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China Food & Drinks

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.

Manya Koetse

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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 founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    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.

    WhatsApp :+27642338548 or email vvresearchchemicals(@)gmail DOTcom

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tsingtao Brewery ‘Pee-Gate’: Factory Worker Caught Urinating in Raw Material Warehouse

The pee incident, that occurred at a subsidiary Tsingtao Beer factory, has caused concerns among consumers.

Manya Koetse

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A video that has circulated on Chinese social media since October 19 shows how an alleged worker at a Tsingtao Beer factory climbs over a wall at the raw material production site and starts to urinate.

The incident reportedly occurred at the Tsingtao Beer Factory No. 3, a subsidiary of the Tsingtao Brewing Company, located in Qingdao, Shandong.

After the video went viral, the Tsingtao Brewery Company issued a statement that they took the incident very seriously and immediately report it to the authorities, who have started an investigation into the case. Meanwhile, the specific batch in production has been halted and shut off.

The incident has caused concern among consumers, and some commenters on social media wonder if this was the first time something like this has happened. “How do we know this hasn’t happened many times before?”

Others speculate about what might have motivated the man to urinate at the production site. There are those who believe that the man is part of an undercover operation orchestrated by a rivaling company, aimed at discrediting Tsingtao. It’s even suggested that there were two ‘moles’ leaking in this incident: one doing the urinating, and the other doing the video ‘leak.’

Meanwhile, there are voices who are critical of Tsingtao, suggesting that the renowned beer brand has not effectively addressed the ‘pee gate’ scandal. It remains uncertain how this incident will impact the brand, but some netizens are already expressing reservations about ordering a Tsingtao beer as a result.

But there are also those who joke about the “pissing incident,” wondering if Tsingtao Beer might soon launch a special “urine flavored beer.”

By Manya Koetse

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Featured photo by Jay Ang (link).

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

From Baijiu Latte to DIY Liquor Coffee: China’s Coffee Culture Takes a Shot at Coffee + Alcohol Fusion

The recent buzz surrounding the Luckin x Maotai collaboration shows that blending coffee + alcohol might just become the next major trend in Chinese coffee culture.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM CONTENT

China’s coffee culture is brewing up something new as it embraces the fusion of coffee and alcohol. This blossoming trend, currently a hot topic online thanks to the Luckin x Maotai collaboration, is sparking curiosity and discussions about its lasting impact on coffee culture in China.

Would you like a shot with that? Recently, a trend involving the fusion of alcohol and coffee seems to be taking off in China, blending established liquor brands with popular domestic coffee labels.

The concept of mixing alcohol with coffee is relatively new in China, where classics like Irish Coffee never achieved the same recognition as they did in Western countries.

But also, the way in which ‘coffee + alcohol’ is introduced to consumers is different, with brands such as 7-Eleven and Luckin promoting their ‘coffee + liquor shot’ or ‘alcohol lattes.’

As a tea drinking nation, coffee culture is not part of Chinese traditional culture. However, over the past decade, China has witnessed the remarkable growth of a distinct and immensely popular Chinese coffee culture. In this evolving landscape, companies and consumers are continuously finding innovative ways to incorporate coffee into daily city life.

Coffee in China is typically an out-of-home purchase, particularly favored by the middle class (Ferreira & Ferreira 2018, 785). It has become intrinsically linked with modern urban life in China, taking on new cultural meanings related to status, lifestyle, aesthetics, urban communities, and the acquisition of new tastes. Millennials and Gen Z are at the forefront of shaping China’s coffee culture.

The pursuit of unique flavors is a defining aspect of China’s coffee culture, with a strong emphasis on specialty coffee. In fact, Shanghai alone boasts over 7,000 independent coffee houses, surpassing coffee hubs like London or New York (Xu & Ng 2022, 2349). Chinese coffee shops are known for introducing innovative concepts such as fruit-infused coffee, spicy chili coffee, garlic coffee, and liquor-flavored coffees.

Rather than introducing coffee into China’s drinking culture, alcohol is now being integrated into China’s coffee culture, providing consumers with yet another way to enjoy their coffee and explore new flavor experiences.

 
7-Eleven Blending Coffee with Alcohol
 

At various 7-Eleven convenience stores in China, you can now purchase a shot of alcohol to go with your coffee. For just 5 yuan ($0.70), customers can add a shot of their preferred liquor, such as Havana or Malibu, to their take-away coffee. It’s also possible to add it to your soda.

7-Eleven DIY counter: adding a shot of Malibu to takeaway coffee. (Image via Xiaohongshu user 今天怎么还没睡).

While we first noticed this option at a Beijing 7-eleven somewhere during the summer of 2023, Radii and Phoenix News reported that the first DYI counter was piloted at a Beijing store in October of 2022.

The counter, that specifically promotes the coffee + alcohol combo, is meant to serve customers who would previously purchase their coffee and then separately buy a full-priced mini bottle of liquor for anywhere in between 20-40 yuan ($2.75-$5.50) for 50ml.

DIY liquor counter at 7-Eleven in Beijing, promoting its “coffee + shot of alcohol” option (Photo by What’s on Weibo).

In late 2022, 7-Eleven in Taiwan also promoted the liquor + coffee combo as it exclusively offered the Hennessy cognac x City Prima coffee “Liquor Latte Set.”

City Prima x Hennessy at 7-Eleven Taiwan (Image via tw.com).

 
Luckin x Maotai Collab: Introducing Baijiu Latte
 

While the trend of adding alcohol to coffee seems to be taking off in China, Luckin coffee became all the talk on Chinese social media this week for its collaboration with Maotai (茅台), also known as Moutai, a renowned Chinese brand of baijiu – a type of strong distilled liquor.

Luckin launched the drink on Monday for 38 yuan ($5.20) under the name “酱香拿铁” (jiàng xiāng ná tiě) or “Sauce-Flavored Latte,” soon selling out at various stores and becoming a trending topic online. The ‘sauce’ reference is because of the distinct flavor profile associated with Maotai, often described as having a soy sauce-like aroma (“酱香型”).

The collaboration has become super popular for various reasons, one major one being the unexpected yet exciting combination of two such well-known Chinese brands coming together.

Promotion of the Maotai coffee on Luckin’s Weibo page.

Luckin Coffee (瑞幸咖啡) was founded in Beijing in 2017, opened its first shops in early 2018, and it has seen incredible growth over the past five years. The brand’s primary emphasis lies in providing top-notch coffee at accessible prices in convenient locations. Due to its ubiquity and dominant position in the market, it’s sometimes also referred to as “China’s Starbucks” (“中国星巴克”).

Maotai, made in Maotai in Guizhou Province, prides itself for its 2000-year history and it became the first Chinese liquor to be produced in large-scale production. The strong luxury spirit (53%), known as China’s national liquor, is especially popular among middle-aged and elderly men.

With Luckin being particular popular among China’s younger generations, while Maotai is especially loved among the elder generations, one popular Weibo post about the recent collaboration said: “For young people, it’s their first cup of Maotai, for the elderly, it’s their first cup of Luckin.”

It is also one of the reasons why the trend has become so big this week: many consumers are just curious to try this novel combination, although not everyone likes its special taste.

Trying out the new Luckin x Maotai combo (photos via @互联网欢乐指南).

The blend of coffee with alcohol is really more about the flavor than the buzz; the baijiu-flavored Luckin coffee only has an alcohol content of about 0.5%. One Weibo hashtag related to the question of whether or not people should drive after consuming the drink amassed an astonishing 640 million views (#瑞幸回应喝茅台联名咖啡能否开车#). Despite the very low alcohol content, Luckin still advises that minors, pregnant women, and drivers should avoid consuming the beverage.

The “Chinese version of Irish Coffee,” image on Xiaohongshu via @謝琦鈦.

Some social media users add some extra Maotai to their coffee themselves, calling it the “Chinese version of Irish coffe” (“中国版的爱尔兰咖啡”).

 
“Milk Tea for Grown-Ups”
 

Luckin is not the only Chinese coffee house offering a Maotai-flavored latte. Other Chinese coffee shops have independently introduced their own versions of Maotai coffee, without official partnerships.

In addition to company-driven innovations, consumers are also experimenting with their own coffee + liquor blends. On the social media platform Xiaohongshu, numerous users are enthusiastically sharing their personalized methods infusing coffee with Maotai and various other types of alcohol, including adding miniature bottles of Baileys to Starbucks takeaway coffee.

Image via Xiaohongshu user @潮流情报官.

Others are going beyond the coffee trend, and mix their milk tea or fruit tea with Jameson, Kahlua, or other liquors, turning them into “grown-up milk tea” beverages (成年人的奶茶).

While such practices might receive disapproval in many countries, where daytime drinking and adding spirits to coffee could be seen as indicative of alcoholism and irresponsible behavior, in China, these actions generally lack these negative connotations. Many young people just view it as an innovative way to enjoy new tastes, describing it as “a new trendy way to drink coffee” (or tea).

Is the coffee + alcohol mix a temporary trend, or will it become a permanent part of China’s out-of-home coffee culture? On social media, most people are curious to try it out but they are also not convinced the combination is one to stay.

“I don’t really know the flavor of coffee + alcohol, but judging from their effects – alcohol makes me sleepy and coffee wakes me up – I’m afraid it would mix up my nerves, so I don’t dare to try” one commenter (@无边桃炎) wrote.

“It’s just the taste [of mixing coffee with alcohol] that’s really good – apart from the Maotai Luckin one,” one person responded.

They are not alone; numerous young Chinese internet users are speculating that the recent Luckin collaboration is Maotai’s strategy to appeal to China’s younger generations, who do not necessarily appreciate its distinct flavor. These younger demographics have moved away from the traditional drinking culture in which baijiu plays a significant role.

“It’s just so unpleasant to drink,” others write. “Is it alcohol or is it coffee?” another person wonders: “In the end, it’s actually neither.”

While Luckin’s “Sauce-Flavored Latte” might not secure a permanent place on its menu, it’s clear that the trend of adding alcohol to coffee has gained popularity among China’s younger consumers. With 7-Eleven’s DIY counter offering a variety of sweeter liquors for customers to blend with their coffee, it appears they’ve found the perfect “shot” in this coffee and liquor trend.

By Manya Koetse

with contributions by Miranda Barnes

References

Ferreira, Jennifer, and Carlos Ferreira. 2018. “Challenges and Opportunities of New Retail Horizons in Emerging Markets: The Case of a Rising Coffee Culture in China.” Business Horizons 61, no. 5: 783-796.

Xu, Xinyue, and Aaron Yikai Ng. 2023. “Cultivation of New Taste: Taste Makers and New Forms of Distinction in China’s Coffee Culture.” Information, Communication & Society 26, no. 11: 2345-2362.

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