Chinese Corner: Traditional Chinese medicine: Will facts ever sway believers?

In this installment of Jiayun Feng’s weekly review of interesting nonfiction on the Chinese internet, she looks at the contentious debate over traditional Chinese medicine, Ofo’s dramatic fall, end-of-life care in China, and the most relatable news program on Chinese television.

Chinese Corner is Jiayun Feng’s weekly review of interesting nonfiction on the Chinese internet.

Will facts ever sway TCM believers?

To TCM believers: This is a sweeping dimension-reduction attack on your worldview
By Zhēnxiāngdàiyánrén 真香代言人
June 12, 2019

In today’s China, there are few issues as inflammatory as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a centuries-old set of medical practices — most of which have never been subject to the scientific method. Despite the lack of evidence-based research, TCM has been experiencing a huge resurgence in the past few years. The revival is predominantly backed by the Chinese government, which has included the subject as part of elementary school curricula in some regions, imposed TCM quotas on hospital prescriptions in Shandong, and played a key role in Shenzhen’s establishment of China’s first “pure” TCM medical facility.

The increasingly aggressive promotion, however, has not been without controversy on the Chinese internet. On one side of the issue is a legion of TCM believers, who adamantly defend their beliefs by sharing personal accounts of how the methods magically worked on them when Western medicine failed. (In China, evidence-based medicine is still called “Western medicine” — 西药 xīyào while TCM is just “Chinese medicine” — 中药 zhōngyào.) On the other side are medical professionals and TCM skeptics, who use facts to challenge pro-TCM narratives, resisting the long-held Chinese belief that TCM is a form of ancient wisdom that is immune to close scrutiny from a scientific standpoint.

Last week, WeChat blogger Zhēnxiāng Dàiyánrén 真香代言人, an outspoken opponent of TCM, found himself at the center of the debate after publishing a long article in which he laid out 11 arguments to shout down TCM advocates on every possible level. Here are two excerpts:

I find it very amusing every time I encounter seniors and even some young people who rely on TCM theories and methods to realize their dreams of health and longevity. There are thousands of ways to achieve that goal, but they have chosen the one that leads to the exact opposite result.

A look back through human history reveals that TCM has never provided effective treatment for any pandemic. Isn’t that a solid slap on the face? This fact only reveals the tip of the iceberg of TCM’s real lack of capacity. Now think about the famous argument that Western medicine only offers temporary cures to diseases while TCM eradicates the roots of the problems. Why has TCM never encompassed branches like dentistry, gynecology, and emergency treatment? Why does every TCM method emphasize slow and individual-based effects?

The critical piece has skyrocketed into the viral stratosphere, receiving over 300,000 views so far and putting the blogger and his many anti-TCM articles at the forefront of a new anti-TCM movement.

Additional reading:


The never-ending saga of Ofo

Ofo’s final battle
By Wèi Shījié 卫诗婕
June 17, 2019

Once upon a time, Ofo was a heavenly app-based service that allowed customers to locate, unlock, and use bikes spread around a certain city for the low price of 1 yuan per hour. It was hailed by Xinhua as one of the greatest inventions of our time. It was praised as the future of transportation. It was hyped as the most universal and promising idea in China’s feverish venture capital landscape.

And then it fell apart. Since last December, the fast-growing bike-sharing company spent months insisting that it was not headed toward bankruptcy despite evidence to the contrary. At this moment, more than 16 million customers are struggling to get their deposits back. But Ofo’s beleaguered executives are stubbornly refusing to quit, even though its legal representative, Chén Zhèngjiāng 陈正江, and its founder, Dài Wēi 戴威, are currently on a government social credit blacklist for unpaid bills.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that Ofo would fail because of a combination of bad decisions and missteps, such as its overly ambitious plan of global expansion, and its failure to reconcile conflicts of interest among different investors. In this feature story full of salacious details, journalist Wèi Shījié 卫诗婕 gets to the bottom of Ofo’s spectacular rise and collapse in a span of five years.

hospice care

End-of-life care: How to have a good death in China

Approaching the end of life: The 30,000 seniors in a hospital that provides palliative care
By Yú Méng 于 and Dài Mǐnjié 戴敏洁
May 27, 2019

Founded in 1987, Beiijng’s Songtang Care Hospital is the first medical facility that specializes in end-of-life care in China, where death and dying remain a taboo subject. But even if no one wants to talk about it, the demand for high-quality palliative care for terminally ill patients is predicted to increase rapidly in the next decade: China’s aging problem has become a serious threat to its medical resources and economic growth.

In an attempt to improve the situation, the National Health Commission (NHC) announced last week that it had launched a pilot program for end-of-life services in over 70 cities and municipal districts. On paper, the initiative appears promising. But in reality, the program may have to face the hard reality of challenges and problems that Songtang has been grappling with for years, including a major lack of funding and the difficulty of finding a location.


The man behind the most relatable news program on Chinese television

The Peking University graduate who worked as a journalist at 1818 Huangjinyan for 15 years
By Lǐ Yǐngdí 李颖迪
May 23, 2019

Remember Wú Zhèngqiáng 吴正强? The 18-year-old real estate agent in Hangzhou, whose iconic over-the-top eyebrows rocketed him to viral stardom last year. After his appearance in a local news program named 1818 Huángjīnyǎn 1818 黄金眼, Wu quickly parlayed his sudden fame into social media popularity, which turned out to be not as long-lasting as he hoped.

While Wu’s internet popularity was short-lived, the TV show that made him famous kept garnering legions of followers and piles of positive reviews. Unlike other high-budget news programs on Chinese television, 1818 Huangjinyan only features regular people embroiled in minor scams and disputes. As trivial as they are, these stories present audiences with a familiar part of their lives, evoking a strong feeling of relatability and engagement. In this profile of Lú Bǎoxiáng 卢宝祥, who is the oldest reporter working for the program, author Lǐ Yǐngdí 李颖迪 delves into Lu’s career and shows how much craftsmanship goes into the program’s production.

Things that I read and loved this week: