Don’t eat that! You’ll get ‘wind’ in your ‘stomach’!

So I’ve just got off work and I’m about to leave the building for the ten minute walk to the subway. One of my upper level English students sees that I’m planning to eat a pear on the way and she’s immediately concerned.

“You’re going to eat that outside?”

“Of course!”

“But it’s cold and windy! You can’t eat that outside!”

“Why not?” I know exactly what’s coming.

“You’ll get wind in your stomach!” The other students voice their agreement.

I know what she’s talking about because I’ve heard this before. Fear of getting cold “wind” in your “stomach” is considered at least as reasonable as covering your mouth when you cough to avoid spreading germs. But this time, instead of having the same old predictable conversation about how foreigners don’t know anything about getting “wind” in their “stomachs” or our “fire” going up and down, I decide to have fun with it.

“It’s no problem. Foreigners can’t get wind in their stomachs. Only Chinese people can get that disease. Getting wind in your stomach is a special disease only for Chinese people.”

She doesn’t believe me, and gives me an annoyed look to boot, like she’s not sure if I’m making fun of her/China/Chinese medicine or not. And I’m not, mostly; I’m just curious to see what will happen if I appeal to inherent biological differences between foreigners and Chinese (something that’s not uncommon for Chinese people to do in other situations) instead of chalking it up to cultural differences that affect how our respective societies understand health.

When Tianjiners wear face masks (口罩) in public it’s not because of air pollution or swine flu. These are cloth face masks, not medical face masks, and people wear them because it’s cold outside and they don’t want to get “wind” in their “stomachs” (受风 — to receive/suffer wind). I put quotes around those words because in Chinese medical theory they both carry important nuances and added dimensions that don’t correspond exactly with what we normally mean when when we say wind and stomach. (I borrowed this image from a Chinese website. It’s supposedly from Tianjin.)

For more about Chinese medicine:

13 thoughts on “Don’t eat that! You’ll get ‘wind’ in your ‘stomach’!”

  1. These are students we often go to lunch with and hang out with outside of class — two of them were at our Christmas Even event. They knew I wasn’t entirely serious and just messing with them a bit, so aside from being slightly annoyed that I wasn’t taking Chinese medicine seriously enough, I think they thought it was funny… in an obnoxious sort of way. ;)

    “Receiving wind” usually has more to do with skin than wind actually going in your mouth (when they remove the firecups, for example, they immediately cover your back with a blanket so you wont 受风 — see here and here), but a Chinese doctor’s understanding of how Chinese medicine works and the averages person’s ain’t necessarily the same.

  2. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, or edge of the rabbit hole, whichever you prefer. Trying to wrap your head around the basics of Chinese medicine is a real trip!

  3. When we lived in Taipei it seemed that medical masks were more common, and as I understood it at the time, it was about pollution and not spreading germs when you’re sick. People would wear them inside to work if they had a cold. But maybe I missed something — that was our first year in East Asia.

  4. Do people ever say 着凉? Perhaps it’s a more southern equivalent.

    I heard that in Shanghai from a range of people, including a doctor. I always heard it as “catch a cold” in that by exposing your flesh to cold air, it somehow increases the chance of illness. Nobody told me to be careful of cold air entering my mouth (as far as I remember).

  5. My coworkers say 着凉 is the opposite of 上火 (too much “cold” and not enough “heat” in your body),and that having a cold is just one kind of 着凉。

    You know, I guess in a way “getting wind” doesn’t sound any stranger than “catch a cold.”

  6. Thus, to avoid both extremes, we must bundle up in winter, and drink 王老吉 in summer?

    I wonder if there is any connection between “getting wind” 受风 (which doesn’t come up automatically on my pinyin IME) and “taking a stroke” 中风? The two hint at being semniotically/semantically related…

  7. All I could tell is Chinese people are more sensitive to heat or cold. We are more delicate people. We are more vulnerable. Especially for the pregnant women, we have a Chinese custom called ”坐月子“, which means you have to take good care of yourself mainly by staying at home for the first month after delivering the baby. If the pregnant women “受风”, it will really hard to recover, She might feel pains all her life after that.

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