Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Beijing Municipal Health Commission just released a set of draft regulations for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a huge industry of mass-produced, over-the-counter remedies based on herbal ingredients.

But buried in those draft regulations is a surprising rule: Article 54 states that "denigrating and defaming traditional Chinese medicine" will be "punished by public security organs according to law."

  • The eagle-eyed Chen Du, a journalist with Chinese news outlet PingWest, flagged the draft rule on Twitter.

Why it matters: The Chinese government has increasingly sought to promote TCM internationally as a form of Chinese soft power.

  • In 2019, at China's urging, the World Health Organization included a chapter on TCM in its influential diagnostic compendium for the first time.
  • But TCM methods and remedies have undergone relatively little scientific study, and their efficacy and side effects are largely unproven, though widely consumed in China.

With that background, it's not hard to imagine why local Chinese authorities might want to suppress criticism of something as seemingly apolitical as a package of foul-smelling pills.

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