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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.

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China and Covid19

From Peaches to Pears: 3 Natural Food Remedies Trending on Chinese Social Media in Times of Covid Outbreak

Even though experts suggest that natural food remedies won’t prevent or cure Covid, Chinese netizens believe in the power of peaches.

Zilan Qian

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Coughing, fever, sore throat; during China’s current Covid outbreak, the ways to alleviate the most common symptoms have become an everyday topic on Chinese social media. Food remedies are a recurring trending topic. Here are three natural food remedies that have become popular (again) over the past few weeks.

In December of 2022, during the rapid spread of Covid-19 across China after the country let go of its ‘zero Covid’ policy, fever and cough medicine were selling out fast. Some Covid patients turned to foods and drinks to help soothe Covid symptoms.

The following types of food have become especially popular on Chinese social media over the past few weeks.

 

1. Canned Yellow Peaches (黄桃罐头)

In December, when the number of Covid-19 infections spiked throughout China, canned yellow peaches suddenly received significant attention. Under the Weibo hashtag “Canned Yellow Peaches, the Mysterious Power from the East” (#东方神秘力量黄桃罐头#), netizens shared how canned yellow peaches helped them recover from Covid-19, describing it as “the god of children from Northeastern China” that “blessed every Northeastern Chinese child.” Some even joked that the government should include canned yellow peaches in the public health insurance package.

Netizens praising the effect of canned yellow peaches in alleviating diseases. Image from a post on Zhihu.

Although many state media quoted experts’ claims that canned yellow peaches cannot fight Covid-19 symptoms and might even worsen coughing, most netizens still believe in the power of peaches.

While most people acknowledge that natural food remedies aren’t always effective, they are seemingly unanimously against the “experts’ advice.” Under Pengpai News’ Weibo post and hashtag “Experts Claim Canned Yellow Peaches Might Worsen Cough” (#专家称黄桃罐头或加重咳嗽#),” some Weibo users commented that experts would not dare to discuss the supposed ineffectiveness of Lianhuaqingwen (traditional Chinese medicine that has become hot-selling during Covid outbreak) and thus criticize canned peaches instead.

Another commenter wrote: “Who would actually believe that canned yellow peaches can cure diseases? It is just like a placebo when we’re sick.”

A satirical comparison of the effects between canned yellow peaches and Lianhuaqingwen.

One popular image compared the effectiveness of canned yellow peaches and Lianhuaqingwen. According to the image, the former is tasty and hydrates, while also containing electrolytes and calories and serving as comfort food to people, whereas the latter is only capable of potentially having side effects for the kidney and liver.

Canned yellow peaches are a nostalgic comfort food, especially for people from Northeastern China. For the generations growing up during the 1970s and 1980s, canned yellow peaches are known as a ‘cure-all.’ In an era of food scarcity, canned yellow peaches were a sweet luxury that most children could only get when they were ill.

One commenter on Q&A platform Zhihu wrote: “Eating canned yellow peaches is a ritual.” Other netizens shared their childhood memories about the food – one commenter recalled how eating canned yellow peaches at the hospital after a car accident left a deep impression on them.

A Weibo post sharing ‘yellow peaches’ childhood memories. The user wrote about parents bringing canned yellow peaches as a gift for relatives who were ill: “At that time, we associated cans (of yellow peaches) with being sick.” (Originally from a Zhihu post.)

A supermarket sale of canned yellow peaches. The Chinese characters say “táoguò yìqíng,” actually meaning “escaping the pandemic,” but as a word joke, táo is written with character 桃 for peaches instead of 逃 for escape. Image from a Zhihu post.

Moreover, the name of the food has also come to be associated with recovering from Covid. As the character ‘桃’ (peach) sounds the same as the character ‘逃’ (escape), eating canned yellow peaches is also jokingly used in the context of ‘escaping’ from the epidemic.

 

2. Steamed Orange with Salt (盐蒸橙子)

Another food that gained popularity during the Covid-19 outbreak is steamed orange with salt, which is considered a more medicinal food remedy than canned yellow peaches. The food has since long been used as a Chinese folk prescription for sore throat. The widespread Covid-19 symptom of severe sore throat, sometimes also described as “swallowing blades” (喉咙吞刀片),” has made the folk prescription popular again.

Here is the cooking procedure according to many online posts: wash and soak the orange in salted water; cut the orange at ⅕ point from the top; spread ⅓ spoon of salt onto the remaining ⅘ oranges; put two parts of the orange together and steam (steaming time varies between posts from 20 min up to two hours); eat the orange with the peel and the rest of the water.

Contrary to canned yellow peaches, experts have acknowledged the benefits of eating salt-steamed oranges. According to a post released by Youth Hunan (青年湖南), the official Weibo account of the Communist Youth League of Hunan Province, some ‘experts’ state that the peel of salt-steamed oranges help alleviate discomforts in the throat, and the vitamin C can prevent and alleviate viral infections. In reports by other mainstream media, such as CCTV News, it is also claimed that salt-steamed oranges might be helpful, and that the salt can make the natural sugar taste sweeter.

However, steamed oranges with salt are not as beloved among the public as canned yellow peaches. People’s comments on the effectiveness of salty steamed oranges vary. Some share that they stopped coughing after eating them, while others criticize it as having “no use at all,” or even exacerbating the pain.

Despite the disagreement on its effectiveness, most Weibo posts agree that steamed oranges with salt are just “not tasty” at all. Contrary to the CCTV report that suggested that salt brings out the sweetness of oranges, many describe the food as extremely bitter and sour to the extent of “crying while eating.”

In online discussions about steamed oranges with salt, the distrust in expert opinions surfaced again. Although experts claim that the food is beneficial and alleviates symptoms, some netizens seem annoyed that it does not do anything for them at all: “I’ve been eating this for three days, not a damn change and it tastes disgusting.”

 

3. Stewed Pear with Rock Sugar (冰糖炖梨)

Besides canned yellow peaches and salty steamed oranges, many other kinds of food and folk prescriptions have also become trends during the Covid-19 outbreak. There’s salt-steamed lemons (盐蒸柠檬), boiled scallion water (葱白煮水), roasted oranges (烤橘子), white radish soup (萝卜汤), honeysuckle chrysanthemum tea (金銀花菊花茶) or brown sugar ginger tea (红糖姜茶), which is also commonly used to alleviate menstrual pain.

Among them, you’ll also find stewed pear with rock sugar (冰糖炖梨), which is commonly eaten to alleviate symptoms like sore throat and coughing as well reducing excessive phlegm. Many netizens indicate that it is something their parents made for them, and that it is sweet, warm, and comforting.

Recipes vary, but the pears, generally yellow pears (雪梨), can be either cooked or boiled and its core is then removed and filled with rock sugar as well as other optional ingredients, such as Chinese dates, dried Goji berries, or Sichuan peppers (see a recipe here).

Despite many people expressing their love for stewed pear with rock sugar, a recent article by the Taiwanese ‘Health 2.0’ site claimed that the food remedy is somewhat outdated as other ingredients are supposedly more effective against a persistent cough, such as daikon (combined with honey, rock sugar), which is also used as a home remedy for its antibacterial properties.

The advantages of many foods and folk prescriptions are still up for debate. However, recent related online discussions show that the comfort or even the placebo effect of certain food remedies are very important in the Covid-19 experience of many Chinese people. Some are 100% sure they work.

“One bite and it instantly made me feel better,” one commenter wrote about their homemade stewed pear. Some people admit they do not necessarily even mind if it really alleviates their symptoms or not: “It’s just so tasty!”

By Zilan Qian
with contributions by Manya Koetse

 

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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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