On this blog, we have seen more than enough evidence of how some proponents of alternative medicine can react when they feel cornered by critics. They often direct vitriol in their direction. Ad hominem attacks are far from being rarities. A more forceful option is to sue them for libel. In my own case, Prince Charles went one decisive step further and made sure that my entire department was closed down. In China, they have recently and dramatically gone even further.

This article in Nature tells the full story:

A Chinese doctor who was arrested after he criticized a best-selling traditional Chinese remedy has been released, after more than three months in detention. Tan Qindong had been held at the Liangcheng county detention centre since January, when police said a post Tan had made on social media damaged the reputation of the traditional medicine and the company that makes it.

On 17 April, a provincial court found the police evidence for the case insufficient. Tan, a former anaesthesiologist who has founded several biomedical companies, was released on bail on that day. Tan, who lives in Guangzhou in southern China, is now awaiting trial. Lawyers familiar with Chinese criminal law told Nature that police have a year to collect more evidence or the case will be dismissed. They say the trial is unlikely to go ahead…

The episode highlights the sensitivities over traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs) in China. Although most of these therapies have not been tested for efficacy in randomized clinical trials — and serious side effects have been reported in some1TCM has support from the highest levels of government. Criticism of remedies is often blocked on the Internet in China. Some lawyers and physicians worry that Tan’s arrest will make people even more hesitant to criticize traditional therapies…

Tan’s post about a medicine called Hongmao liquor was published on the Chinese social-media app Meipian on 19 December…Three days later, the liquor’s maker, Hongmao Pharmaceuticals in Liangcheng county of Inner Mongolia autonomous region, told local police that Tan had defamed the company. Liangcheng police hired an accountant who estimated that the damage to the company’s reputation was 1.4 million Chinese yuan (US$220,000), according to official state media, the Beijing Youth Daily. In January, Liangcheng police travelled to Guangzhou to arrest Tan and escort him back to Liangcheng, according to a police statement.

Sales of Hongmao liquor reached 1.63 billion yuan in 2016, making it the second best-selling TCM in China that year. It was approved to be sold by licensed TCM shops and physicians in 1992 and approved for sale over the counter in 2003. Hongmao Pharmaceuticals says that the liquor can treat dozens of different disorders, including problems with the spleen, stomach and kidney, as well as backaches…

Hongmao Pharmaceuticals did not respond to Nature’s request for an interview. However, Wang Shengwang, general manager of the production center of Hongmao Liquor, and Han Jun, assistant to the general manager, gave an interview to The Paper on 16 April. The pair said the company did not need not publicize clinical trial data because Hongmao liquor is a “protected TCM composition”. Wang denied allegations in Chinese media that the company pressured the police to pursue Tan or that it dispatched staff to accompany the police…

Xia is worried that the case could further silence public criticism of TCMs, environmental degredation, and other fields where comment from experts is crucial. The Tan arrest “could cause fear among scientists” and dissuade them from posting scientific comments, he says.


On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed concerns over the validity of TCM data/material that comes out of China (see for instance here, here and here). This chilling case, I am afraid, is not prone to increase our confidence.

13 Responses to If you cannot argue against your critic, have him jailed (a chilling story from China)

  • I’ve been trying to figure out what this best seller “Hongmao liquor” is made of. Apparently it contains 67 ingredients and as far as I can tell also leopard bone.,20180427864516822.html?qrqm=tjyd

    Does anyone have an idea of the formulae of this best seller and what it is supposed to work for?

  • Maybe time for a conspiracy theory. I asked myself this morning, why would a government technologically capable of building stealth fighter jets, experiment with entangled protons in space etc. promote something such as TCM? Isn’t this maybe a way to combat the ageing population problem (something that China also struggles with) or a crude form of population control in general. Promote and sell ineffective remedies? But why then try and internationalise TCM? Don’t have an answer for this one yet.

    • simple: money!
      TCM is one of the most valuable export for China.

    • Money and influence. Soft power. TCM promotes a user friendly image of China on high streets around the world.

    • As Edzard says, “Money”.

      Other than money, TCM is unlikely be be a hot topic for the Chinese Gov’t. They have more important things to worry about. (Environmental polution, the internal economy, the orange whatsit, and so on.). What is the homoeopathic industry like in Germany or France?

      My amateur reading of this is that a wealthy company in a far-off part of the country put pressure and/or bought some local police to take action and squash criticism. Hongmao Pharmaceuticals probably thought they could intimidate the doctor and never expected to star in Nature. Nor, possibly, attract the attention of Beijing.

      They may be regretting their move now if Beijing takes note since the CPC and Gov’t have been talking about improving the rule of law.

      • I agree, it was more a tongue in cheek conspiracy theory. But if we think about money, how much would it cost the Chinese government to roll out modern healthcare throughout (rural) China? I’ve seen some numbers regarding TCM hospitals, practitioners etc and it is mind boggling. All of these hospitals and clinics have to be modernised and changed into real hospitals while probably facing strong resistance from the locals because these people are used to their TCM – they see it as part of their culture. Add to this the loss of income because TCM production is a booming (export) business (it is their ‘pharmaceutical industry’), a major spike in unemployment (you cannot simply turn a TCM practitioner into a doctor), and it is almost as if the government just decided to roll with it – they don’t have much of a choice.

  • Some of the responses one receives from the most manic homeopaths, simply for asking for evidence, suggest that this response is not too far distant from theirs.
    I’m betting many others have been told to ‘get an education’, accused of working for Big Pharma, called a ‘moron’ or even a ‘twat’ or worse.
    Daft Colin at least ( in public at any rate) does no more than stick his fingers in his ears and shout ‘ fake news’ in these circumstances.
    The idea that this Chinese potion’cures everyrhing is not very far from what it’s aupporters would claim.
    I once read a review of dowsing rods on Amazon.
    The buyer complained about the basic construction- lengths of metal stuck into wooden handles- but ended by saying ‘however, they do the job’.
    What job wasn’t made clear, since as far as I could ascertain, these things could find not only water, but minerals, missing cats and dogs and even children.
    I can only imagine that he’s gone on to buy the de luxe versions, and phas maybestruck gold.
    Then there’s the Monty Python spoof of ‘Mastermind’ in which John Cleese, sitting in the black chair, confidently announces that his specialist subject is ‘The entire contents of the universe’.

    • To do dowsing properly you need a freshly cut dowsing rod, cut from an apple tree. Ordering one from Amazon, sheesh.

      I understand that a number of English water companies equip their field staff with dowsing rods so clearly they must work.

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