2 August 2012
Last updated at 16:46
Dr Chau Lai Chung has practised Chinese medicine for more than 30 years. One of the traditional ways of diagnosis is by taking a patient’s pulse. This technique is also used in Ayurveda, or Indian medicine. Chinese practitioners take the pulse on several points on each arm.
Just like in modern-day medicine, Dr Chau also gives a proper prescription of Chinese drugs to his patients.
After diagnosing the patient, Dr Chau gets his assistant to prepare the medicine by gathering all the ingredients. She prefers to use a Chinese scale that measures in a traditional unit called mace, equivalent to 3.78 grams.
Dr Chau keeps commonly used medicinal ingredients at his clinic. He says Chinese doctors commonly work with up to 2,000 herbs.
There are another 400 or so animal and mineral ingredients. Medicines containing bear bile, extracted from the gallbladders of live bears, are not totally banned in Hong Kong, but are seldom used.
Traditional Chinese medicine also has its own version of the pharmacy where one can buy the various ingredients to use in the medicine or in some cases even the pre-prepared medicines.
According to the World Health Organisation, the global market for herbal medicines is worth more than $83bn (£53bn), and is growing. In China alone, the industry produced almost $48bn worth of such medicines in 2010. That is up almost 30% from the year before.
For some medicines the ingredients are cooked in a traditional clay pot, a type used for thousands of years. The ancient thinking goes that according to the five elements theory, clay represents earth and herbs represent wood, so the elements are in harmony. Modern practitioners use them because clay heats evenly and is non-reactive.
After more than two hours of cooking, the concoction must be strained. It yields only one or two cups of concentrated, bitter liquid. Patients unable to stomach the contents sometimes ask their doctor to sweeten the brew with honey. Sugar is rarely used.
Dr Chau supplements his medicine with acupuncture, which is believed to improve the body’s internal balance. He places one needle in each arm and one in each leg, in this case.
For some cures he uses a process called Moxibustion. This involves wrapping the ingredients in paper and burning them. He then uses the heat and smoke to burn on to the patient's skin. In some cases daily treatments can cost HK$300 ($38; £24), which is considered expensive by local standards.