JOHN DWYER. The extraordinary determination of China to have the world embrace its Traditional Medicine. (Part one of three)

The child was six years old. His parents were struggling to manage his Diabetes. He had Type 1 diabetes, the most serious form of the disease caused by his own immune system destroying his pancreas. As a result he could no longer produce required amounts of Insulin to control his blood sugar levels. Regular injections of Insulin were keeping him alive. The heartbreaking tragedy that descended on this vulnerable child and caused his death involved the practice of “paidalajin”, an alternative Chinese medicine technique that involves slapping, pulling and stretching the skin until it bruises.

The details surrounding the child’s death were described in the SMH thus:-

“A Chinese “self-healing promoter” accused of causing the death of a six-year-old boy allegedly described Western medicine as “poison” and encouraged diabetics to participate in slapping therapy instead of taking their insulin. Hong Chi Xiao was charged with manslaughter, following a two-year investigation into the boy’s death during which time he continued to promote his techniques around the world.

Hong Chi Xiao has been extradited to Australia to face manslaughter charges after allegedly denying a year 1 student insulin during an April 2015 workshop in Hurstville.He is also being investigated in the United Kingdom following the death of an elderly woman who attended one of his workshops last year”.

Mr Xiao, a US national, conducted the $1800 a week course in which the boy took part at the Tasly Healthpac centre in Hurstville, Sydney in April 2015.The NSW Supreme Court heard during Mr Xiao’s bail application that he denied the child insulin for five days and put him on a fasting regimen that involved only dates and ginger water while he was carrying out the slap therapy, even when it became apparent that the boy’s condition was deteriorating.The boy was vomiting regularly after a few days but Mr Xiao attributed this to the poisonous effects of the insulin.The child finally became so weak that he could not walk and his parents had to push him about in a pram. Mr Xiao allegedly advised the parents to check into the hotel where he was staying so he could keep a closer eye on him.But on the night of 26 April 2016, Mr Xiao went out to a Chinese restaurant with those who were assisting him and the child had a seizure at the hotel and lapsed into an unconsciousness from which he never recovered.He died of diabetic ketoacidosis.The prosecution opposed bail on the grounds that Mr Xiao posed a flight risk and a danger to the community due to his “extremely strong belief” in paidalajin.”And there could be no more powerful example of this than to slap a six-year-old child who has type one diabetes consistently for five days”.

Mr Xiao has no medical qualifications but the clinic where the seminars were hosted is run by Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) registered Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners. who have been very influential in the attempt to expand the use of TCM in Australia. As I understand it, their culpability or otherwise in this tragedy has yet to be determined

Also registered was Dr Yun Sen Luo charged in August with manslaughter after the death of a diabetic patient who had been told, it is alleged, that she should stop taking all medication including her insulin and instead use the herbal preparations he prescribed. His trial starts this month. Our National Register of adverse drug reactions notes that Chinese Medicine preparations are the most common source of reported complications.

Readers of P&I over the last few months will have read numerous articles suggesting that the Chinese government is, and is not, attempting to influence many aspects of Australian life. There can be no argument however about that Government’s intentions re the propagation of their traditional medicine as they very publicly say that its promotion to the world is major part of their campaign to have the world embrace traditional Chinese culture. What’s this all about?

Before discussing the politics of TCM here is a brief discussion of the concepts involved.TCM is, together with Indian Ayurveda and pre-Enlightenment European medicine, one of the major pre-scientific care systems. They share common roots, probably from ancient Indian philosophies, according to which the equilibrium of the healthy human body is believed to be the result of a balance of a number of elements. Diseases are thought to be due to their imbalance. In TCM, these elements are wood, water, fire, earth and metal, a belief similar to that of ancient Indian Unani medicine, with its four humours – air, earth, fire and water. Pre-scientific European medicine proposed four humours, each associated with the four natural universal elements, air, water, fire and earth (blood – air; phlegm – water; yellow bile – fire; black bile – earth).

TCM involves imaginary structures and indemonstrable ‘vitalistic’ forces. An undetectable, immaterial life force, qi, is said to flow through channels (‘meridians’) in the body. Circulating within these channels is the hypothetical qi, which regulates body functions, modulated by 12 bilaterally distributed channels (six Yin and six Yang channels), supplemented by two midline channels (one in the front, and the other in the back, of the body). Disease is said to occur when the flow of qi becomes blocked. TCM uses several approaches to correct such blockage, including acupuncture, “cupping”,moxibustion and multiple herbal and animal extracts. The slapping therapy described above is said to clear blockages and allow qi to flow again. Nature provides symbolic clues to treatments that can fix these imbalances: a herb that looks like the heart, the hand or the penis can be used to treat ailments in those body parts. Animals, too, carry cures within them: the roaring power of a tiger can be extracted from its bones; the strength of an ox from its gall stones.

TCM holds that there are 40 distinct areas of the tongue that relate to specific body parts and that inspection can provide a diagnosis. Feeling a pulse at the wrist in three different areas can also provide diagnostic information for a number of diseases. You can see on a number of TCM websites statements indicating that “You don’t even need to tell us your symptoms as we will know what ails you from our tongue and pulse examination”. The above “anti-science” is taught as fact at Australian Universities and Tertiary Colleges offering course to prepare TCM practitioners to provide care to Australians. The course work (knowledge) required to graduate and be registered as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner is certified by the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia (CBA), one of the fifteen Boards established by AHPRA to accredit and monitor the activities of practitioners. The maintenance of appropriate standards for tertiary education is supposed to be overseen by an independent body, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). This agency has not conducted an independent audit of the courses on offer for TCM but rather accepted the assurances of the CBA that appropriate standards are in place. How can this be when none of the above is supported by any credible science? The political machinations that underpin this often dangerous nonsense are analysed in part two of this contribution.

John Dwyer, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at UNSW, is the President of “Friends of Science in Medicine”, an organisation championing the need for credible scientific evidence of effectiveness to underpin health care in Australia.


Professor John Dwyer, Immunologist and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at UNSW

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8 Responses to JOHN DWYER. The extraordinary determination of China to have the world embrace its Traditional Medicine. (Part one of three)

  1. Kerry Faithfull says:

    Aside from blatant bias the main problem with this piece is consistent innacuracy. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been in use for thousands of years, long before Mao and long before western doctors were bloodletting and giving mercury to patients in Victorian England.
    I suggest that the author looks into the very murky past and present of Western Medicine before beginning to comment on something he clearly knows nothing about. For example the multi trillion dollar “cancer industry” which for most cancers has brought patients not one year more or life expectancy in 50 years. Unless you count breast cancer of course where you need to cut off your breasts to survive. And the Chinese are the barbaric ones?
    Again I question the owner of this blog: why is this article here at all? Were you paid to publish it? That is the only reason I can think of as to why it would blight the otherwise intelligent commentary here. It is journalistically unsound to say the very least and based on assumptions and claims that are not supported.
    I am not a practitioner of TCM or an MD but have received treatments from both in the past.
    The AMA it appears does not have to back up its assertions with actual facts, much like its medicine.

    • I suggest that any ‘blatant bias’ is yours, rather than the professor’s. Not one more year of life from the “cancer industry”???? My experience contradicts that. Diagnosed with rampant, out of control cancer in 2009, I have had an extra 9 years of life so far from our wonderful publich health system delivering cancer treatments. I don’t know whether any of the treatments are Chinese in origin, but I am quite sure that if the western-trained scientists find some good in Chinese medicine they will do the tests and drug development to ensure we all benefit, based on science, not bullshit.

  2. John Quiggin says:

    Not a good structure. Should start with evidence that Chinese government is pushing TCM.

  3. Kien Choong says:

    Why view the take up of traditional Chinese medicine from the perspective of nefarious intentions on the part of China’s government? Would it be more useful (and objective) to simply critique traditional Chinese medicine on its own terms?

    I myself have reservations about the value of traditional Chinese medicine. But while there will undoubtedly be examples of abuse, traditional Chinese medicine as generally practised in China and among overseas Chinese communities seem to be generally benign. In fact, I suspect that they are no worse than alternative therapies that emerge in the West, and certainly less harmful than some of the supplements that target the body building / fitness community.

    I suggest separating out the two issues: (i) traditional Chinese medicine, and (ii) the influence that China’s government exerts outside China. If there is evidence of illegitimate influence, then by all means, identify them!

    But personally, I would have thought that in a democracy, we would be open to listening to the views of people we don’t always agree with (including China’s government). It seems somewhat parochial to shut our minds to reasoned arguments by people (including foreigners) whom we disagree with.

  4. Jerry Cartwright says:

    well they may be obscure but they are TCM. I suppose you will also defend powdered rhino horn and elephant skin? What about shark cartilage curing cancer because apparantly sharks don’t get cancer (why our own cartilage doesn’t protect us is a mystery). What this man said is not racist and it’s a very cheap shot at a man trying to stop people being ripped off and dying at the hands of quacks and con artists spouting nonsense.

  5. R. N. England says:

    Perhaps we should see traditional Chinese medicine as a demographers’ friend. Although less humane than contraception and one-child policies, it too helps mitigate the plague of humans on the earth. Far more alarming is the killing of rare species to satisfy the perverted tastes of the ignorant wealthy. China is embracing science, the only sure way to solve these problems in the long term.

  6. Evan Hadkins says:

    There is a very extensive research program on TCM in China.

  7. Kerry Faithfull says:

    Really? Equating some obscure “slapping technique” with TCM? And Ayurveda?
    Why are ignorant racists contributing here?

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