*I'm sorry, as your celebrity herbalist won't be saying, Traditional Chinese Medicine* is trashed in Changsha

By David Eimer

IN BEIJING

In the West, traditional Chinese medicine just goes on growing. Huge numbers swear by it, and it is endorsed by celebrities from Prince Charles to Cherie Blair. Who, then, should be taking a great big acupuncture needle and trying to puncture this bubble but ... the Chinese?

More and more of them are rejecting their ancient remedies in favour of Western medicine. A proposal to remove from the Chinese health care system traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which includes such treatments as herbal remedies, acupuncture and massage, has divided public opinion and outraged the government.

The controversy was sparked by an online petition proposing that only Western-style healthcare be available in China's hospitals. Behind it is Professor Zhang Gongyao, who describes TCM, practised in China for 4,000 years, as "untrustworthy" and "pseudo-science". "TCM doesn't match the key elements of what we call science. There's no reasonable logic to it, no solid evidence for it and it has no consistent effects," he said.

At stake is an industry last year worth £5.2bn. TCM departments in Chinese hospitals receive almost 300 million visits a year. With traditional treatments far cheaper than Western drugs, the government backs its use to treat everything from cancer to HIV, and an increasing number of addicts wean themselves off drugs with TCM.

But faith in these remedies is on the wane among Chinese. A survey by the national newspaper China Youth Daily found 72 per cent would choose Western medicine ahead of TCM. The number of TCM doctors in China is falling too, down to 219,000 from 480,000 in 1949.

China's Ministry of Health has been quick to defend traditional medicine. "TCM is the essence of China," said Mao Qun'an, the ministry's spokes-person. "In modern times it is still an important choice for us to cure diseases and pain."

No such government support is needed in Britain, where £130m was spent last year on alternative therapies.

CELEBRITY PATIENTS

ROMAN ABRAMOVICH

Treatment: Auricular acupuncture.TCM doctors believe Abramovich, pictured with a needle in his ear, uses acupuncture to control his weight.

CHERIE BLAIR

Treatment: Auricular acupuncture. Mrs Blair is said to use the therapy for almost instant relief from headaches brought on by stress.

ROBBIE WILLIAMS

Treatment: Acupuncture. After Robbie injured his knee, he is thought to have used the therapy to speed his recovery and a return to charity football.

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