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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 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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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.

Manya Koetse

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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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China Food & Drinks

Famous Goubuli Restaurant Calls Police for Getting Roasted Online, Gets Kicked Out of Franchise Group

Goubuli Wangfujing shows how NOT to address a social media crisis.

Manya Koetse

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The well-known Goubuli Wangfujing restaurant just got a bit more famous this week. The branch, which specializes in steamed buns, is now not just known as one of Beijing’s worst-rated restaurants, but also as a business that shot itself in the foot by handling a social media crisis the wrong way.

The famous Wangfujing main branch of Goubuli Steamed Buns (狗不理包子) is caught up in a social media storm since responding to a blogger’s negative video of their restaurant by contacting the police.

The video, Goubuli’s response to it, and the following consequences have hit the top trending topic lists on Weibo today.

Goubuli, sometimes transcribed as Go Believe, is a well-known franchise brand of steamed stuffed buns (baozi) from Tianjin that was founded in 1858. The brand now has more than 80 restaurants in mainland China, 12 of them in Beijing. Since Wangfujing is one of Beijing’s most famous streets, the Wangfujing branch is popular with both foreign and Chinese visitors.

 

Gu Yue’s “Visiting the Worst-Rated Restaurant” Video

 

The social media storm started on September 8, when Weibo blogger Gu Yue (谷岳) posted a video titled “Visiting the Worst-Rated Restaurant” (“探访评分最差餐厅”). Gu Yue is a travel blogger with over 1,7 million fans on Weibo.

Gu Yue in front of Gubouli.

In the video, Gu Yue starts by explaining he chose to visit Gubouli after searching for the restaurant that receives the lowest ratings in the Beijing Wangfujing and Dongdan areas on the super-popular Chinese mobile food app Dianping.

The blogger found that, out of the 1299 listed restaurants in the area, Wangfujing Goubuli Baozi was the worst-rated place. Ironically, the brand’s name Gǒubùlǐ (狗不理) literally means ‘dogs don’t pay attention,’ which makes the name ‘Goubuli Baozi’ sound like a place with stuffed buns that even dogs would not eat.

Complaining about the service, prices, and quality of food, many Dianping users rated the restaurant with just one out of five stars.

Gu Yue then sets out to visit the restaurant himself to see if Gubouli on Wangfujing really is as bad as Dianping users say. He orders some steamed braised pork dumplings, 60 yuan ($8.7) for 8, and regular pork dumplings, 38 yuan ($5.5) for 8.

The blogger concludes that Gubouli’s dumplings are not worth the money: the dumplings are greasy, the dough is too sticky, and they do not have enough filling. Gu Yue’s video also suggests that the restaurant’s hygienic standards are not up to par, with loud coughing coming from the kitchen.

Gu Yue’s video received over 97,000 likes and thousands of responses on Weibo, with many fans praising the idea of the blogger checking out the worst-rated restaurants.

 

Goubuli’s Reaction Starts a Social Media Storm

 

The Wangfujing branch of Goubuli did not appreciate Gu Yue’s video.

In an online statement on September 11, the branch accused the blogger of spreading lies about their restaurant and harming their reputation, and demanded a public apology.

Goubuli Wangfujing called the video “vicious slander” and stated they had contacted the police in relation to the matter.

The hashtag “Wangfujing Goubuli Responds to Netizen’s Negative Video” (#王府井狗不理回应网友差评视频#) immediately went viral on Weibo, attracting some 430 million views.

Many Weibo users were outraged about the way the Goubuli branch handled the situation. “Aren’t we even allowed to say if something is tasty or not?!” many commenters wondered, with others writing: “You are harming your own reputation!”

“Let’s call the police over the quality of your food,” others suggested.

There were also many netizens who commented that some Chinese Time-Honored brands, such as Goubuli, often only survive because of their history and fame rather than actually delivering good quality to their customers.

Following the major online backlash on its statement, the restaurant soon removed their post again. But the social media storm did not end there.

On September 15, the Goubuli Group issued a statement saying that it would directly terminate its franchise cooperation with the Goubuli Wangfujing branch over the incident.

With over 280 million views on its hashtag page (#狗不理解除与王府井店加盟方合作#), news of the franchise termination blew up on Weibo.

According to the latest Weibo reports on September 15, the Wangfujing Goubuli branch was closed for business on Tuesday (#狗不理包子王府井店门店关闭#).

“This is the power of clout,” one person comments: “If it were not for the [Goubuli] restaurant’s flawed marketing department, this would not have led to their closure.”

“The restaurant has brought this on themselves. There’s nothing wrong with posting a bad review.”

Another person comments: “This is the first time I’ve seen a marketing department making something big out of something small, leading to their own closing.”

Meanwhile, blogger Gu Yue says that he was not contacted by Goubuli, nor by the police. The social media controversy has only made him more popular.

“Gue Yue single-handedly crushed this restaurant,” some say, appreciating how social media has increased the power of Chinese consumers to make or break a business.

 
Also read: Overview of the Dolce&Gabbana China Marketing Disaster Through Weibo Hashtags
 

By Manya Koetse

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.

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

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