must be careful and guarded with their thoughts to make sure that they thoughts they are having do not affect the baby.

They believe negative or bad thoughts will affect the mother’s heart which connects to the baby transferring any bad emotions and feelings. She must be careful on what she eats because certain foods will influence the baby’s skin color or cause them to have odd shaped birth marks. Chinese women will take many precautions to protect their unborn and newborn babies from evil spirits. They will never attend a funeral and they will hang certain embellishments to ward of the spirits.

A paper cut out of scissors is hung over the bed curtains of a pregnant woman and when a baby is born a special pendant is placed near the baby’s crib in hopes that any evil spirits would be more attracted to the pendant then the baby. Another example of keeping the spirits away is the parents of the child would make “arrows from wood of a peach tree and place near the cradle.” It is considered unlucky to name your child before they are born as well as to celebrate before the baby is born with a baby shower.

This is normal for many cultures including some Native American cultures here is America. Though now it is more taboo and people are naming their babies as soon as they know the gender and having showers months before the baby is born to make sure that they are prepared when the baby arrives. When a baby is being born in China it is customary that the mother and mother-in-law of the mother to be, to be present during the delivery but not the father. It is considered terrible luck to be scared of labor as it is considered the woman’s job. After the baby is born the mother is in a “sitting period” for a month.

This insures that the mother is completely healed and only has to focus on herself and the health of her child. She is excused from all house work and cooking during this time. Women will drink a special herbal tea to help ease the pain of pregnancy and the after pain of child birth. This is just one example of herbal medicine that the Chinese use to cure aliments.

The Chinese practice both Western medicine as well as traditional folk medicine. Many of the older Chinese will choose to try naturopathic remedies before they will go to a traditional doctor. These remedies usually consist of some sort of herbal treatment, possibly combined with meditation and praying.

The younger generations will usually try the more modern route of a doctor first with Western medicines and then try the treatment of the traditional ways if that does not work. I used to work for an Insurance agent who was Chinese and had many Chinese customers. One of his main customers was a guy named Daniel; Daniel was an herbalist who made the traditional Chinese medicines used. Most of his herb he made into teas for patients who were suffering an ailment.

My agent used him many times for small problems rather than going to a normal M.D. He specialized in herbs for things ranging from headaches, to lack of sleep, to allergies and even more serious conditions such as diseases. Even though he was a strong believer in natural cures, he knew that they could not cure everything at least not quickly enough and that traditional western medicine was sometimes needed.

Traditional Chinese medicines are made to help benefit your “energy, blood, essence, spirit and body fluids. These are the 5 main faucets for this type of medicine.” Even though many might not think this is something they would have to really deal with on a daily basis, Chinese traditional medicine is practiced here in the United States as much as it is in China and health care professionals need to have an understanding of these practices when caring for patients who use these techniques.

China uses two kinds of health-care systems because of their traditions. One that for Western Medicine and the other for traditional Chinese medicine. This leaves the options open for its patients to find the best route of care that works for them. Another major part in traditional Chinese medicine is spirituality. Having a healthy and strong spiritual belief is key in the Chinese culture.

Most Chinese do not practice praying in a traditional church in front of many people on specific days. The most popular religions practiced in China are “Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Taoism and Islam.” However, as more Chinese immigrate to the United States those who practice Christianity are on the rise.

The main fundamental of Chinese spirituality is that they believe that “life is viewed in terms of cycles and interrelationships, believing that life gets meaning from the context in which it’s lived.” You also see spirituality in the death rituals Chinese practice. When a person dies in the Chinese culture there is what they call “A Monks Vigil”.

This is where a monk from the chosen religion keeps vigil over the deceased during the night to help ease them into the afterlife by chanting and reading versus to the deceased throughout the night. Funerals for elders are the most elaborate as they are the most respected in a Chinese family. A lot of money is spent to plan their funerals and make them as amazing as possible. Some of the traditions that go into a death ritual are preparing the body before it is put in the casket and making sure it is dressed in the finest clothes from his or her own wardrobe. The rest of the clothes are then burned.

“The body is never dressed in red as it is believed that it will turn the deceased into a ghost.” The wake for the deceased is held at the deceased person’s home. If they died at home their coffin is placed inside the home, if they died away from home then the coffin is set up outside.

Mirrors are covered in the home so that no one sees the coffin in a mirror. It is believed that if you do see the coffin in a mirror then you will have a death in your family very soon. Once the wake is over the deceased is buried usually in a mountain top as the Chinese believe that the higher a dead person is buried the easier it is for them to reach the afterlife.

This differs from many traditions held her in the United States. When a person dies here they are usually immediately transferred to a funeral home where others prepare the body for viewing and a funeral. The funeral and wake are either held in a funeral home or church and then family and friends follow the body to a cemetery to be buried and prayed over. This is something that even health-care providers need to know so that when someone dies whom they are caring for, they can make sure that they are not encroaching on any family traditions that might be followed.

The Chinese culture has so many fascinating traditions and beliefs to be learned about. It would be impossible to learn and understand them all in such a short period of time. All of these traditions can be compared and sometimes matched to traditions that we are used to here in the United States.

Some are even carried over by the many Chinese who have immigrated here. We could benefit from their traditional herbs and many other cultures use them as you find them sold in specialty shops all over. It’s good to have an idea and knowledge of these traditions when working in the health-care as you will no doubted be faced with dealing with them at one point or another.

• Transcultural Health Care, A Culturally Competent Approach, Third Edition

• Website: Love to Know, Chinese Death Rituals, C:Documents and Settingssqr7Local SettingsTemporary Internet FilesContent.OutlookBAB22PZ5Chinese Death Rituals – LoveToKnow Dying.htm

• Babyzone. Com, Tradition Chinese, C:Documents and Settingssqr7Local SettingsTemporary Internet FilesContent.OutlookBAB22PZ5Chinese Baby Traditions (2).htm

• Geography, China’s One Child Policy, C:Documents and Settingssqr7Local SettingsTemporary Internet FilesContent.OutlookBAB22PZ5China One Child Policy – Overview of the One Child Policy in China.htm

• Chinese Cultural Beliefs Related to Pregnancy, Birth and Post Partum Care, C:Documents and Settingssqr7Local SettingsTemporary Internet FilesContent.OutlookBAB22PZ5Traditional Health Beliefs Chinese Pregnancy Childbirth.htm

• Interview with Douglas Cheung, Chinese American•Article: Speaking of China, “The troubling Chinese Mother-In-Law Relationships” Jocelyn C. 09/16/2009