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Ensuring a healthy future for Chinese medicine

Ingredients in traditional remedies aren’t always sustainable. But, argues Zhu Shaorong, artificial cultivation is a reliable way of obtaining wild resources as well as protecting the nation’s cultural heritage.

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The protection of wild plants and animals is an important part of humanity’s work to safeguard and improve the environment. Of particular concern is the preservation and reasonable use of these resources in regard to the production of Chinese medicine. We place great importance on the sustainable use of sources of Chinese medicine, on the physical and intellectual-property protection of our national cultural heritage, and on how Chinese medicine can better serve humanity. In switching away from the use of less sustainable wild resources, artificial cultivation is a proven, reliable method.

The protection of wild flora and fauna and the development of Chinese medicine are closely related: the medicine relies heavily on wild sources of pharmaceutical ingredients, substances which come from animals, plants and minerals. The principles of Chinese medicine are applied to make these ingredients into a unique medical system which has made an irreplaceable contribution to population growth and disease control for the Chinese people. With people again coming to respect nature, Chinese medicine as a natural system of health care is attracting more attention. We should ensure that the medicinal culture we pass on is authentic and true to its roots.

photo by maidus

Protection of wild resources is to encourage their recovery and growth, to guarantee their natural environment and, in particular, to ensure sustainable use through artificial cultivation. Ensuring such sustainability is the only way to promote a positive connection between protection and use.

In 1958, the Chinese government launched a campaign to ensure supply of sources of Chinese pharmaceutical ingredients, establishing a research institution to investigate the artificial raising of ingredients in short supply. The results were very successful. Breakthroughs were made in the raising of a number of plants and animals, ensuring a pharmaceutical supply and, in some cases, authorisation for food use.

Throughout history, China has been concerned with the protection and sustainable use of these resources. Several hundred common ingredients are farmed, accounting for 70% of total supply. And these are all the result of domestication by workers in the field of Chinese medicine. This has made a positive contribution to the development of Chinese medicine.

Technological breakthroughs have allowed China to push forward the artificial cultivation of numerous wild plants and animals and rapidly achieve high levels of commercial production. For example, some sub-species of sika deer are listed as an endangered species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), with fewer than 1,000 animals alive in the wild. However, years of hard work have led to successful farming of 400,000 head, farming which is now spreading from its origin in the north-east to other areas of China. This meets the domestic demand for sika deer antlers and also provides surplus for a new export industry and even for food use.  

There are similar successful examples of cultivation of ginseng and other plants, where natural growth is inadequate and seasonal. These advances not only ensure sources of medicine, they also protect the wild sources.

Another model of using farmed resources to replace wild ones is in the production of bear bile. Extraction of bile from live bears was developed in the 1980s and required a cross-disciplinary effort covering domestication and breeding of wild animals, surgery, nutrition and pharmacy, successfully providing a source of an endangered medical ingredient. The resulting bear-farming industry protects wild bears and greatly raises the use of bear resources. Live bear-bile extraction is a major success in combining wild animal protection and utilisation.

With work from the government and authorities, this new, expanding farming industry is becoming more intense and more standardised. Out-of-date production and management methods are being eliminated, and the vast majority of farms meet or exceed State Forestry Administration standards. In particular, artificial insemination technology is becoming more mature, and the number of second- or third-generation captive animals is increasing every year. Producers are currently preparing to apply to CITES for commercial-trade registration for farmed black-bear products. We hope that this new cultivated resource will finally be accepted.

With the rise of the environmental movement and ever-increasing attention to the protection of ecologies and wild species, the CITES protection list is becoming ever longer and has come to include some sources of Chinese medicine. CITES takes account of artificial cultivation, with second-generation offspring not treated as endangered animals, allowing a source of endangered species used in Chinese medicine. We must not just protect wild resources; we must also push forward their artificial cultivation--a reliable method of ensuring sources of endangered species. It will be a major task, and we will work hard with our colleagues from around the world to develop Chinese medicine.


The author: Shaorong Zhu is a Chinese medical pharmacist and general secretary of the cultivators’ committee of the Association of Chinese medicine industry in Sichuan Province. He pioneered in the 1980s in promoting the use of captive bears in Chinese medicine production.

Homepage photo by jabenaki


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匿名 | Anonymous



Only a nice dream

Perhaps this is a nice dream of Mr.Zhu's. But many rich Chinese people will always think that using wild animals is the best. They use wild animals as medicinal materials or food at all costs to show that they're important and wealthy.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


培养中药资源是保护生态的一个好途径。但是从活熊身上取出胆囊却是非常残忍而不人道的。- Tammy

extracting bear bile is inhuman

To cultivate sources of chinese medicine is a very good method to protect the ecology. But the technology of taking gallbladder from live bears seems to be very inhuman. - Tammy

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复: 活体取熊胆不具人性


re:extracting bear bile is inhuman

It seems that extracting bear bile does not endanger a bear's life.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Does cruelty to animals exist in Chinese medicine?

It is reported that the baby bears are captured and locked in such a small cage that they can hardly move. The bear bile is collected via a pipe connected directly to their gallbladders. The bears will be caged all their lives and the cage is merged with them when the bears grow up. Ordinary people cannot image how terrible this life is. I am wondering if those who discover the truth can drink bear bile like before.

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匿名 | Anonymous



bear bile

Extracting bear bile may not endanger a bear's life, but it certainly endangers a bear's quality of life, in that it inflicts pain on the bears, who are kept in less than humane conditions. And considering it is now possible to artificially manufacture the active ingredient of bear bile, it would also seem to be completely unnecessary.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The Doomsday of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Briefly, I don't think it's good to separate Chinese medicine and Western medicine. The only criteria should be the experimental or clinical facts, which prove the medicine is effective, not rigidly provable or likely but not true.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


黑熊活体取胆实在不是近代解决濒危药种药源的范例,小野生熊和濒危物种在铁马甲,铁笼子, 铁铐,活砍,活取下彻夜呻吟惨叫实在催人泪下,惨不忍睹,在极端恐惧下和痛苦中所得致死物质是对人有害的。应该说:活体取胆技术歪曲了我国野生动物保护与利用本意,再现了封建熊房豹房的活砍,活取的典型极端不人道不理智行为和“技术”,,其结果并未延长明代帝王的福寿,反使施暴者下场为历代最差,应回到现代社会,放归黑熊,想要胆素,人工合成的成果青出于蓝,胜于蓝,厚德载福, 无愧天地人道。

Maltreating bears should bring no benefit

Extracting bile from live bears is not a good example of how medical ingredients are sourced from endangered species. It really makes people feel sad to see the dismal look of the wild baby bears and other endangered animals which are kept in cages and experience all sorts of torture.

Cancer-causing substances could be created within animals’ bodies when they are frightened and suffer.

We should say that to collect bile from live bears is an inhuman and irrational behaviour. In ancient times, this act did not help guarantee that emperors could live longer by using bile medicines.

In modern society, we should release bears; it is moral and honourable to use synthetic products, which could have better effects than bear bile.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




This is so inhumane, to speak so frankly about the extinction of humanity! Effective elements have been found now to substitute for the bear's liver, why would still let these animals suffer in this way? Imagine what would happen we took livers out of living human bodies? China is a humane country and ought to protect these animals!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




These animals are our friends, we must protect them.