Traditional Chinese Medicine products find fans overseas

By Yin Lu and Yang Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/21 20:28:00

Many foreign consumers have been giving positive reviews to classic TCM products on online retailing platforms. Photo: IC

When it comes to cultural exports, China is best known for things like dragon dancing and its exquisite cuisine, but recently foreigners have found something else to latch onto - its medicinal remedies.

Just ask 35-year-old Filipina Aleli Roxas Javina who had no bones about telling Metropolitan that the best thing to happen to her in recent memory is a Chinese hemorrhoids ointment.

 "I think it's effective and I like it," Javina told Metropolitan on Facebook, praising the product for its blissful, cooling tingle.

Javina isn't the only one who's become a fan of the ointment, which is called Ma Ying Long. The cream's Amazon page boasts a four-star rating and over 1,000 reviews, including scores of rapturous commendations from newly pain-free users.

Recently, a number of these positive reviews from foreigners were translated into Chinese and began circulating on Chinese social media platforms, erupting into a hotbed of conversation.

Part of the topic's popularity among Chinese netizens has to do with mixed opinions towards Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as an alternative medicine in general, as well as the pride that some feel in seeing China's time-honored remedies finding recognition overseas. Whatever the case, there's no denying that TCM remedies are gaining traction all over the world, as foreigners discover the apparent magic of these products thanks to the Internet. 

Praise from foreigners 

Another foreigner who has become a believer in TCM remedies is Anastasia Sukhoretskaya, a 27-year-old journalist and teacher from Russia who has been working in China for five years.

She told Metropolitan that just this week she came down with a sore throat, and that after the third day she took some Ganmao Qingre Keli, a TCM powder designed to treat colds, including symptoms like headache and sore throat. Soon, she felt much better.

"It was very effective. I almost could not eat anything on Monday and today is Sunday and I am at the gym now feeling perfect," she said.

Another of Sukhoretskaya's favorites is Yunnan Baiyao toothpaste, which she has been using for two years. Yunnan Baiyao, which literally translates to "Yunnan white drug," contains a hemostatic powder known in China for stopping bleeding. It also purports to prevent gingivitis and improve gum health.

"Of all the toothpastes I've tried, I feel like this is the best," Sukhoretskaya said, adding that she likes the taste and how her teeth feel after she uses it.

Positive reviews on the American version of Amazon added that the toothpaste boasts a nice taste, helps relieve toothaches and can indeed improve gum health.

Sukhoretskaya says she'll recommend Yunnan Baiyao toothpaste to her friends and family when she goes back home.

But it isn't just expats like Sukhoretskaya who are becoming converts of TCM products; thanks to the Internet, especially a number of international online retailing platforms, many consumers overseas are gradually learning about TCM remedies. Javina, for example, found out about Ma Ying Long on Facebook, and bought it for 500 pesos ($10.8) online.

It isn't just availability that's made the difference, however, but good, old-fashioned word of mouth. Ma Ying Long, for example, seems to have inspired an almost religious devotion among reviewers on Amazon, many of whom say that the ointment worked where countless Western treatments failed. 

In one of the top reviews, a 2011 ode entitled "Cool Off Your Poop Chute and Make It Smell Chinese," a user named J. Stern writes, "This product is fantastic! It is extremely cooling - even after the initial application. You'll feel nothing but a blissful cool tingle as the swollen 'roids shrink. Seriously, it is like applying rose-colored ice cream to your bum... and the cool LASTS."

The two comments below are equally effusive, with the first one starting out, "First of all I want to say that this product is AMAZING! It did miracles for me," and the user below, Nemo, adding, "This stuff is a miracle. I don't even want to know what's in it, I don't care. I lived, I feel great, and nothing else worked. Buy some." 

China's time-honored remedies find recognition overseas. Photo: Li Hao /GT

Discovering multiple uses

Just as the herbal ingredients in Yunnan Baiyao can both stop bleeding and treat dental issues, many Chinese remedies have multiple uses. While Ma Ying Long is usually used for hemorrhoids, some Chinese consumers deploy it to treat skin problems such as dark circles under their eyes. In fact, it became so popular for that purpose that the brand even released a product line designed specifically for such skin problems.

But Chinese consumers aren't the only ones getting creative with TCM products; foreigners have also discovered alternative uses for these remedies.

"I have used the 'Chinese oil' since I was born. Usually I use it everywhere except in my eyes," Hai Nguyen, a 23-year-old Vietnamese-American, who has been living in America for eight years, told Metropolitan on Facebook. The "Chinese oil" that Nguyen mentioned is Feng You Jing, a Chinese essential balm, which is effective in alleviating pain and itch caused by mosquito bites.

"I use it right after I've been bitten by a mosquito, and the itch usually goes away about an hour after I put it on my skin," Nguyen said.

"Nearly all Vietnamese use it. We have 15 Chinese medicine stores in my hometown. My mom likes the essential balm very much. She bought it from our local Chinese medicine store and the price is reasonable."

Nguyen's mother is a fan of the balm's smell, which she says gives her a boost when she's tired. Nguyen, though, uses it for something else. He said that the balm can treat stomachaches as well. "Rub the essential balm on your stomach, and the stomachache usually goes away after 30 minutes," he said.

"I also have used it to treat headaches," he added. "I apply the balm on the side and in the middle between my eyebrows. I can feel it getting a little bit hot, but the headache goes away without me realizing it."

Yunnan Baiyao, a classic remedy to stop bleeding, has won a lot of Western customers on online retailing platforms. Photo: Internet

Solving modern-day ailments

According to Sheldon Li, the chairman of ActiveHerb, one of the largest providers of TCM products in the US, their sales numbers reflect some of the biggest health concerns in modern society.

"You can tell from our sales numbers that people nowadays care the most about losing weight, sexual wellness, and depression, [which stems] from the great pressure they face," Li said.

For example, one of their best seller is Xiaoyao Wan, a classic herbal remedy for depression and stress management, as well as the tension that some women experience before and during their periods. Li said it's often referred to as "happy pills" by Western customers.

Other best seller include Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (six-flavor tea pills), which claim to treat a deficiency in yin, and to nourish the kidneys, which is said to improve sexual function in men.

On top of selling Yunnan Baiyao, Ma Ying Long and other products in the US, the company has also developed some of its own health supplements targeting several other issues.

For example, in response to growing problems with rising blood sugar, they developed an herbal remedy designed to keep glucose levels stable by generating bodily fluids and nourishing yin and qi (energy flow).

Feng You Jing, a Chinese essential balm, has received praise on online retailing platforms. Photo: Internet

Heading overseas 

Among the company's bestsellers are Yunnan Baiyao capsules, though Li pointed out they're used differently in China and the US. While they're mostly used for stopping bleeding and enhancing healing in China, in the US, they're popular as a treatment for dogs who've undergone surgery or those who are suffering from cancer.

"The biggest challenge that TCM faces in the US is trust," Li explained. "Instead of medicine, these products are still just [considered] health supplements."

Among foreigners' greatest concerns, he said, is the possibility of these products containing heavy metals from Chinese-grown herbs.

Therefore, to make sure the products are effective and safe, while raising the concentration of their key ingredients to make them more effective, Li's strategy is to apply stricter quality standards to the production, which takes place in China, and to test each batch of products.

Foreign customers may also have more concerns related to the animal ingredients included in some TCM products, said Li, due to dietary restrictions or concerns  about animal protection.

For that reason, products like Wuji Baifeng, a TCM pill derived from a certain type of black-skinned chicken that is used to replenish qi and blood, don't sell very well, he said.

Other problems arise from discrepancies in safety standards, which has led to some time-honored brands like Tongrentang struggling to achieve approval in overseas markets, said Liu Zhanglin, vice president of the China Chamber of Commerce for the Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products, in a Xinhua report. Part of the reason is that TCM is subject to local medical authorization requirements, which vary from country to country.

Among the company's customers, according to Li, are more than 20,000 TCM practitioners and ordinary people, the majority of whom are, perhaps surprisingly, not of Chinese descent.

In light of the company's growing sales, Li thinks that foreigners are gradually warming up to the idea of Chinese medicine.

Indeed, Sukhoretskaya says that several of her foreign friends are also regular users of TCM products, but added that it's rare among foreigners. "Most use Western medicine that they've either brought from home, or bought at pharmacies," she said.

This kind of skepticism when it comes to Chinese remedies can only be overcome, Li says, through continued word-of-mouth promotion.

"For Chinese medicine overseas, it's all about public praise, or how one customer tells another."
Newspaper headline: Cures from the East

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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