TCM treatments: cupping vs scraping

Unusual activity in your meridians? You might need some TCM!

Both cupping and scraping are said to purge the body of toxins, while leaving unsightly marks on the skin that verge on the masochistic: to the untrained eye, the two TCM treatments appear identical. But according to Dr Zhao, TCM practitioner at Hong Yi Tang hospital, they are as different as yin and yang.
‘We link yin to a chill in the body and yang to fevers,’ says Zhao. This means that an excess of yin (and therefore a shortage of yang) leads to what is known in TCM circles as ‘excessive cold syndrome’; symptoms include aches and pains, brought on by cold and dampness, which are treatable through cupping.
On the flip side, a surplus of yang leads to ‘excessive heat’, which can cause a fever, sore throat and ‘blood stasis’ (a TCM term that is understood in biomedical terms as blood haemorrhage or thrombosis): this can be treated through scraping, to remove the toxins – and, therefore, the fever – from the body.


In simple terms, cupping therapy involves applying a glass cup to the skin and reducing the pressure within it to draw and hold the skin. The suction ruptures capillaries, increasing the blood flow to the designated area. This supposedly releases toxins and moves blocked qi, which benefits the lymphatic system, promotes blood circulation, eases menstrual and digestive problems and alleviates all aches and pains. The cup marks on your back may make you look like you’ve just been unplugged from the Matrix, but the marks tend to disappear within a few days and do not hurt after the procedure itself. ‘Cupping also aids weight loss’ says Dr Zhao, although these claims are unproven.


The technique of scraping is more painful than cupping and the marks left are longer-lasting. A smooth edge – traditionally that of a honed animal bone or ceramic spoon – is used to apply pressured strokes to the skin along the pathways of the acupuncture meridians, usually along the ‘bladder meridian’ according to Dr Zhao. The resulting blemishes range from dark blue-black to a light pink, and fade after about a week. The treatment is said to expunge the body of fever and other symptoms of excessive heat syndrome.

Treatment locations

Hong Yi Tang Hospital
This hospital – formerly known as Guo Yi tang – offers a more clinical approach to the science of sadism. Patients go through a basic consultation before the practitioner makes any treatment recommendations (50RMB fire-cup therapy; 30RMB scraping). All practitioners are graduates from Chinese medical school and most can speak enough English to guide you through the process – reassuring if you’re of a nervous disposition.
Hong Yi Tang Hospital 2 Tuanjiehu Bei Lu, Chaoyang district (6582 7961/62/63). Open 7:30am-8:30pm daily. 朝阳区团结湖北路2
Oriental Taipan
Oriental Taipan offers cupping and scraping but only as part of a massage package. The Chinese Meridian Oil Massage (380-580RMB for 80 minutes, depending on which oil you select) stimulates the meridians and facilitates the flow of energy through the body. Incorporate cupping or scraping into your treatment (both 78RMB for 20 minutes) for a complete body tune-up. Go during their weekday ‘happy hour’ (midday-5pm Mon-Fri) to enjoy a 20 percent discount.
Oriental Taipan Room 101, Block B, Winterless Center (by Sunshine 100 apartments), 1 Xidawang Lu, Chaoyang district (6538 8086; Open midday-midnight daily. 朝阳区西大望路1号温特莱斯中心B101
Renewal Spa
Seek out Dr Qiu for your basic check-up before beginning the scraping or fire-cup therapies (both 88RMB). Fire cups – more traditional than the suction-cup method – reduce pressure by a change in heat: a cotton ball is wetted with alcohol then ignited and placed in the cup so that the flame creates suction. The irksomeness of having naked flames being lit next to your skin is alleviated by a fragrant oil rub and pressure-point massage either side of the treatment.
Renewal Spa C1, Upper East Side Central Plaza, Dongsihuan Bei Lu, Chaoyang district (5139 5555). Open 10am-10pm daily. 朝阳区东四环北路阳光上东中环商业广场C1
Yue Xian Ge
The recent name-change (it was formerly known as Double tree) and redecoration – scheduled to finish mid-month, at the time of going to press – may seem to constitute a dramatic overhaul, but cheap treatments in fairly simple rooms is still what this place is all about. the doctors insist on a consultation before your treatment, which may be tricky with the lack of English-speaking staff, but their friendliness does something to compensate. We recommend a one-hour therapeutic massage (119RMB), followed by 20 minutes of cupping or scraping (both 39RMB).
Yue Xian Ge Second Floor, Building 5, Area 1, Jing’an Zhuang, Chaoyang Dangxiao Lu, Chaoyang district (159 1098 7789). Open 11am-2am daily. 朝阳区朝阳党校路静安庄一区五号楼二层 (朝阳党校东侧)