China Exploits Coronavirus to Promote Dubious Traditional Remedies

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  • Over 50% of the coronavirus patients in Hubei are being treated with traditional remedies.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine has dubious efficacy and could have caused the coronavirus outbreak through the trade of pangolins.
  • Bejing is exploiting the crisis to promote nationalist Communist Party goals. They want to boost the market for TCM and fulfill Chairman Mao’s vision.

Is China getting desperate? As the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak rages on, Chinese authorities are turning to questionable methods to stop the deadly disease.

Over half of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the Hubei province have been treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a somewhat mystical practice with dubious scientific efficacy.

What could be the rationale for this strange – and arguably backward – decision?

Beijing may be exploiting the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to bolster the multi-billion dollar market for traditional Chinese remedies.

Beijing Allows Traditional Remedies to Flourish in Wuhan Hospitals

Half of all coronavirus patients in Wuhan have received traditional remedies to treat the disease. | Source: STR / AFP

China’s central government has sacked local officials and taken control of the healthcare administration in the hard-hit Hubei province.

With Beijing in charge, the Chinese government is becoming more transparent about the situation in Hubei. But they may also be exploiting the crisis to promote nationalist policies.

Wang Hesheng, Hubei’s new health director, isn’t upset that Wuhan hospitals are treating coronavirus patients with traditional Chinese medicine. In fact, he claims that the efforts have shown “good results” – though he declined to elaborate on how TCM’s efficacy is being measured.

The government is sending 2,200 more TCM workers to Hubei. They’re tasked with helping the province’s strained healthcare system deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Of the 56,249 confirmed coronavirus cases in Hubei, 1,596 have died, giving the virus a 2.84% fatality rate in the province. This is compared to a 0.9% fatality rate in nearby Chongqing and a 0.3% fatality rate in Hunan.

It is unclear what role, if any, TCM plays in the disparity between fatality rates in different Chinese provinces. But the limited data points aren’t encouraging.

TCM Is Controversial – And May Be Linked to the Coronavirus Outbreak

Unlike modern medicine (which TCM proponents call “Western medicine”), these traditional remedies don’t necessarily abide by the scientific method to determine efficacy.

China’s drug regulator documents over 230,000 reports of adverse effects from TCM every year.

To make matters even worse, there’s speculation that demand for traditional Chinese medicine may have caused the coronavirus outbreak in the first place.

TCM practitioners believe pangolin scales have medicinal value. And this has led to a flourishing – and illegal – trade of the endangered mammal.

Chinese researchers believe they have isolated a virus 99% similar to the Wuhan coronavirus. This virus is currently embedded in the wild pangolin population.

TCM also claims there’s medicinal value in the secretions of the civet cat – the well-known vector of the SARS virus.

Will pangolin scales and civet cat secretions feature in the TCM treatments for the coronavirus victims in Hubei? That would be a bitter irony.

Why Is Beijing Promoting TCM?

Is Beijing promoting TCM for the wrong reasons? | Source: NOEL CELIS / AFP

While traditional Chinese medicine has fallen out of favor with many of China’s urban elites, it remains popular with the poor, rural masses that constitute the majority of China’s population.

The market for traditional remedies is worth a staggering $433 billion, and the Communist Party of China wants it to take on a larger share of the multi-trillion dollar global healthcare market.

The Communist Party has promoted traditional Chinese medicine since the time of Chairman Mao, who wrote the following in 1954.

Chinese medicine should be well-protected and developed. Our country’s Chinese medicine has a history of several thousand years. And it is an extremely valued asset of our homeland.

It looks like his successors in the Chinese government are exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to make Mao’s questionable vision a reality. The people of China may already be paying the price.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

This article was edited by Josiah Wilmoth.

Last modified: February 16, 2020 7:24 PM UTC

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