The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, claimed on Tuesday that “Qingfei paidu soup,” a type of soup used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), can reduce the chances of death for a Chinese coronavirus patient by half.
Qinfei paidu soup is a broth made from 21 Chinese herbs that can be “personalized” depending on a patient’s condition. The People’s Daily noted among its ingredients are “ephedra, licorice root, and bitter almond.” It is one of a wide variety of recipes and natural products the Chinese government promotes as superior, or sometimes complementary to, legitimate medicine as part of the larger industry of TCM.
TCM, rather than using science, begins with the premise that human bodies all carry qi, or energy, and that curing diseases requires healers to rebalance the qi in an individual’s bodies, rather than killing pathogens or strengthening body parts weakened by injury or disease. The TCM industry is worth tens of billions of dollars to the Communist Party, which has used the Chinese coronavirus pandemic to help promote unscientific remedies as alternatives to antivirals widely used by accredited doctors to combat respiratory infections. Scientists around the world warned against China’s attempts to mainstream TCM “cures” through its influence at the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), noting mainstream drugs and treatments are subject to rigorous scientific study that has no analog in the TCM world.
A study by the government-controlled Fuwai Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College revealed the alleged healing powers of qingfei paidu soup, according to the People’s Daily report.
“Qingfei paidu soup, a widely used traditional Chinese medicine to treat COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] infections, can help reduce the rate of death among hospitalized patients by half, a recent study has shown,” the People’s Daily reported. “The study examines more than 8,900 COVID-19 cases that received treatment at 15 hospitals in Hubei province － the hardest-hit region during the epidemic － from January to May last year, with nearly 30 percent of them having taken qingfei paidu as part of their therapies.”
“Results suggest that the mortality rate for those undergoing the TCM treatment stands at 1.2 percent, while the rate for other patients is 4.8 percent,” the study concluded. The People’s Daily noted that the Chinese researchers involved in the study enthusiastically urged that all people diagnosed with Chinese coronavirus ingest the soup, although the subjects of the study were only those with cases severe enough to be hospitalized.
The state newspaper noted that upwards of 92 percent of individuals diagnosed with Chinese coronavirus “had undergone TCM therapies,” calling into question what products the control group in the qingfei paidu soup study were ingesting. The study did not involve any experiments. Instead, the researchers looked at hospital records in Hubei and simply documented who had received qingfei paidu soup and who had not. The study thus does not meet the mainstream standards used to test potential treatments internationally.
The People’s Daily also did not address the widespread evidence that Hubei’s coronavirus case and death records were manipulated to make China appear to have the local outbreak more under control than it did. Residents of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, have long anonymously speculated that the low number of cases compared to places like Brazil and the United States do not correspond to their personal experiences of overwhelmed hospitals and crematories. Millions of cellular phone users and tens of thousands of elderly pensioners appeared to disappear from government documents during the pandemic at a rate that did not align with officials death tolls. Presumably, if these individuals indeed died of coronavirus infections and did not appear in government documents, their deaths would not appear in the statistics used to determine the effectiveness of qingfei paidu soup.
Li, one of the researchers, expressed hope that “global application” of the soup could be expanded following a clinical trial, not merely compiling real-world anecdotes. She suggested the use of double-blind studies – where research subjects do not know if they are in the control group or not, and the researchers do not know which individual is in which part of the trial – in the future, which Nature magazine has referred to as “the gold standard for assessing a treatment’s efficacy.”
Few TCM treatments undergo such trials. As Nature noted in May, “government officials and TCM practitioners deem the remedies safe because some have been used for thousands of years, but significant side effects have been reported.” Many scientists have expressed concerns that TCM practices may put patients at risk because they have not been subject to appropriate testing.
“We are dealing with a serious infection which requires effective treatments. For TCM, there is no good evidence, and therefore its use is not just unjustified, but dangerous,” Edzard Ernst, a UK-based retired researcher, told Nature last year.
Other experts dismissed the industry as “state-sponsored quackery” and protested that its practice led to often brutal poaching of several endangered species for use in “cures.” Among the most prized species in TCM is the pangolin, one of the top suspects in scientists’ quest to find the animal that first infected humans with Chinese coronavirus.
Chinese government-approved researchers have nonetheless championed TCM as the most trustworthy approach to handling coronavirus infections since the pandemic began. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Phytomedicine in August proclaimed TCM as having an “outstanding” record at fighting coronavirus infections. The Beijing scientist-led study defined the philosophy of TCM as minimizing the role of viruses in infections generally, and argued that TCM can use climate to predict when an infectious disease outbreak will occur:
TCM believes that the essence of infectious diseases is not viruses, but “grumpiness.” “Grumpiness” is a kind of evil that appears at the same time as abnormal weather. “Grumpiness” has the characteristics of strong pathogenicity, strong infectivity, entry route to human body through the mouth and nose, and specific lesion location.
Based on the theory of “five movements and six qi,” the science of disaster prediction in ancient China can be used to predict the effect of natural climate change on human organ function based on the combination of the five movements of the sky and the six qi of the earth. Further, based on the theory of “3-year epidemic formation,” it is proposed that if the migration and operation of the climate is abnormal, an epidemic will occur in approximately 3 years (Liu et al., 2013). … In other words, TCM can make relatively accurate predictions before the outbreak of the disease, allowing the hospitals to make emergency plans.
The study concluded sanitary masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) were inadequate to protect health workers from Chinese coronavirus and they should add to their regimens the routine burning of TCM incense.
The pandemic has led to a profit boom for the TCM industry. According to the state-run China Daily, TCM companies have seen sales “skyrocket” during the pandemic. While Beijing has not published any updated numbers, 2020 estimates suggested the Communist Party expected upwards of $430 billion a year in profits by the end of that year.