Gua Sha and our Biases

When I was a boy, any time I would get a sore throat or a cold, my mom would pull out a soup spoon and scrape it against the back of my neck.

Growing up, this was what I associated with care. This is what I associated with healing, and this is what I learned was my mom saying to the universe “No, my child will not be sick and in pain.”

Later, I would learn that this was gua sha. A common practice in the Chinese community.

It is hard for me to separate gua sha from my mother’s love, her care, and the culture she gave to me.

I do not know if it worked, but I know my mom believed it did.

One day in the distant future, I will look at a stone used for gua sha and it will hit me.

It will hit me that all those things that my mother gave me are gone, and that all I hold in my hands is just a stone – and it cannot connect me to a culture and its traditions anymore.

But for now, it is something that I may not understand – but it is not something that I disparage without making an attempt to understand it.

At the end of the day, if there is no magic, if there is no effect, there’s still culture in that stone. And inside that culture hides an entire history and knowledge.

Many things we will never have the opportunity to understand, because it is hidden behind another language – 你很多人都看不懂.

Communication in the sciences is not as universal as we would think.

The walls of language still separate understanding. As English-speakers we are biased to believe that all knowledge and facts are written in English.

But they are not.

Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature missed the Taiwanese populations of the fairy pitta birds in its survey – because the numbers were not published in English.

There is research investigating these treatments and practices – it is just that I, and many of you, cannot read it.

The drug artemisinin was discovered in a mixture of herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat malaria.

And there’s entire countries with a different perspective on care.

So, it is hard for me to judge – I just do not know enough, most of it I just can’t read.

Below is a screenshot of a paper that reviewed 437 papers on gua sha from 1994 to 2007. I cannot read any of them.

Understanding the world is a lot like watching a mystery show sometimes. Each episode we learn a bit more, and start building a bigger picture.

Only at the end of the show do we see the full picture, but sometimes the show gets cancelled on a cliff-hanger too.

But recognize that there are many shows, all on at the same time, saying different things.

And many, many, many of those shows we will never see – if they are not in our language.

So, I am not asking you to believe in gua sha, or any traditional medicines from different cultures, but I am asking you to maybe take a pause and recognize the biases that being inside an English-speaking culture creates.

At its core, gua sha might just be a stone and it might just be massage, and the secret might have been feeling loved and cared for.

But I do not know.