MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

By guest blogger Loretta Marron

If scientists were fearful of a clinical trial’s producing negative results, would they even pursue it? A draft Chinese regulation issued in late May aims to criminalise individual scientists and organisations whom China claims damage the reputation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Beijing has a reputation for reprimanding those who decry TCM. Such criticism is blocked on Chinese Internet. Silencing doctors is becoming the norm.

In January 2018, former anaesthetist, Tan Qindong, was arrested and spent more than three months in detention after criticising a widely advertised, best-selling ‘medicinal’ TCM liquor. Claiming that it was a ‘poison’, he believed that he was protecting the elderly and vulnerable patients with high blood pressure. Police claimed that a post on social media damaged the reputation of the TCM ‘liquor’ and of the company making it. Shortly after release, he suffered post-traumatic stress and was hospitalised.

On 30 December 2019, Chinese ophthalmologist, the late Dr Li Wenliang, was one of the first to recognise the outbreak of COVD-19. He posted a private warning to a group of fellow doctors about a possible outbreak of an illness resembling severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). He encouraged them to protect themselves from infection. Days later, after his post when viral, he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau in Wuhan and forced to “admit to lying about the existence of a worrying new virus”. Li was accused of violating the provisions of the “People’s Republic of China Public Order Management and Punishment Law” for spreading “unlawful spreading of untruthful topics on the internet” and of disturbing the social order. He was made to sign a statement that he would “halt this unlawful behaviour”.

In April 2020, Chinese physician Yu Xiangdong, a senior medico who worked on the front line battling COVID-19, posted on Weibo, a Twitter-like site, a criticism of the use of antibiotics and TCM to treat COVID-19. He was demoted from his positions as assistant dean at the Central Hospital in the central city of Huangshi and director of quality management for the city’s Edong Healthcare Group. Well known for promoting modern medicine amongst the Chinese, Yu had almost a million followers on social media. All his postings vanished.

Beijing insists that TCM has been playing a crucial role in COVID-19 prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. Claims continue to be made for “effective TCM recipes”. However, no randomised clinical trial has been published in any reputable journal.

TCM needs proper scrutiny, but criticising it could land you years in prison. If the benefits of suggested herbal remedies are to be realised, good clinical studies must be encouraged. For TCM, this might never be permitted.

Don’t think for a moment that you are safe in Australia.

Article 8.25 of the Free Trade Agreement Between the Government of Australia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China reads:

Traditional Chinese Medicine Services (“TCM”)

  1. Within the relevant committees to be established in accordance with this Agreement, and subject to available resources, Australia and China shall cooperate on matters relating to trade in TCM services.
  2. Cooperation identified in paragraph 2 shall:

(a)    include exchanging information, where appropriate, and discussing policies, regulations and actions related to TCM services; and

(b)   encourage future collaboration between regulators, registration authorities and relevant professional bodies of the Parties to facilitate trade in TCM and complementary medicines, in a manner consistent with all relevant regulatory frameworks. Such collaboration, involving the competent authorities of both Parties – for Australia, notably the Department of Health, and for China the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine – will foster concrete cooperation and exchanges relating to TCM.

4 Responses to Paying the price for questioning Traditional Chinese Medicine – Beware!

  • Important article. Worth following how this unpleasant activity unfolds with China’s growing influence.

  • “Yeah but what colour should it be?” (Finale of Hitchhiker’s Guide…) – got any thoughts on concentration camps?

    Welcome to China! The land of equality. It does not matter what your nationality is, you can be cured and made equal too, or if you are already Chinese, you can still be made equal thanks to new Hong Kong law! Once everyone is equal and all thoughts are equal, everyone will be so much happier! – hang on, someone is knocking on the door, I’ll just go and see who it…
    The End.

  • As much as I think that pharmaceutical Companies may have Things to answer for TCM could be worse.

  • Not a squeak from the WHO on the dictatorial closing down of criticism of TCM in China. Hardly conducive to honest science, eh? Negative results were few and far between before this latest crackdown on free expression. Brave or stupid would a Chinese scientist have to be to publish a paper saying TCM is antiquated (or pseudo-antiquated) nonsense. In truth it’s been so ever since Xi Jinping’s pronouncement about TCM being China’s jewel.

    Xi Jinping looks just a little rattled.

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