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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.

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.

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China Brands & Marketing

The Price is Not Right: Corn Controversy Takes over Chinese Social Media

It’s corn! The “6 yuan corn” debate just keeps going.

Manya Koetse

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Recently there have been fierce discussions on Chinese social media about the price of corn after e-commerce platform Oriental Selection (东方甄选) started selling ears of corn for 6 yuan ($0.80) per piece.

The controversy caught the public’s attention when the famous Kuaishou livestreamer Simba (辛巴, real name Xin Youzhi), who has labeled himself as a ‘farmer’s son,’ criticized Oriental Selection for their corn prices.

Founded in 2021, Oriental Selection is an agricultural products e-commerce platform under New Oriental Online. In its company mission statement, Oriental Selection says its intention is to “help farmers” by providing the channels to sell their high-quality agricultural goods to online consumers.

Simba suggested that Oriental Selection was being deceitful by promising to help farmers while selling their corn for a relatively high price. According to Simba, they were just scamming ordinary people by selling an ear of corn that is worth 0.70 yuan ($0.10) for 6 yuan ($0.80), and also not really helping the farmers while taking 40% of their profits.

‘Sales king’ Xin Youzhi, aka Simba, was the one who started the current corn controversy.

During one of the following livestreams, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) – who also happens to be a farmer’s son – responded to the remarks and said there was a valid reason for their corn to be priced “on the high side.” Simba was talking about corn in general, including the kind being fed to animals, while this is high-quality corn that is already worth 2 yuan ($0.30) the moment it is harvested.

Despite the explanation, the issue only triggered more discussions on the right price for corn and about the fuzzy structure of the agricultural e-commerce livestreaming business.

Is it really too expensive to sell corn for 6 yuan via livestreaming?

The corn supplier, the Chinese ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂), is actually selling their own product for 3.6 yuan ($0.50) – is that an honest price? What amount of that price actually goes to the farmers themselves?

‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂).

One person responding to this issue via her Tiktok channel is the young farmer Liu Meina (刘美娜), who explained that Simba’s suggested “0.70 yuan per corn” was simply unrealistic, saying since it does not take the entire production process into account, including maintenance, packaging, transportation, and delivery.

Another factor mentioned by netizens is the entertainment value added to e-commerce by livestreaming channels. Earlier this year, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui and his colleagues became an online hit for adding an educational component to their livestreaming sessions.

These hosts were actually previously teachers at New Oriental. Facing a crackdown on China’s after-school tutoring, the company ventured into different business industries and let these former teachers go online to sell anything from peaches to shrimp via livestreaming, teaching some English while doing so (read more here). So this additional value of livestream hosts entertaining and educating their viewers should also be taken into account when debating the price of corn. Some call it “Dong Yuhui Premium” (“董宇辉溢价”).

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

In light of all the online discussions and controversy, netizens discovered that Oriental Selection is currently no longer selling corn (#东方甄选回应下架玉米#), which also became a trending topic on Weibo on September 29.

But the corn controversy does not end here. On September 28, Chinese netizens discovered that corn by the ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂) was being sold for no less than 8.5 yuan ($1.2) at the Pangdonglai supermarket chain (胖东来), going well beyond the price of Oriental Selection.

Trying to avoid a marketing crisis, the Pangdonglai chain quickly recalled its corn, stating there had been an issue with the supply price that led to its final store price becoming too high. That topic received over 160 million views on Weibo on Friday (#胖东来召回8.5元玉米#).

Behind all these online discussions are consumer frustrations about an untransparent market where the field of agricultural products has become more crowded and with more people taking a share, including retailers, e-commerce platforms, and livestreaming apps. Moreover, they often say they are “helping farmers” while they are actually just making money themselves.

One Weibo user commented: “Currently, ‘helping farmers’ is completely different from the original intention of ‘helping farmers.’ Right now, it’s not about helping farmers anymore, but about helping the companies who have made agricultural products their business.”

“I bought a corn at a street shop today for 4 yuan ($0.55),” one Weibo blogger wrote: “It was big, sweet, and juicy, the quality was good and it was tasty – and people are still making money off of it. So yes, 6 yuan for a corn is certainly too expensive.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Brands & Marketing

Young Chinese Woman Dies at Haidilao Hotpot Restaurant

The woman allegedly choked while having beef tripe.

Manya Koetse

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On September 8, a woman from Putian in Fujian Province unexpectedly passed away while having hotpot at a Haidilao restaurant in a local mall.

The incident went trending on Chinese social media on Thursday, with the hashtags “Woman Suddenly Passes Away While Having Haidilao Hotpot” (#女孩海底捞吃火锅意外身亡#) and “Haidilao Responds to Female Customer Passing Away During Dinner” (#海底捞回应女顾客就餐时身亡#) receiving 50 million and 300 million views respectively.

According to various Chinese news reports, the 21-year-old woman had just finished eating beef tripe, the edible lining from the cow stomach, and drank some water after which she suddenly became unwell.

Footage circulating on Chinese social media shows how restaurant staff gave first aid to the woman by performing the Heimlich maneuver while emergency workers were underway.

Although it is rumored the young woman choked on the tripe, this has not yet been confirmed as an investigation into the cause of death is ongoing. The Haidilao restaurant where the incident happened is currently closed, and Haidilao responded that they are deeply saddened and will do all they can to fully cooperate with the police to investigate the case.

Haidilao (海底捞) is one of China’s most popular restaurant chains serving authentic Sichuan hotpot, a dining style where fresh meat and vegetables are dipped in simmering broth. Besides its tasty hotpot and wide selection of ingredients and drinks, Haidilao is known for its high-quality service. The staff is thoroughly trained in providing the best customer service, and Haidilao has introduced new concepts throughout the years to enhance the customer experience.

Haidilao is a very reputable company and is known to respond quickly to avert social media crises (example here and here).

As the story goes trending, many Chinese netizens point out the choking hazard of beef tripe. One lung doctor (@呼吸科大夫胡洋) also responded to the incident, suggesting that the Heimlich maneuver might not have been life-saving in this case since beef tripe is long and soft and could block the respiratory tract if the Heimlich maneuver is performed while the person is standing up, since it could potentially cause the tripe to go deeper instead of being pushed out.

The doctor recommends in these kind of emergency situations that if possible, for a chance of survival, the person could then be placed into an upside down, upper body down position for the Heimlich maneuver.

Other doctors on Weibo also use this moment to provide more information about how to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

Many online commenters think Haidilao is not necessarily to blame for what happened. “Judging from the video, the staff was quick and correct in their response. As for why the woman could not have been rescued, we’ll have to wait for the final reports.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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