We’ve all heard of the deceptive ‘snake oil’ salesmen of America’s western frontier who peddled bottles of medically useless placebos and panaceas to ill and often desperate people, but not so many folk are aware that ‘snake oil’ is a Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) which utilizes the fats extracted from the Chinese water snake. And now, China want to bring sell such antiquated potions to the western world.
Much of the civilized world replaced their ‘magical’ medieval medicines in the late 19th century, when microscopes allowed scientists to begin observing the microbial effectivity of medicines in the treatment of ailments, but this is not the case in China. Still today, hundreds of tons of scorpions, freeze-dried millipedes and tiger penises are consumed as medicines, which “China hopes will find an audience overseas” according to a report in the Economic Times .
With a history going back 2,400 years, TCM is firmly rooted in the country’s culture where it is celebrated for being “cheaper than Western medicine.” Next week the World Health Organization will publish its “International Classification of Diseases” and it is being reported that China hopes the inclusion of TCMs will “spur global recognition of its traditional remedies as it seeks to export them.”
Is The World Going Backwards, Into The Future?
Scientists in Beijing, rightfully, face significant hurdles convincing more advanced countries that their placebos are worth buying, and many western scientists who advocate evidence-based, peer-reviewed medicines, see this as a step backwards into the dark ages where alchemical brews are being deemed ‘equal’ to the medicines which pass controlled clinical trials on large numbers of trial patients.
What is really awful in all this is that TCMs that have been proven to have health benefits, like for example ginger and ginseng, are lost among all the ‘supernaturally’ charged brews, potions and lotions. Tiger penis and rhino horn are believed in China to help with erection dysfunction in males even though it is known that the medicine is utterly useless in treatment of this medical complaint.
Rhino who horns have been removed. ( Vladimir Wrangel / Adobe)
This, however, is possibly not a surprising situation considering the intellectual limitations placed on the Chinese people by their government, ie. The Great Firewall of China. This combination of legislative actions and technologies enforced by the People’s Republic of China to regulate the internet domestically, blocks foreign internet tools (e.g. Google search, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and reduces the penetration of products from foreign internet companies, and all of the thousands of modern scientific papers proving a vast majority of TCMs are utterly useless.
Because people in China cannot Google things like, “are there any provable healing properties in rhino horn?” conservationists say, “growing demand for products like rhino horn and pangolin scales – which are used by some practitioners even though they have no proven medical properties – have decimated vulnerable species.” Ignorance, it seems, is making the world a less populated place and while in 1993 Chinese authorities commendably restricted the internal trade of rhino horns, they still permit the import of horn and are now breeding the animal for its horn.
A pangolin, the world’s most trafficked mammal. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
However, China has, “partially lifted the ban on trading tiger bones and rhino horns last month despite warnings from conservationists.” What is more, according to the Washington Post , “The almost mystical creature [the pangolin] looking like a cross between an anteater and an armadillo but unrelated to either, is the world’s most trafficked mammal: A million of them are thought to have been poached from the wild in just a decade.” It is feared China’s aims to export the creatures will bring the species to extinction in less than a decade. “Traditional Chinese medicine should be a healing force for good, but not at the expense of animal cruelty or the extinction of species,” said Iris Ho, wildlife program manager at Humane Society International, to journalists at the Washington Post.
The Dangers Of Undeveloped Adults With Highly-Restricted Thoughts
Earlier this year, a shocking photograph circulated the internet of a massive disemboweled tiger that was slaughtered so that “villagers could try to determine whether it was a supernatural creature.” According to an article in The Jakarta Post , an official of the Batang Natal sub-district, explained to the villagers that they had set a trap to catch what was just another “big cat,” but they didn’t believe him and they cornered the “shaking, terrified, supernatural shape-shifter,” stabbing it “repeatedly in the abdomen with a spear.” Upon learning the animal was of ‘this Earth’ the villagers thought it was best to post pictures on the internet of them stripping it of its body parts, which were then sold on the black market.
The villagers strung up the tiger to the rafters, thinking it was a shape-shifter. (Tribun Medan/ Handout)
The NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reported in 2009 that “tiger poaching continues and parts are being sold openly at much high prices than before.” The investigation discovered that the “prices of tiger and leopard parts in Chinese markets have doubled since 2005,” said Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society of India in the The Jakarta Post article.
Even though Western medical experts discount ‘all’ claims of ‘any’ curative powers in tiger parts, in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and in Chinatowns across Europe and North America, Chinese medicine stores offer “tiger wines, powder, tiger balms and tiger pills.” And now, China wants to double down and increase their exports.
A majestic Sumatran tiger, body parts of which are claimed to be effective from ailments from leprosy to laziness. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Maybe China should also start building coal powered steamers to deliver their medicines to the western world, and possibly start designing space craft with bamboo? No? Of course no. Because somewhere, at some level of the Chinese government, the scientists who get their satellites into space know just fine that a tiger penis, even when added to crushed rhino horn, does absolutely nothing to resurrect a middle aged mans ‘flagging soldier’.
It is for this reason that one of the greatest threats to TCM, and the profits of the producers, is a little blue pill we generally know as Viagra, which has been absolutely proven, tried and tested to breathe life force into ‘tired troops’. If that little blue love button was ever to penetrate The Great Fire Wall Of China, maybe then, the tiger penises and rhino horns might become what they are destined to be; nothing less than an embarrassing part of China’s past.
Top image: White rhinoceros locking their horns. Source: Mari / Adobe
By Ashley Cowie