In 1972 "eye protection exercises" (眼保健操) were introduced to schools across the entire nation to combat the mounting rate of myopia. The exercises comprise a set of massage moves supposedly based on the Chinese traditional medicine theory of 'channels', the same basis for acupuncture and reflexology. If you believe the theory, pressing the right channels with your fingers alleviates eye strains and prevents short-sightedness.
Today's The Beijing News printed a big photo showing pupils in Xisi North Fourth Alley Elementary school showcasing the moves of a modified set of "eye protection exercises" that is on trial in Beijing before rolling out to other provinces.
According to the newspaper article, a very important standard to evaluate the teacher's work is the rate at which their students are found to develop short-sightedness. Which may explain why the teachers are keeping a very close eye on their pupils to make sure that they do the "eye exercises" properly.
One teacher was quoted as saying that "most moves can be seen and monitored, but the "grab the land with your toes" section can not be seen, so you have no way to know if they are really doing it." The "grab the land" moves are done with the feet.
In each class, a model student was assigned to demonstrate the right moves to the rest of the students, while teachers corrected the students who could not do it in the right way. But sometimes, even the teachers got confused. "I am not very sure about the exact location of the Fengchi channel (风池穴)" said one teacher. Despite the videos and graphic guidance they have, the teacher hoped she could get more specific instructions.
For many people, the "eye exercises" are a nostalgic memory of school days, but they are attacked by skeptics as nothing but pseudoscience.
The most prominent among them, FANG ZHOUZI, is a science activist who made his reputation for exposing academic fraud and corruption. Fang has argued that there is no clinical or statistical evidence showing that the "eye exercises" have any effect on reducing myopia rates. Instead, they increase the chance of eye infection. Critics also charge that the Ministry of Education are making a profit from frequently modifying the moves of the "exercises" and forcing schools to buy tapes and video disks of the new versions.