Beijing will jail doctors who oppose traditional Chinese medicine

In what I would consider to be an extraordinary declaration to the world in the strongest possible terms the city authorities in Beijing have announced plans to criminalise criticism of traditional Chinese medicine despite rising opposition to it by doctors and a background outrage at the way Chinese traditional medicine exploits endangered animals and drives them to extinction.

Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine. Picture in the public domain.

Critics will be prosecuted for “picking fights to disturb public order” and defaming the practice of Chinese medicine. Anybody who criticises it in a minor way will be punished by up to 2 weeks in “administrative detention”. More serious infractions could lead to many years in prison.

President Xi insists that the country’s traditional medicine is a “jewel” having developed over thousands of years of Chinese civilisation. He believes that it has played a unique role in helping the country to beat the coronavirus pandemic. But has no science to back it up.

Traditional Chinese medicine is worth hundreds of billions of pounds annually to the economy of China but the coronavirus pandemic has generated opposition to it some of which is outspoken and some of which comes from Chinese health professionals because of its unproven effects. Science does not, to the best of my knowledge, support traditional Chinese medicine. Further there has been international outrage at the wet markets of China of which there are 20,000 where wild animals are slaughtered on the spot for their body parts. These animals are often endangered such as the pangolin. And we know that Bengal tigers are constantly being poached to supply the traditional Chinese medicine market in China.

In addition, the African lion is being slaughtered as I dictate this. The market for lion bones from South Africa has doubled in recent years and male skeletons can fetch up to £3000. Social media is in uproar about this proclamation. A blogger and lawyer living in China has written that “The pharmacology of traditional Chinese medicine must accept any questioning, and its effects must be tested clinically, and its future must face the challenge of modern science.”

The government and authorities of China do not hesitate in punishing health professionals if they speak out about their policies, procedures and culture. In April a Chinese doctor who had worked on the front line against the coronavirus was admonished and silenced when he criticised the government’s response to the pandemic.

One doctor, Yu Xiangdong, of Central Hospital in the city of Huangshi has written extensively about medicine. He argues that traditional medicine is unproven. His social media account had almost 1 million followers at the time. All his posts have been taken down by the authorities and his voice has been silenced.

As long as traditional Chinese medicine is practised there will be absolutely no chance at all of protecting the wildlife that it relies upon. It is simply inconceivable. There must be international pressure on China to change their attitudes. However, I see very little enthusiasm for a concerted international effort and therefore, reluctantly, I conclude that we must bid farewell to many of the current wonderful species inhabiting this planet. We are entering the sixth mass extinction and one reason for it is traditional Chinese medicine which the authorities simply will not deal with in a humane and proper fashion.

This is is an editorial article – news and opinion.

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