Beijing plans to punish those who “slandered” traditional Chinese medicine

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A woman leaves a traditional Chinese medicine hospital decorated with a Chinese flag in Beijing on May 19, 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. (Reuters photo)

A draft regulation released by the Beijing city government that seeks to punish people for “defaming” traditional Chinese medicine has sparked fierce opposition online.

The planned regulations, which were released for public comment in May, aim to expand the use of traditional Chinese medicine in the healthcare system, from treating cancer to preventing infectious disease.

A proposed clause prohibits people from “denigrating or defaming traditional Chinese medicine.” Violation of the rule may result in a criminal sanction.

Despite the limited scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness, traditional Chinese medicine is considered by the Communist Party to be a source of national pride and part of China’s cultural heritage.

While a debate about its use regularly erupts online, traditional Chinese medicine has a strong and loyal following in the country, both among the older and younger generations.

Beijing’s proposed defamation ban, however, sparked a wave of criticism on social media, with some internet users calling it a further intrusion into their freedom of expression.

“Is there anything called defamation of modern medicine, physics, chemistry, and astronomy?” Said a comment on Weibo, similar to Twitter. “Using legal means to intervene in science – isn’t it as if the Catholic Church is cracking down on heliocentrism? “

“It will be a luxury to tell the truth in the future,” said another comment.

Chinese authorities have stepped up the promotion of traditional Chinese medicine in recent years, with President Xi Jinping being its most prominent supporter. A national law was passed in 2016 obliging local governments to promote it, and cities and provinces drafted their own regulations on how to carry out the work.

Beijing’s draft regulations require all public hospitals to provide traditional Chinese medicine services and require more promotional activities to be carried out in communities and schools.

He says traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine should be used together in response to public health crises. Projects developing new formulas will be given priority to receive government research funds, the proposal says.

The plan also aims to ban false or exaggerated claims about Chinese medicine.

The Chinese government has pushed for wider use of traditional medicine during the Covid-19 pandemic. In March, authorities said Chinese medicine was used on more than 74,000 Covid-19 patients nationwide and had an effective rate of over 90%. The government said the remedies were based on classics written in the 3rd century.

International scientists have questioned the reliability of such tests. But in China, doctors are instructed to prescribe traditional medicine to most patients, even though some medical professionals do not believe it will work.

Beijing has also sent practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and medicines to countries like Italy, France and Iran during the pandemic.

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