Beijing draws up plans to outlaw criticism of traditional Chinese medicine

Helen Davidson
Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Authorities in Beijing are drafting legislation to outlaw criticism of traditional medicine in the Chinese capital.

A notice published by health authorities called for public submissions on the draft, which would ban any individual or organisation from making false or exaggerated claims about traditional Chinese medicine, or using it for illegitimate interests or to damage public interest.

It would potentially lead to the criminal prosecution of people who criticise TCM or “cause trouble or disturb public order” by breaching the law.

The move comes amid a broader campaign by China to promote traditional Chinese media (TCM) at home and abroad. In March state media said TCM therapies had been playing a “critical role” in the prevention and treatment of Covid-19, and some were sent to other nations as part of China’s international aid.

China’s president Xi Jinping is a fervent supporter of TCM as a pillar of industry, and its potential to grow and develop.

However scientists warned against global distribution without further evidence, Nature reported last month.

Related: 'It's against nature': illegal wildlife trade casts shadow over traditional Chinese medicine

The draft and explanatory notes for the move in Beijing did not give details on what would constitute a smear against TCM. Submissions for public feedback are open until 28 June.

The medical approach has evolved over thousands of years, and encompasses a broad range of treatments, including acupuncture, eating habits, and a range of drugs.

According to a white paper by China’s state council published four years ago, the total value of the nation’s TCM industry was expected to reach $420bn by the end of this year.

TCM has been the subject of several controversies, including the use of endangered animals by some practitioners.

Last month the Guardian reported the continued use of endangered animal parts, including from pangolins, tigers, leopards and rhinos, was endangering the reputation of the practice and industry.

In November, European doctors called for tighter regulation after the World Health Organization (WHO) added a chapter on TCM to the International Classification of Diseases, which lists globally available medical treatments and influences government health budgets. The WHO said the addition was not an endorsement, but European scientists expressed concern it would be used for promotion of TCM.

In July a children’s hospital in Jiangxi province suspended one of its TCM treatments after dozens of children had side-effects including blisters and burns.

Additional reporting by Lillian Yang