Who still believes in traditional Chinese medicine?

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It’s been a turbulent year for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The set of medical practices based on Chinese traditions and pharmacopeia, some dating back two millennia, enjoys backing from the central government, which has encouraged doctors specializing in Western medicine to switch their careers to TCM, introduced TCM classes to elementary-school children, and pushed hard to get TCM recognized by the rest of the world. But negative news about TCM continues to increase public skepticism about its value.

Quality problems

On November 10, the China Food and Drug Administration announced that 31 batches of herbal medicines produced by 29 companies had failed quality tests, according to Caijing.

But many expect such scandals to continue. On Weibo (in Chinese), one user commented: “No matter what scientists say, the top authorities won’t listen. All Chinese medicines, TCM injections, and Chinese patent drugs are vague about their components, efficacies, and pharmacological functions. As long as TCM is closely integrated with ideology and culture, the market will never be properly regulated.”

                          

Adverse reactions

In October, Legal Weekly reported (in Chinese) that the market size of TCM injections is 80 billion yuan ($12 billion). However, the numbers of adverse reactions to such injections were shockingly high from 2013 to 2015, around 127,000 cases per year. Amid rising public concerns about the safety of TCM injections, the drug administration stopped including data about such cases in its 2016 annual report. “Cherish your life, stay away from TCM” was one reaction on Weibo (in Chinese).

TCM by computer

In an attempt to mesh the ancient concept of TCM with modern times, a community hospital in Hangzhou created a computer program that can generate TCM prescriptions based on a patient’s symptoms. The program, Sina reports (in Chinese), is a possible solution to the shortage of qualified TCM doctors — there are around 450,000 TCM doctors compared with about  2.8 million regular doctors in China.

But it’s not clear if automated TCM will win over any skeptics. On Weibo (in Chinese), one wag commented: “The intention behind this innovation is quite obvious: to make up for the completely unscientific nature of TCM by infusing some scientific elements into it, such as computer programs.”


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Jiayun Feng

Jiayun is a Chinese native and was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allows her to pursue a journalistic career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.