Traditional Chinese medicine at the service of Xi Jinping



BEIJING – It’s official. The Chinese people have a powerful ally in the “war” against the coronavirus: traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The white paper released by the government on June 7 “Fight against Covid-19, China in action” dedicates several paragraphs to this form of medicine, described as having “unique strength”. Although China certainly uses Western medicine, “Chinese herbal formulas and medicines have been used in 92% of confirmed cases,” the white paper said.

Clearly, China’s success against the epidemic would not be complete if it did not rely on techniques imported from other parts of the world. But according to government propaganda, it was both the political system and the “Chinese genius” that helped – despite a second wave – to contain the disease. Under the headline “Traditional Chinese Medicine Offers Oriental Wisdom in Fighting New Virus,” China’s state-run news agency Xinhua explained on February 18 that “TCM has never missed a single battle against an epidemic in the world. history of China. “On March 24, the Twitter account of the Chinese Embassy in France went so far as to indicate that “traditional Chinese medicine is effective in the treatment of Covid-19”. They forgot an important detail: Doctors who use TCM almost always combine it with more modern treatment.

Criticizing TCM in China is risky these days. Yu Xiangdong, vice director of Huangshi Central Hospital (Hubei), lost his managerial post in March for questioning the policies and use of TCM followed by the authorities. His account on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, is now a blank page. All his writings have disappeared. And the situation could get worse.

Cupping, acupuncture and herbal remedies are now an integral part of Chinese politics.

At the end of May, the Beijing City Health Commission published a draft regulation on Chinese medicine, a chapter of which angered many Internet users. Entitled “Protection and transmission of TCM”, it plans to sanction, including criminally, any person who “defames or slanders TCM, without further details. In three days, nearly 50 million Internet users have consulted the hashtag created for the occasion. ”There is a subtle distinction between slander and reasonable questioning. Who will decide and how? “Asked one internet user.” Is this how you build cultural trust? “Another dared, referring to a quote from Xi Jinping.” It seems TCM is no longer a subject. scientific but a political issue. I guess that’s why proponents of TCM always say that its effectiveness cannot be scientifically proven, ”argued a third.

A villager checks the condition of Coptis, a traditional Chinese medicinal plant. – Photo: Liu Chan / Xinhua / ZUMA

Indeed, cupping, acupuncture and medicinal plants are now an integral part of Chinese policy. TCM, described by Xi Jinping as the “treasure of Chinese civilization,” even received its own white paper, published in December 2016. In the second sentence, it is referred to as “medical science”. Its development is the subject of a 2016-2030 national strategy aimed at “building a Chinese-style medical and health system”. According to the white paper, TCM should carry the same weight as Western medicine. “The state encourages exchanges between TCM and Western medicine and creates opportunities for Western physicians to learn from their TCM counterparts.”

It is not only an ideological question, but also an economic one. With 452,000 practitioners and nearly 4,000 hospitals exclusively dedicated to TCM, it is not a negligible player. Importantly, the TCM-related turnover of the pharmaceutical industry in 2015 was over 786 billion yuan (about 100 billion euros), or 28.5% of the total of the Chinese pharmaceutical industry. . Another important benefit was highlighted by the white paper: “Planting Chinese herbal medicines has become an essential means of developing rural industry, improving the environment and increasing the income of farmers.” In the fight against rural poverty, Xi Jinping’s priority, TCM is an asset.

TCM is more than masks, it is the heart of Beijing’s health diplomacy. In 2019, thanks to its weight in the World Health Organization, China succeeded in introducing TCM into the WHO International Classification of Diseases. This means that it is now a remedy recognized at the highest level. In Africa, private clinics specializing in TCM are multiplying and exports of traditional Chinese medicines are exploding. Clearly, for Xi Jinping, TCM is one of the “Chinese solutions” he intends to bring to the rest of the world. Even if, for some, the potion may be bitter.

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