Massage (anrao) has a long history in China. It’s an effective technique for treating a variety of painful ailments, such as chronic back pain and sore muscles. To be most effective, a massage should be administered by someone who has studied the techniques. An acupuncturist who also practices massage would be ideal.
Traditional Chinese massage is somewhat different from the increasingly popular do-it-yourself techniques practiced by people in the west. One traditional Chinese technique employs suction cups made of bamboo placed on the patient’s skin.
A burning piece of alcohol-soaked cotton is briefly put inside the cup to drive out the air before it is applied. As the cup cools, a partial vacuum is produced, leaving a nasty-looking but harmless red circular mark on the skin. The mark goes away in a few days. Other methods include bloodletting and scraping the skin with coins or porcelain soup spoons.
A related technique is called moxibustion. Various types of herbs, rolled into what looks like a ball of fluffy cotton, are held close to the skin and ignited. A slight variation of this method is to place the herbs on a slice of ginger and then ignite them. The idea is to apply the maximum amount of heat possible without burning the patient. This heat treatment is supposed to be good for such diseases as arthritis.
There is no real need to subject yourself to such extensive treatment if you would just like a straight massage to relieve normal aches and pains. Many big tourist hotels in China offer massage facilities, but the rates charged are excessive-around RMB 180 per hour and up. You can do much better than that by inquiring locally. Alternatively, look out for the blind masseuses that work on the streets in many Chinese cities.
Legitimate massage has traditionally been performed by blind people in China. The Chinese can take credit for developing many of the best massage techniques which are still employed today.
Most five-star hotels have massage services at five-star prices (typically RMB 300 per hour). You can get it for around RMB 50 per hour at small specialist massage clinics, but you’ll need a Chinese person to direct you to one.