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One of China’s Most Famous Medicines is Made From Hairballs

Some things never get old. Costly Chinese Traditional Medicine like ‘Angong Niuhuang’ are a much discussed and sold item on Chinese websites such as Sina Weibo or Taobao. The much-beloved Chinese medicine, that is also called one of China’s medicinal “treasures”, is quite unique: it is made of the ‘hairballs’ or ‘bezoars’ that occur in the gall bladder of a cow or ox.

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Some things never get old. Costly Chinese Traditional Medicine like ‘Angong Niuhuang’ are a much discussed and sold item on Chinese websites such as Sina Weibo or Taobao. The much-beloved Chinese medicine, that is also called one of China’s medicinal “treasures”, is quite unique: it is made of the ‘hairballs’ or ‘bezoars‘ that occur in the gall bladder of a cow or ox.

For many Chinese families, the ‘Angong Niuhuang Pill’ (安宫牛黄丸) is a household item. The ‘Niuhuang pill’ is known as a “divine medicine” (  Sohu 2012); an effective first-aid medicine against fever or other more serious health problems. Except for treating high fever, the Niuhuang pill is also used for strokes, headaches, dizziness, epilepsy and nausea. In ancient times, it was known as “the pill that could rescue the patient immediately and help revive those who were on the brink of death” (Guo et al 2014, 1). The medicine is believed to have magical healing powers, removing toxins from the human body. The pill, that is known as very rare valuable, comes from an unlikely place.

According to the Chinese Herbs Healing blog, ‘Niuhuang’ (literally: ‘cow gold’) can be found in the gall bladder bile of a cattle or ox. It is usually harvested when the animals are slaughtered, and if some mass is found inside the gallbladder. If so, these ‘hairballs’, or ‘bezoar’, need to be filtered out, dried in the shade, and then grinded into fine powder – eventually processed as the famous ‘hairball’ pill.

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The medicine has a long history, as it was already mentioned in China’s oldests texts on medical herbs. In China, the Niuhuang pill is mainly and most famously produced in Beijing. The most well-known version is that of Beijing’s Tongrentang pharmacy (同仁堂安宫牛黄丸).

The Niuhuang pill is not just special because of its origins, but also because of its price. It can become extremely expensive, depending on when it was produced. It is generally believed that the older the medicine is, the more effective it is. This makes the pill an interesting market for frauds, who sell fake ones for enormous amounts of money as if they were authentic. Niuhuang pills from 1993 will be sold for an approximate 1300 yuan (212 US dollars) per pill (Xinhua 2013). Because the price of the natural bezoar is so high, there are somewhat less expensive substitutes that are used more often and widely, such as Tongrentang’s Angong Niuhuang Pill, that is a concentrated powder of the bezoar, mixed with, amongst others, musk, cinnabaris, and gardenia. A box of six pills costs around 130 US dollars.

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Although the Angong Niuhuang Pill is said to be an effective formula for its fever-reducing and detoxificating use (Guo et al 2014), many of China’s hospitals are not happy with people using it at home. Because it is known as a ‘life saver’, people often take a pill at times when they actually should be calling an ambulance. On Weibo, the Jinan University Hospital recently warned people not to trust on Niuhuang in emergency situations. They write: “We often see patients who suffered a stroke and think they can solve it by taking Angong Niuhuang Pills.” The hospital warns people that it can be life-threatening when people trust on pills rather than getting immediate professional help: “The only correct way to handle an emergency situation, is to immediately call an ambulance and get medical assistance in a nearby hospital,” Jinan University Hospital says.

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Another reason to be careful with China’s ‘hairball’ pills, is because of the enormous amount of fake pills circulating in shops and on the internet. On July 30, China’s Shantou Prefecture announced through its official Weibo account that a Guangdong lab where fake Niuhuang pills were being produced was busted by the local police. Four suspects have been arrested. Taking fake pills can potentially be harmful for one’s health.

These online warnings do not withhold Weibo users from buying Niuhuang. One Weibo user called Silver Wind has posted a picture of three boxes containing three ‘hairball’ pills, saying: “These things are so expensive, but much needed!” She later writes that she paid 1600 RMB (260 US dollars) for three pills. Weibo user ‘Wendy‘ writes she is using the expensive medicine not for herself, but to save the little puppies of her dog, who are experiencing some health problems.

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Although many netizens trust the efficiency of Niuhuang pills, there are also those who express their doubts with Chinese Traditional Medicine: “Acupuncture, bloodletting, clinics that are like religious services, taking Angong Niuhuang Pills,..what is it all good for? Don’t ask me, because I really don’t know,” one user says.

By Manya Koetse

References

– Guo, Yu, Shaohua Yan, Lipeng Xu, Gexin Zhu, Xiaotong Yu and Xiaolin Tong. 2014. “Use of Angong Niuhuang in Treating Central Nervous System Diseases and Related Research.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2014): 1-9.
– Sohu. 2012. “安宫牛黄丸:错吃就是毒” Sohu News, May 29. http://health.sohu.com/20120529/n344268979.shtml.
– Xinhua. 2013. “十粒“老安宫”一万三 牛黄丸放得越久越值钱?” Xinhua News, July 17. http://news.xinhuanet.com/fortune/2013-07/17/c_125024102.htm [30.07.15].

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Aiden

    May 15, 2018 at 5:31 am

    We are certified suppliers of Gallstones worldwide (cows, oxen, bulls, buffaloes, zebus, bison ) with markets in U.S , Europe and Asia we are one of the leading suppliers of Ox Gallstones worldwide.

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China Digital

Exclusive QR Code-Based Service Under Fire: The 3 Major Downsides to Contactless Ordering

Self-service ordering is the norm in many restaurants across China, but its benefits do not always outweigh the downsides.

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QR code-based ordering is the new normal in Chinese restaurants, but contactless ordering also comes with major downsides. In a recent People’s Daily article, consumers’ rights expert Chen Yinjiang argues that contactless ordering can’t be the sole service option offered by businesses.

Along with China’s rapid digitalization, QR code-based ordering has become the norm for many restaurants across the country. Although many see QR code-based self-service – from waiting in line to ordering and paying – as a convenience that also saves the restaurant costs on staff, there are also downsides to these digital developments.

Contactless ordering is not just the new normal in many restaurants, it often also is the only way in which customers can order.

In a recent article published by Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily, the deputy secretary-general of China Consumer Protection Law Society, Chen Yinjiang (陈音江), argues that business owners in China should offer customers the choice, saying: “Consumers have the right to choose whether they want to order by scanning a code or order through a waiter. Businesses can’t just consider the costs without considering the customer experience – especially when they neglect the requirements of elderly consumers.”

Image via http://www.hnntv.cn/

On Chinese social media, the criticism of exclusive QR code-based service in restaurants has become a hot topic of discussion. The hashtag “People’s Daily Discusses QR Code-Based Ordering” (#人民日报谈扫码点餐#) received 280 million views on Weibo on Monday.

Both the People’s Daily article and the online discussions mention the following three major downsides to QR code-based ordering.

 
1. Missing the Communication with the Waiter

One downside to contactless ordering is that customers miss out on the experience of communicating their order directly with the restaurant staff.

One reason why people would prefer to place their order directly with the waiter is that it gives them an opportunity to inquire about the menu, get advice on the best choice to make, and to communicate any special dietary wishes and preferences.

But another reason is simply that talking to restaurant staff is part of the dining out experience, with self-service ordering being a rather bleak substitute for those people who would actually like to have some more human interaction when they go out for food.

“If a restaurant only lets people order through smartphone and don’t offer a menu, the entire sense of ritual [of eating out] is gone,” one person comments, with others agreeing: “Ordering food is part of the dining culture.”

 
2. Leaving the Non-Tech-Savvy Customers Behind

Contactless ordering is also a nuisance to the elderly and non-tech-savvy customers who struggle to scan a QR code and place an order. For them, the process of online ordering is not convenient or fast but actually makes their restaurant experience all the more difficult and complicated.

“We live in an aging society. We really need to have other ways of handling this for the future,” one popular comment on Weibo said.

Other commenters also indicate that even for people who are used to ordering online, the process can be a nuisance. When changing their mind about their order, or accidentally ordering a wrong item, the entire order is gone and the customer needs to start from scratch again. This makes the process far less convenient than ordering with a staff member.

 
3. Privacy and Spam Concerns

There are also those who find that QR-based ordering is an invasion of their privacy. Many restaurants require customers to register or to ‘follow’ them on WeChat or elsewhere before allowing contactless ordering.

This means that customers do not only give away some personal information stored in their app profile, it also means that it is easy for companies to keep on sending promotions and other information to their customers long after they have left their restaurants.

While this might be an efficient marketing strategy for businesses, many people see this as a major disadvantage to QR-based ordering, and this complaint is one of the most-discussed ones on Weibo.

“Contactless ordering is actually a good thing, it is the fact that you need to register or follow the company before you can place an order that’s the problem,” multiple commenters say.

“I just want to order food – why would you need my phone number for that? Why would I need to follow your account for that?”

Many commenters on Weibo indicate that if restaurants only offer QR code-based ordering, they would rather not eat there at all.

Despite the criticism on self-service ordering, it is also praised by many. The general consensus on Weibo seems to be that virtual ordering is great, but should not be the only way to order and that smartphones and tablets should never replace ‘old-fashioned’ menus and waiters.

By Manya Koetse

Featured image via http://dc.wio2o.com/new/diancan.php

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China Food & Drinks

Viral Video Exposes Wuhan Canteen Kitchen Food Malpractices

Boots in the food bowl, meat from the floor: this Wuhan college canteen is making a food safety mess.

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A video that exposes the poor food hygiene inside the kitchen of a Wuhan college canteen has been making its rounds on Chinese social media these days.

The video shows how a kitchen staff member picks up meat from the floor to put back in the tray, and how another kitchen worker uses rain boots to ‘wash’ vegetables in a big bowl on the ground, while another person is smoking.

The video was reportedly shot by someone visiting the canteen of the Wuhan Donghu University (武汉东湖学院) and was posted on social media on November 7.

According to various news sources, including Toutiao News, the school has confirmed that the video was filmed in their canteen, stating that those responsible for the improper food handling practices have now been fired.

The Wuhan Donghu University also posted a statement on their Weibo account on November 8, saying it will strengthen the supervision of its canteen food handling practices.

“The students at this school will probably vomit once they see this footage,” some commenters on Weibo wrote.

Wuhan Donghu University is an undergraduate private higher education institution established in 2000. The school has approximately 16,000 full-time undergraduate students.

“I’m afraid that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” one popular comment said, receiving over 25,000 likes.

Students from other universities also expressed concerns over the food handling practices in their own canteens, while some said they felt nauseous for having had lunch at the Wuhan canteen in question.

By Manya Koetse

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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