In the hospital emergency room, where she awoke, she was told that quick treatment saved her life from the allergic reaction to the shot — a mixture of herbs and unlabelled antibiotics. Later, doctors told her that she would have been better off sticking to hot water and aspirin.
The combination of traditional medicine and hospital setting, of pseudoscience and life-saving treatment, might seem strange. But in modern China, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is not the realm of private enthusiasts, spiritual advisers or folk healers. It’s been institutionalised, incorporated into the state medical system, given full backing in universities, and is administered by the state. In 2012, TCM institutes and firms received an extra $1 billion in government money, outside the regular budget. TCM as a whole is a $60 billion dollar industry in mainland China and Hong Kong.
In pharmacies, TCM prescriptions are jumbled on the shelves alongside conventional drugs. Staff often see little difference between prescribing one or the other and don’t tell patients whether they’re receiving TCM or conventional treatment. Approximately 12 per cent of national health care services are provided by TCM facilities, although that figure includes conventional medicine done at TCM institutions.