Will people get locked up for ‘defaming’ traditional Chinese medicine?

Domestic News

Last week, health authorities in Beijing unveiled a set of proposed regulations on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for public consultation. One specific article has drawn the ire of legal experts and people skeptical of TCM practices.

SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Last week, health authorities in Beijing unveiled a set of proposed regulations on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for public consultation.

The new rules, proposed by the city’s Health Commission and the Municipal Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, are mostly in line with an existing campaign by China to promote TCM at home and abroad. But one specific article has drawn the ire of legal experts and people skeptical of TCM practices:

Article 54 stipulates that those who “defame and slander” TCM are subject to punishment by public security departments or even face criminal responsibility for “picking quarrels, causing trouble, and disrupting public order,” a vaguely defined crime often used by Chinese law enforcers to police online speech and dissent.

The backlash was swift and severe, with a large number of observers calling (in Chinese) the regulation an aggressive move on the government’s part to make TCM “beyond criticism and speculation.” In interviews with Caixin, a few legal experts cautioned that the draft regulation could “leave citizens criminally accountable for expressing criticism” about TCM, which has a reputation for “questionable scientific foundations and lax regulation.”

Despite the limited scientific evidence substantiating its effectiveness, TCM has seen a rise in popularity and usage in recent years with the help of the Chinese government, which has increasingly sought to brand the therapies as a source of national pride and a form of China’s soft power. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of TCM experts was put in charge of a medical facility in Wuhan, which was purposely built to treat COVID-19 patients.

For context on the history of Chinese medicine, see “The Great Collector: Li Shizhen and his 11,000 medicines,” published on SupChina today.