Thermal Medicine develops in China: Harnessing the Power of Hot Springs

Interview with Anne Gonneau and George Ye


With ancient Chinese legends and folk ballads extolling the enchanted healing powers of the water, thermal medicine has a long tradition in China dating back more than 2,000 years. On 15 November 2022 in Tengchong, Yunnan province in China, the first spa hotel dedicated to thermal medicine opened its doors. We invite you to read our interview with the co-founders of the SHENZEN ACADEMY, Anne Gonneau and George Ye, who provided their insight into recent developments in thermal medicine in China.

Q: Ms. Gonneau, could you tell us a bit more about Shenzhen Academy?

SHENZHEN QIANHAI SINO-EUROPE SPA ACADEMY was created in 2016. On the strength of its many years of experience to promote the concept of thermal medicine, the Academy has been closely related to thermalism and its related services since its establishment. Thermalism is the therapeutic use of hot-water springs.

Q: What were the first steps?

To best meet the needs of our Chinese partners, we have set up a strong thermalism project team: we have the support of the top level of thermalism training teams, thermal doctors, architects, and operators. We realized more than 30 thermal water analyses with their medical interpretation, 5 feasibility studies, and 2 technical assistance partnerships.

Q: At the same time, you have set up a kind of “research institute“, correct?

Yes, actually it is called “The Yunnan Plateau Thermal Health Industry Innovation Research Institute”, founded by numerous organizations-members as Shenzhen Qianhai Sino-Europe Spa Academy Co. Ltd (Shenzhen Academy), Yunnan Academy of Science and Technology, Tengchong Hengyi Dongshan Healthcare and Tourism Development Co., Ltd. (Yunnan Baoshan Hengyi Industrial Group Health Care Sector Development Enterprise), Kunming Medical University, Yunnan University of Chinese Medicine, Yunnan Minzu University.

Q: What are the main lines of action, seeing as you are in charge of international partnerships?

First of all, of course, education training for hydrotherapists and doctors, and secondly linking with existing studies with waters similar to the waters of Tengchong. Medical studies and cooperation with universities such as Bordeaux University, for example. The production area covers thermal mud production, the production of thermal dermo-cosmetics, and discovering all sanitary risks in thermalism.

Q: Tell us more about hot springs in China, what are the existing natural resources?

China owns the largest thermal market in the world with more than 2000 thermal centers in the country. The turnover in 2015 is about 15 billion US$. The major thermal areas are in Tibet, Yunnan, Sichuan, Chongqing, Guangdong, Fujian, and Liaoning provinces. Almost all the thermal centers operate in the same way, using different thermal pools to welcome customers. These pools are in the landscape garden, or in the private room, with pure thermal water or adding different elements like milk, wine, and Chinese TCM HERB. All these thermal baths are used just like hot water baths, not based on the therapeutical properties of thermal water at all.

Hot springs in Tengchong, Yunnan, China (Photo: Getty Images)

“According to Mrs Gonneau, despite the rich history, areas offering thermal spa treatments still lack “know-how” and a more professional approach. Nevertheless, her outlook remains positive.”

Q: So, the academy upgraded existing natural resources in line with the concept of thermalism?

Yes, China hot springs were in need of thermal medicine “know-how” as generally, all practices on the market lacked a professional approach using the thermal property in health issues. In a thermal center, they would usually put the health elements and thermal elements together but without any professional correlation, there is no thermalism at all. China has a long road to go to get its own know-how and they need to start from scratch…

Q: And at this very point the academy’s role begins?

Yes, our activity will be concentrated in Yunnan and in partnership with medical universities and clinics in order to create the first groups of tourists.

Q: What are the main challenges you are dealing with?

Developing thermal centers in the province of Yunnan and having thermalism recognized as a medicine in its own right alongside TCM – Traditional Chinese medicine. We are also working on releasing first medical studies.

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