Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Have a Place in a Whole New Epidemic?


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Although TCM is primarily associated with the elderly and infirm, a large portion of the post-90s Chinese generation (those born in 1990 and after) have embraced TCM-guided health trends in recent years.

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“A post-1995 girl I work with is totally interested in TCM,” says Chen Yishui, a 36-year-old illustrator from Chongqing. “She thinks these magical ingredients can make up for her crazy lifestyle.”

Indeed, there are many documents on how millennials adopt extracts from traditional medicine to compensate for their decidedly modern way of life. A popular 2018 meme gently pokes fun at post-90s kids for making a habit of soaking goji berries in a hot thermos, a practice picked up by their elders. At the same time, young people are the force behind TCM’s acne and weight loss folk remedies, touted for their “superior” natural ingredients.

But losing weight and getting rid of pimples are more peripheral aspects of health. It is doubtful that these trends extend to belief in TCM as a medical practice, especially in times of viral epidemics.

Since news of a new coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan became official, state media have enthusiastically encouraged using TCM for preventive measures, boosting immunity, and even fighting symptoms when a person is infected. Last week, China’s National Health Commission released its latest set of treatment guidelines, which require hospitals to integrate TCM into their programs. Many of the top TCM hospitals in China have published their own treatment plans, as well as herbal formulas that people can get from herbalists to prepare at home.

On Weibo, discussions about the effectiveness of TCM treatments clearly marked the pro-TCM and anti-TCM factions. Typically one side shouts, “Scam! The other part quotes: “5,000 years of accumulated wisdom. On the surface, this fight seems to be between traditional medicine and modern medicine, and it is tempting to assume that most of the strong proponents of TCM are the elderly while the detractors are young people who subscribe more to modern science. that they studied in school. But this is not necessarily the case.

There is a little-known, but very important historical caveat to all of this. Chairman Mao, a self-proclaimed non-believer in TCM, invented TCM as it is known today – a “scientist” holistic medical system – as part of an ongoing soft power campaign. Despite its appearance of ancient traditions distilled through centuries of practice, today’s TCM is not a holdover from the bygone imperial era, but rather part of a carefully crafted Chinese identity designed by its party. in current power.

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The Chinese government’s continued efforts to maintain the legitimacy of TCM may help explain why there is no clear generational divide between TCM enthusiasts and deniers.

My 66-year-old mother, a retired neurologist, told me, “Chinese medicine is non-invasive and strengthens the body over the long term through nutrition and targeted adjustment of bodily functions. It doesn’t target diseases like western medicine, but rather brings the body back to a more optimal state.

My 17-year-old cousin echoed these sentiments: “I took Chinese medicine for my asthma for a year, it really helped me. This method has been passed down for thousands of years for a reason I’m sure and of course it’s been proven using modern science.

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I also know this account very well about the slow and constant effect of TCM which improves the body over time, having grown up in China in the 90s. This often serves as the basis for how TCM is perceived by those. who do not reject it.

“Sometimes it could work very well for some patients, and others not at all,” says Cherry Xu, a 30-year-old lawyer in Hong Kong. “But as a placebo it’s not bad either.”

When you talk to people in China about TCM, a pattern often emerges. People who vehemently reject TCM all appear to have been exposed to some form of TCM scam, an unfortunately common occurrence that primarily targets older people. Chen Yishui told me that she is firmly anti-TCM because of the money her parents gave to charlatans who sold them unnecessary and expensive garbage.

For everyone else, there is no hard dichotomy between TCM and Western medicine. Most people believe in both, generally trusting Western medicine for so-called “big diseases” like cancer or coronary artery bypass surgery, and choosing TCM for minor colds or constipation.

“For many there is no hard dichotomy between TCM and Western medicine – most people believe in both”

“TCM is also good when nothing else is working,” says Adam Qi, a 32-year-old education specialist from Hebei. “When Western medicine has failed, you can’t just give up. You can always try a TCM remedy and see if it helps.

TCM’s “Hail Mary” is something almost all Chinese would embrace when they have nothing else to try. Even for those who insist that TCM treatments must be scientifically proven to work, given the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, many would not say no to a mystical ingredient if it could work. As recently as last week, Chinese consumers cleaned up all Shuanghuanglian oral remedies from their local pharmacies after a state news service article on Weibo. Xinhua claimed it could help fight the coronavirus. Xinhua later withdrew its approval, after angering internet users and doctors for promoting a product without any medical evidence that it could fight a coronavirus.

My cousin looked a little sheepish when I mentioned Shuanghuanglian: “Normally, when the government says it’s effective, it’s pretty trustworthy…”

Other than that, TCM has been heavily promoted without incident since the start of the month (ironic, since TCM is largely to blame for the cultivation of wildlife which is believed to have helped spread the disease. virus to humans in the first place). But since there are no vaccines yet capable of directly attacking the viruses themselves, now is the time for TCM to step into the ring and claim some fame.

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On February 4, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital released eight patients that he said he was treated using a combination of Western remedies and TCM. Their press release noted that patients who used TCM appeared more energetic and healed faster.

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