Gua Sha: Traditional Healing Technique

Today I checked the weather; the temperature reached 40.5 C/104.5 F. The local news report says it is the second hottest day in China — but I would have known it was dangerously hot just by looking at the people. Let me explain. In China, when the weather becomes unbearable many of the people get red marks all over their backs, necks and faces. Some even have bright red circles all over their backs, arms and legs. When I first saw this I thought these people had either been beaten up or were very clumsy, however, I later learned the marks are from a traditional medical treatment called scraping and Gua Sha. It looks horrible, but the locals claim it will cure any heat sickness, heat stroke and exhaustion that occurs during these record-high temperature days during the summer months.

I, of course, was curious about this Chinese treatment so I had to check it out. I went with a friend to watch it being done; the process was actually a little difficult to watch. The healers take what looks like a plastic spoon, dip it in rubbing alcohol, and scrape it against the person’s body until it turns bright or dark red, like a bruise. They do this all over their patients’ neck, back and legs, until they look like someone beat the hell out of them.  I was told that this scraping removes toxins from the body. This process took about 30 minutes and looked like sheer pain. The healers then wheeled in some clear round jars (that resemble the light bulbs that surround a bathroom mirror) on a small cart.

Image: AllFreeDownloads

They proceeded to light a wand on fire to heat the globes which were then stuck on my friend’s back. This was done until about 50 globes were stuck to her as skin was sucked up into the globes. I asked her if it was painful and she said, “A little.”  The healers left her with the globes suctioning her skin for about another 30 minutes, until the globes were removed. There was a sucking sound, and big red circles were present on her back, butt and legs. I could only stare at her with my mouth open, wondering why anyone would go through this kind of torture.  I asked her if she felt better after it was all done and she smiled and, once again, said, “A little.”

The healers asked me if I wanted to give it a try and I told them that it was okay, I will stick with modern medicines. I have to say it was the most eye-opening experience I had have seen. After that experience I began to notice more and more people with the markings on their bodies. I began to wonder…could this mess really work?

After doing some research online, I found out that this kind of therapy has been used for thousands of years and it is supposed to help in the prevention and treatment of infectious illness, upper respiratory and digestive problems, and many other acute or chronic disorders. I am told that the red markings fade in about a week —  and if it takes longer it means that the patient has “bad blood flow” and the Qi is not flowing freely…whatever that means.

I am not going to knock my Chinese brothers and sisters with their unsual traditional medicines and all-around strange healing techniques but I will not be indulging in them. I just cannot get my head around someone scraping the skin off my body to help my stomachache.  But, you never know — I could be wrong. It could be just one of those ancient Chinese secrets they have been hiding all these years.


Jo Gan

Jo Gan, is a Black American woman married to a local Chinese man living in China. She spends her time as a Director of Foreign Teachers, freelance writer and blogger and just trying to figure out the Chinese wife thing. You can follow her personal blog at


  1. Just, yikes!