The Significance of Hot Water in Chinese Society

Living in China for about a year now, I am going to talk about the drinking of hot water in Chinese society, which is very common. Almost every government body, business, and school administrative office in China boasts a hot water dispenser. The nation’s high-speed trains, a source of pride for many Chinese, are all required to have water dispensers capable of providing piping hot water, same as with the airports and hospitals.

One of the most important standards Chinese people use when judging an organization or facility is whether or not hot water is accessible at all times. It is also seen as a cure-all for ailments from the common cold to cholera. Why don’t the Chinese seem to mind burning their tongues every time they take a sip? As with most questions, the answer lies in history.

The Chinese custom of drinking hot water goes beyond simple preference. According to traditional Chinese medicine, every human body is made up of yin elements and yang elements. A person remains healthy when the yin and yang are balanced. However, if the yang gets too strong, the body’s internal temperature rises, and that person becomes susceptible to any number of illnesses.

To treat these illnesses, the person must get rid of the extra yang, or the excess heat. The best way to do so is by consuming food and drinks in the yin category. Hot water, for example, is a yin beverage. It is believed to actually lower the body’s internal temperature, restoring the balance and, with it, the person’s health.

Though it seems counter-intuitive to put more heat into the body when the root issue is too much heat, there exists a historical precedent for China’s obsession with drinking hot water for its health benefits.

The Chinese have been drinking hot water since at least the 4th century B.C. At that time, hot beverages were seen to expel humidity from the body, while cold beverages could, naturally, cool the body down. But not everyone had access to the luxury of fuel for a stove. Thus, hot water was reserved for those who needed it the most, namely pregnant women, the elderly, and the sick.

And so, gradually, there grew to be a connection between health and hot water. It wasn’t until 1862, however, that this connection was cemented as the golden rule of traditional medicine. That year, a cholera epidemic broke out in Shanghai, killing up to 3,000 people a day, many of whom were refugees from the ongoing Taiping Rebellion. From Shanghai, the disease spread northward, reaching the capital of Beijing.

The south, on the other hand, remained untouched by the disease. It was well known at the time that southerners drank more hot water than northerners. And while hindsight has made it clear that the real cause of cholera’s northward travel was mail boats, the myth that hot water had spared the south spread as fast as the disease itself.

Doctors give advice to drink hot water no matter the severity of the patient’s illness, and even as the popularity of traditional medicine declines, drinking hot water remains China’s strongest vestige of the past.

The advantages of drinking hot water:

  1. Maintain the health of the intestines

Hot water, usually referring to the boiled water, means that most of the microbes and bacteria in the water are killed. It safeguards the health of our intestines, reduces the rate of catching any intestinal diseases.

  1. Improve circulation and elimination of toxicant

Drinking hot water helps warm our body up quickly, it improves the circulation of the blood. Especially for those who do little sports or don’t do sports, drinking hot water is good for perspiring, urinating and removing toxin out of our body.

  1. Alleviating menstrual pain

Drinking hot water properly could also relieve the pain during menstrual period, relax our mind.

  1. Relieve constipation

The reason for constipation is the lack of water in the large intestine, or the intestinal organ doesn’t have enough movements. Except for the doctor’s advice, you also need hot water to help you promote intestinal peristalsis, make it easier for feces to exclude of your body.

  1. Prevention and treatment of cold

If you catch a cold, doctors will tell you to drink more hot water. Drinking hot water improve metabolism, help our body deliver the waste parts outside more quickly than usual.

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