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Health care and pharmaceuticals

Chicken blood injections and other health crazes

A handbook for "chicken blood treatment"

This has not been a good year for health gurus. Zhang Wuben, a nutrition advisor whose TV spots and bestselling books pushed raw vegetables as the cure for a host of serious medical conditions, was busted for faking his credentials and charging immense sums for brief consults. More recently, the media turned its eye on Li Yi, a Daoist master who offered high-priced services to China’s rich and famous and claimed extraordinary physical powers including the ability to cure cancer. And just last week, urologist Xiao Chuanguo was sentenced to five-and-a-half months in prison for ordering the beating of two science writers who had accused him of fabricating test results to inflate the success rate of a procedure he developed.

In an article written in the early 1990s, essayist Sang Ye expressed the hope that the Chinese public would no longer be held in the grip of pseudoscientific, quack cure-alls: “This is the information age, and no one can stay on top for five hundred years, or perhaps even five hundred days.” Yet less than a decade later, self-made doctor Hu Wanlin was able to kill scores of people over the course of several years by prescribing qigong treatments and poisonous herbal concoctions for all sorts of maladies. Before his arrest and imprisonment, Hu had been the subject of fawning reports in the press and a hagiography authored by a bestselling novelist.*

Sang Ye’s essay, published in the April, 1992 issue of the literary journal Dushu (读书) under the title “Have the Chinese People Awakened from Their Dream?” (国人梦已醒?) was prompted by the popularity of several books promoting the paranormal abilities of purported psychic masters: one claimed psychokinetic powers that would enable him to obtain Soviet and American nuclear weapons through teleportation; another detailed the process by which she acquired fluency in the information language of the universe, allowing her to speak with aliens; a third book came with an accompanying cassette tape into which a master had infused his power, to be released during playback. He then presented a short rundown of some of the previous health fads that had swept the country during his lifetime:

One was kombucha (红茶菌), a kind of algae, or perhaps a kind of mollusk, soaked in water.* It was said that eating or drinking it would prolong life, turning everyone into the God of Longevity, able to witness the paradise of the future. Another was known as “drinking cold water” (喝凉水): two ounces of cold water taken in the early morning were useful for something I’ve now forgotten, probably preventing or curing illness. Third was “injecting chicken blood” (打鸡血): people carried a young rooster to the hospital, where several milliliters of chicken blood would be drawn and then injected into their body. Doing this once a week would make you aggressive, and as powerful as an ox. Fourth was “arm swinging” (甩手). Getting up at five in the morning to stand on the roadside breathing in the dust and exhaust while swinging your arms for an hour was said to eradicate everything from the common cold to cancer. Fifth was something akin to that that “external alchemy,”* although it was known as “post-standing” (站桩), but it too had a burst of popularity. The explanation given was rather different from the workings of external alchemy: it was highly aggressive, with examples like how an eighty-year-old woman could train to be able to stun punks and so forth. Once these had passed, people began experimenting with whether they could “hear” printed characters or go three days without eating, and then they discovered that there were indeed people who could “pass a car” or who were “impenetrable to the blade.” Others who were privy to the files of Chinese and American intelligence agencies could not explain why American files, like their Chinese counterparts, consisted of cabinet after cabinet of paper instead of magnetic computer disks. And once all of that had passed, today’s masters now enjoy their time on top.

Many of these practices have stuck around in one form or another. Kombucha is still promoted as a health supplement in many parts of the world, exercise fads come and go every few years, and drinking water is always recommended (though not as a cure for cancer). Chicken blood, on the other hand, is a relic of a different age. These folk remedies flourished at a time when trained doctors and effective medicine were scarce, and the notion that a vast array of medical conditions, from abnormal blood pressure to infertility to baldness to leukemia, could be cured with a simple regimen of intramuscular injections of chicken blood was very attractive to people who had few other options, or who harbored suspicions about the class consciousness of the medical establishment.

Manual edited and printed by the 8-18 Post & Telecom Rebel Corps of Qinghai Province

“Chicken blood therapy” (鸡血疗法), as it was also known, came to prominence during the 1960s. It attracted the attention of health authorities, who investigated the practice, decided it was dangerous, and slapped a ban on its use in 1965. However, the anti-intellectual, anti-elitist climate that seized the country after the Cultural Revolution broke out the following year forced the Ministry of Health to reverse the ban, and the therapy began to be heavily promoted, first in Shanghai and the capital, and then across the country. Below is the preface from a pamphlet prepared in mid-1967 by the 8-18 Post & Telecom Rebel Corps of Qinghai Province:

Chicken Blood Therapy: A Fundamental Victory for Fighting the Reactionary Road of the Capitalist Class!

Premier Zhou said: “The Central Ministry of Health’s handling of chicken blood therapy is a violation of Mao Zedong Thought!”

In the eight years since it went into use in May, 1959, chicken blood therapy has, by virtue of its singular efficacy, has swiftly spread across the country, to every mountain and rural village, where it has been applauded by the masses of workers, peasants, and soldiers. It will be a great contribution for the call to “Prepare for war, prepare for famine, for the people!” Due to the reactionary road of the capitalist class taken by the Central Ministry of Health and the Shanghai Health Department, they used “authoritative experts” and “foreign conventions” to deal with a new things and put a ban on chicken blood therapy, causing an immense loss to the people’s health after eight years!

Once the Cultural Revolution was launched, red guards in the capital and in Shanghai jointly dispatched chicken blood therapy investigation teams to all parts of the country to ascertain the aforementioned situation, and once they returned to Beijing, the central leaders offered their strong support. The “Ministry of Urban Gentlemen’s Health”* was compelled to admit its mistake, and on December 28, ’66, it notified the entire country of the cancellation of the mistaken notice banning chicken blood therapy.

Throughout the next decade, people lined up outside dispensaries, rooster in hand, to receive injections of chicken blood, but once the Cultural Revolution ended, the practice was abandoned along with so much else from that era. When xiangsheng performers Jiang Kun and Li Wenhua satirized the madness over kombucha and chicken blood in the painfully didactic skit “Don’t Be Superstitious” (莫迷信), chicken blood therapy was only a memory, and by the time Sang Ye’s article appeared, it had been all but forgotten, kept alive only as a colloquial expression meaning jittery or agitated: “I’m so excited it’s like I’ve been injected with chicken blood” (我像打了鸡血一样兴奋). The treatment’s origin had been lost, if it had known at all during its heyday. A popular rumor, which Sang Ye relates in his article, credited chicken blood injections to a Nationalist official who, facing the execution after the revolution, had attempted to trade the secret in exchange for his life.

Today, two decades further removed from that era, it is actually much easier for ordinary individuals to get their hands on primary source materials. Mimeographed pamphlets and printed promotional booklets, which can be obtained for a few dollars from online used book sellers, describe how chicken blood therapy was invented by one man in the 1950s who paired observations of roosters with tissue therapies that had been explored in the Soviet Union.

The inventor was Yu Changshi (俞昌时), a doctor who had been active in the revolution. By the late 50s, he was working at a textile mill in Shanghai, and it was there that he first experimented with the procedure on others after several years of tests on himself. To promote the results of his self-funded research, Yu mailed out pamphlets to key agencies across the country, and eventually a formal investigative group was established. The conclusion it reached was not the one Yu desired.

Yu’s story was described in detail in a special issue of National History magazine (先锋国家历史) devoted to Shanghai history. The article, by Du Xing (杜兴) is translated below with the permission of the magazine:

Why Was the Preposterous "Chicken Blood Injection" Therapy so Popular During the CR Era?

By Du Xing / NH

At eight in the morning on May 26, 1959, at the Shanghai Wing On Third Textile Mill (which became the Shanghai Third Wireless Factory in August of the following year), a doctor by the name of Yu Changshi gave himself an injection of fresh chicken blood in front of waiting patients. Five years later, he recalled the “public performance”: “Within three hours I felt especially hungry, and at lunch I ate half a pound of rice.”

The doctor’s personal demonstration wiped away his patients’ doubts. Starting at one o’clock that afternoon, more than forty people let Yu inject them with chicken blood. The miracles began immediately: “One person was coughing frequently, and that was cured five minutes after the injection. Someone else who had been short of breath and unable to sleep for months fell asleep quickly and comfortably that night. Another person’s stomach ache ceased immediately. Someone else’s boils subsided.”

This was not the first time Yu had injected chicken blood. Yu, who maintained that the “chicken blood therapy” was “marvelously effective” on countless diseases, had been conducting experiments in secret for several years. The arrival of the Great Leap Forward had given him the motivation to “storm the pass.” What no one expected, however, was for the chicken blood therapy, which seemed unbelievable, to get swept up in the passion of those crazy days and spread to the four winds, and to remain popular for more than a decade.


Yu Changshi, born in Nanling, Anhui Province in 1903, had a blood-red revolutionary history. At the age of nineteen, while studying at the Shanghai Medical University, he joined the China Socialist Youth League, and a year and a half later became a member of the Chinese Communist Party. During the May Thirtieth Movement [1925], he was active in the Shanghai General Labor Union. At the end of 1926, he returned to Nanling to establish a Party branch in that city, where he served as secretary and led the peasant campaign throughout the Nanling-Wuhu area. He spent time in prison in Wuchang.

According to Yu’s account, in November 1952, while he was a hygiene worker in Nanping, Jiangxi Province, he happened to take a rectal measurement of the body temperature of a chicken. The temperature was higher than 42 degrees Celsius, and further tests all averaged around 43 degrees. In his judgment, “such a high body temperature was surely a result of the regulating effect of the central nervous system and the high heating function of the blood.” In the literature of traditional Chinese medicine, there are many records of ingesting or applying chicken blood to treat illnesses. Yu had a daring hypothesis: what if you injected chicken blood?

At the start of the 1950s, Soviet “tissue therapy” was studied and promoted throughout China. Certain human tissues, such as skin, liver, brain, and placenta, would be injected into the patient’s skin or otherwise placed subcutaneously to treat illness. “My idea was that chicken blood was another type of tissue, so it possibly would have the same effect.” Yu decided to test it out on himself first. He drew 1.5 cc of blood from a rooster and injected it into his deltoid muscle. The effect: “I felt nothing. No pain, no itching, no swelling.” Over the next day or two, he felt in good spirits and had an increased appetite. Three or four days later, “a miracle occurred”: his chronic athlete’s foot was cured, together with his dandruff.

“So, I ventured to inject myself a few more times, and I injected others as well.” Yu’s test subjects included a fifteen-year-old girl suffering from habitual abdominal pains, a farmer whose legs were inflamed, and a woman with vaginal cancer. “They all saw excellent results in just a short time.”

On New Year’s Day, 1959, the People’s Daily published an editorial titled “Welcoming New and Greater Victories,” which affirmed 1958’s Great Leap Forward in socialist construction and the People’s Commune movement. On April 18, at the first session of the Second National People’s Congress, State Council Premier Zhou Enlai said: “The national economic plan for 1959 is a plan to continue the Great Leap Forward.” In his address, Zhou stressed, “….the scale is grand, and the task is daunting. However, we absolutely cannot say that our potential is exhausted, or that the targets cannot be exceeded. In production and construction, the possibilities for technological innovation and revolution are endless.”

Yu Changshi’s moment had come. In June 1959, taking advantage of the driving force of technological revolution, he started trials among the employees of the Wing On Third Textile Mill, where he was then working. “Within the space of a month, I injected more than three hundred cases. With just one or two injections a person, or five or six at most, there were all kinds of strange and significant effects.”

A study by the Jing’an District Health Bureau confirmed that Yu had indeed cured 203 cases through chicken blood therapy: “Analyzing material obtained from the patients’ own oral reports shows an up to 65% improvement rate in cases of clinical symptoms such as excessive menstruation, gastric ulcers, and migraines.” However, it also pointed out, “In 36% of cases, there were reactions such as high fever, hives, and swollen lymph nodes.” Accordingly, the Health Bureau felt the need for further practice, and upon the agreement of district committee secretary Li Meisheng, it set up a lab and formed a research group that included Yu.

Thus began the chicken blood therapy that subsequently swept across China. Now a member of the research group, Yu Changshi was full of anticipation for great things to come.

How to draw blood from a rooster: "This, the central vein, is the easiest spot for drawing blood. Two wings on each bird give four locations to swap in case of failure." The top needle: "This will draw against the flow. Piercing the blood vessel is easy, but flow is slow and can clot inside the needle." Bottom needle: "This will draw with the flow. Blood will flow quickly, but because the vessel is slippery, penetration is difficult."


The research group first conducted experiments on animals. “Initial impressions” were that fresh chicken blood was seroreactive, but less so than horse blood. Half a year later, “clinical use began, with preparations made for shock rescue.” By 1962, more than 1,320 people had been treated.

A report by the Shanghai Health Bureau showed that out of 688 test cases over the course of two years, good short-term results were seen in the following areas: menorrhagia, effective in up to 97.8% of cases, and then peptic ulcers, with 78% effectiveness. After injections, most patients showed increased appetites, better sleep, and improved mood. However, adverse reactions were also fairly serious. Among 980 patients who had received four or more injections of chicken blood, reactions were seen in 165, or 16.6%, most of whom exhibited reaction from five to seven days after they received the injections. Reactions included chills, fever, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes, hives, localized swelling and pain, and shock. The most common reaction was fever, and the extent of the reaction was proportionate to the quantity injected. In addition, there were six cases of shock. After these patients were injected with chicken blood, they immediately felt tight in the chest, shortness of breath, dizziness, blurry vision, weak limbs, pallor, bloodshot eyes, and accelerated heartbeat. But as the report noted especially, “with emergency rescue they recovered.”

Because of the severity of the allergic reaction to the chicken blood serum, the Jing’an District Health Bureau and the Shanghai Biochemistry Pharmaceutical Factory cooperated on processing chicken blood into hypoallergenic chicken blood powder. “Trial observations did not show any reactions.” Thus, in the second half of 1962, the bureau halted its use of fresh chicken blood and switched to chicken blood powder. Through the end of 1964, it conducted 150,000 trials with no reactions, “and there were definite short-term curative effects.”

Yu Changshi was extremely displeased. He believed certain specialists had “exaggerated the reactions” and denied the curative effects, forcing a halt to the chicken blood researchers’ work. Producing powdered chicken blood, “not only considerably reduced the curative effects, but the adverse reactions remained. And production was complicated and high-cost, completely at odds with the spirit of ‘more, faster, better, cheaper’.”

According to Yu’s account, he injected himself every two or three days, and sometimes every day, from the time he began working with chicken blood in 1959, and had no adverse reactions whatsoever. “To me, it is the greatest form of bodily nourishment. Long term use has the effect of dispelling sickness and prolonging life: ‘When sick, it will cure you; when well, it will make you healthier’.” It even had “rejuvenation” effects. He had his wife and his close friends try it out, “and they all obtained excellent results.”

According to his statistics, the chicken blood injections he personally administered over the course of five years cured at least twenty-four conditions including gallstones, filariasis, swollen feet, heart disease, presbyopia, diarrhea, testicular sclerosis, frostbite, bedsores, skin loss, and hair loss, and led to improved mood, sharper eyesight, strengthened resistance, improved color, less susceptibility to chills, a flourishing sexual drive, better sleep, unforced bowel movements, and freedom from illness.

A later report from the Shanghai Health Bureau claimed that Yu, who was no longer willing to work with the research group, had patients come to his home for treatment. Under the banner of “technological revolution,” Yu refused all attempts to dissuade him. “Chen Zhongwei reattached the blood vessels in a severed hand,* but that’s no big deal. I can do the same thing. Chicken blood therapy is what really surpasses international standards.”

Early mimeographed promotional material. This lists 74 curable conditions (vs. 93 in later editions)

The report claimed that Yu printed up large quantities of promotional material exaggerating the effects of the treatment and distributed them across the country. Incomplete statistics show that medical work units and individuals in twenty-seven provinces and cities (or city-level counties) received Yu’s promotional materials, in which the chicken blood treatment was called “a novel, miraculous remedy.” In the materials that Yu distributed, it advertised that the chicken blood therapy was an “international leader” and thus the central government had instructed “confidential research.” Second, it trumpeted the fact that many “old cadres” had been using the therapy privately. In Chicken Blood Therapy, which he printed in August, 1964, he collected more than one hundred cases, using promotional methods practically identical to the advertisements for all kinds of marvelous “secret formulas” that flood today’s newspapers and airwaves. In an era closed off to information, “central government instructions” about a “secret” used by “old cadres” was particularly tantalizing. “Thus, at the time, it spread far and wide across the country and became quite influential. Many people took chickens to their doctors to receive injections, or simply injected themselves. Health bureaus from all over sent letters or agents to Shanghai to learn about the treatment. It was chaos,” read the Shanghai Health Bureau’s subsequent report.

Prohibition and Doubt

Having persevered in his injections of chicken blood for several years, Yu Changshi said, “I always felt that I had incredibly energy, so much that I’d want to try punching through a wall....and some of my colleagues felt that my personality was a little jumpier than before. I didn’t feel it myself, but if that were true, I’d say it probably was because of the frequent chicken blood injections – because roosters are fighters!”

In 1964, the complaints Yu had bottled up began to explode. In one paper he gave voice to his grievances: in the five years since chicken blood therapy was invented, he had worked hard every day, getting up at five in the morning to take care of chickens and rabbits and clean the area, and then at night giving injections to patients. He injected himself and his wife, and performed intravenous injections on rabbits. He would often travel quite far to perform injections at a patient’s home. He wrote up reference materials on chicken blood, and he corresponded with people in other parts of the country working on chicken blood. Though he did not have enough food for himself, he managed to find ways to get chicken feed, and he put up all of the money for supplies and feed.

“Now is the ‘study and compare with’ year*, and the central party authorities are calling on the whole country to strive in unison toward the three revolutionary campaigns* and to thoroughly carry out the spirit of ‘let a thousand flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.’ I wish to appeal to the party and government using the practical conditions and mental suffering I have silently endured during five years of clandestine chicken blood research to request that central party and government leaders, as well as individuals in all fields, join in cooperative research and struggle together to create a new school of medicine for the motherland,” he wrote in May of that year.

On December 12, Yu wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health requesting the following: organize a central workshop on chicken blood, transfer him to Beijing for “high-level chicken blood therapy research work,” and establish research groups at high-level medical institutes across the country for research and clinical use. On the same day, Yu also wrote a letter addressed to “Chinese Academy of Sciences Director Guo [Moruo], for redistribution to all directors and comrades” in which he asked them to organize personnel and, following research and surveys, offer their strong advocacy and support for chicken blood therapy.

On June 12, 1965, the Shanghai Health Department convened a panel of experts which maintained: the possibility existed for serum sickness because of incompatible proteins in the fresh chicken blood, it was unsafe, and “at present, although no deaths have been discovered, accidental deaths will be unavoidable with continued use. In particular, because the targets of fresh chicken blood therapy have all been chronic diseases, which are not particularly dangerous themselves, the risks involved in the treatment deserve even more careful consideration.” A fortnight later, the Health Department prepared the Report Concerning Chicken Blood Therapy Situation and Opinions on its Handling, which it submitted to the Ministry of Health, saying that it would order Yu to cease immediately his private experimentation of injecting chicken blood into patients.

On July 23, the Ministry of Health issued a Notice Regarding “Chicken Blood Therapy” which concurred with the opinion expressed in the report from the Shanghai Health Department, saying pointedly, “Starting now, medical workers are barred from treating patients with fresh chicken blood so as to avoid the danger of allergies. Requests from the masses for medical workers to provide treatment with fresh chicken blood should be refused. Various rumors circulating among the masses should receive necessary clarifications and explanations.”

“From its efficacy in treading excessive menstruation alone, which could reach 100%, wasn’t that enough of a contribution to humanity?” In Yu’s account, chicken blood therapy received unanimous “acknowledgement” from “many upright and advanced individuals in the medical community,” and within traditional Chinese medicine in particular: several noted practitioners believed that it belonged to the medical heritage of the motherland and ought to be carried forward as one important part of a new school of Chinese medicine.

Mimeographed manual reprinted by the Sichuan Medical College 915 "Summit" group

Moreover, Yu was not satisfied with intramuscular injections, but had “now successfully developed intravenous injections into humans” which, although still undergoing meticulous tests, “holds promise for the future, and is the direction in which even greater contributions to mankind lie.”

As for the Ministry of Health’s ban, Yu naturally did not submit.

On October 5, the Wuhan Evening News ran a piece in its “Science and Health” section under the byline “Red Light” (红光) titled “Are Injections of Fresh Chicken Blood a Cure-All?” The subtitle read “Not only is injection of fresh chicken blood not a miraculous remedy, it is highly dangerous.” Yu contested the article.

In response to Red Light’s opening sentence, “Truth be told, in the many years I have been a doctor, this is the first I’ve heard of this technique,” Yu retorted that this line could easily be misinterpreted to imply that comrade Red Light felt that his mind had no need for new things he had never before heard of. Hadn’t comrade Red Light studied Chairman Mao’s recent instructions about “discovering, inventing, creating, and advancing”?*

Regarding the mention in Red Light’s text of seeking advice from senior doctors and consulting reference materials, Yu retorted: Recently, the central authorities have strengthened their promotion of meeting and exceeding advanced world standards, and they hope that others will begin to follow after us. This applies even more to our medical community. If we only ask older doctors or consult reference materials in the library without engaging in research among the people, if we don’t engage in practice ourselves, or if we even go so far as to ban others’ research, then isn’t that just book worship + old conventions + foreign conventions = conservative thinking? How can you break through conventions and achieve advancement?

Regarding Red Light’s “scientific evidence,” Yu said that it, like Marxism’s continual revolution, was continually developing. “Isn’t there very little scientific evidence for the vast majority of our motherland’s medicine? If you want go around advocating scientific evidence, then you’re can’t be a doctor.”

“A basic principle in medicine is safety first, efficacy second. In pharmacology, when reactions are observed in more than 5% of cases, a drug cannot be used clinically.” Red Light’s reiteration of this conventional wisdom drew a retort from Yu: “We believe that this statement should not be a generalization. It is an old convention, and according to dialectics, a negative exists for every positive, and a reaction for every action. In the classics of traditional Chinese medicine there is a theory that if taking a medicine does not provoke a reaction, the illness will not improve. Many senior acupuncturists say that when a needle provokes dizziness or fainting, the effect is even better. With great efficacy there are great reactions, even to the point of accidental deaths. But clinical use is still advised.” He even brought up Stalin as an example: if Stalin’s achievements outweighed his errors and he was evaluated as a leader who made contributions to the revolution, so then an enterprise that benefitted the vast majority should be undertaken even if it required sacrifices: “A similar view should be taken in the medicine and health sector.”

Yu worried that if chicken blood injections were to be banned, they would spread underground and become even harder to control. And as the facts proved, Yu’s anxieties were not unfounded.


In 2008, Beijing collector Zhao Qingwei obtained a pamphlet titled “Chicken Blood Therapy” reprinted in July 1967 by the Xiaotangshan Revolutionary Rebel Brigade. The pamphlet mentions that the red guards in the capital and in Shanghai had dispatched chicken blood therapy investigation teams across the country to verify the treatment’s efficacy and calls it a great contribution to the call to “Prepare for war, prepare for famine, for the sake of the people.”

On December 28, 1966, the Ministry of Health issued the Notice Rescinding the “Notice Regarding ‘Chicken Blood Therapy’” of July 23, 1965. The “Preparatory Office of the General Assembly for Holding High the Great Red Banner of Mao Zedong Thought and Thoroughly Criticizing the Ministry of Health’s Implementation of the Bourgeois Reactionary Line Regarding Chicken Blood Therapy,” established by rebel factions, issued an “Open Letter to the Country’s Revolutionary Peoples: The Thorough Reversal of the Verdict on a New Piece of Medical Research – Chicken Blood Therapy” in December that overturned the previous decision on the therapy. The pamphlet was distributed across the country and can still be found in many homes to this day.

“Near our home, a long, snaking line of people began to form outside the door to the local hospital’s injection room. Each person had a chicken in a basket or mesh bag, and as they waited for the nurse to do her thing, they discussed news and experiences about chicken blood injections. The ground was covered in dirty feathers and chicken shit, and besides that there were the piercing squawks of frightened birds. Their fear spread like a plague through that entire era,” said Tongji University professor Zhu Dake, recalling the high point of the chicken blood injections. “Not just a panacea for the body, chicken blood injected a mad race with a bizarre hormone. The hot blood of revolution surged in their veins, and the fire of revolution raged on the ground of the motherland. The popularity of chicken blood injections continued for around ten months in 1967 and 1968, perfectly in sync with the height of Cultural Revolution madness. Its puzzling echo of frenzied rebellion even today remains a baffling mystery.”

Open letter from the Preparatory Office of the General Assembly for Holding High the Great Red Banner of Mao Zedong Thought and Thoroughly Criticizing the Ministry of Health’s Implementation of the Bourgeois Reactionary Line Regarding Chicken Blood Therapy

A Beijinger using the online handle “Old Master Jin” recalls that around 1971, during the two years he was living in the countryside of Xishuangbanna, he won the right to visit his family for the first time. Early in the morning on his first day home, he was startled awake by the chickens. “The whole country was cutting off the tail of capitalism, so how did Beijingers have the nerve to raise chickens?” His father’s explanation made him realize that they were for medical treatment. A widely-circulated secret in those days said that large, pure white roosters weighing at least 2kg and which had pleasant calls could cure anything. “I was a health worker in the production and construction corps in Xishuangbanna, so when my neighbors heard I was back in Beijing, they asked me to inject them with chicken blood.” He said that he hesitated at first: how could you inject chicken blood into a person’s body? When he paid a special visit to the Xuanwu District Hospital to find out about the situation, he saw the long snaking lines outside the injection rooms, each person holding a rooster waiting for their injection. “That increased my confidence about injecting other people with chicken blood.”

“Old Master Jin” gave his first injection to his neighbor, Old Guo, and once he returned to Xishuangbanna, “I probably did at least 200 injections all told.” He also recalled that in addition to injecting chicken blood, he used another home remedy popular at the time: Chinese medicinal herbs, boiled and then filtered, “injected directly into the patient’s rear-end.” As for adverse reactions: “Why wouldn’t there be? In those days, first of all people had guts, and then there was indeed a shortage of doctors and medicine.”


In 2004, China’s top non-governmental AIDS activist, professor Gao Yaojie, published 10,000 Letters, a book in which she included one letter from a “fraud” who recommended a prescription for fighting AIDS: “Dr. Yu Changshi developed intramuscular injections, but I have adapted it for use in pressure-point injections. Draw blood from the chicken’s heart, 50 units at a time. With a day between blood drawing, the chicken will not die.”

In the 1990s, Sang Ye, an academic, published an article in Dushu magazine in which he wrote that in 1965, a rumor began circulating among the “high society” in a certain province saying that “injecting chicken blood can cure all ills.” A medical officer, a lieutenant general of the former Bureau of Investigation and Statistics of the Military Council, revealed before his execution a “secret formula” in exchange for his life, and that secret was injecting chicken blood. By the spring of 1966, the “secret formula” had taken off like wildfire, “and then misfortune befell all of the young roosters in the country.” The many later writers who mentioned the source of the term “injecting chicken blood” all cited this article.

Sang Ye’s piece came about because of three books promoting the psychic powers of qigong masters. One of the books came with an accompanying cassette tape which the master was said to have “infused with power,” magnetizing his qi. Purchasing the tape and then playing it on a recorder would turn the magnetism back into qi, thereby curing cancer, or in the absence of cancer, cure various other diseases and eliminate “hidden cancer-causing cells.” The piece appeared in the April, 1992 issue of the magazine under the title “Have the Chinese People Awakened from Their Dream?” In closing, Sang Ye wrote, “I believe I have said enough. A popular song ‘A century of lethargy, the Chinese people have awakened from their dream,’ and my only hope is that afterward, there will be slightly fewer of those who practice qigong immediately after waking. It better not be like that in that bad joke: Someone asked God why he created the Middle Kingdom, and God said, ‘So when I was lonely, I could watch what they got up to’.”


  1. Top image from Sina Book channel (Yang Qingwei); all others scanned by Danwei.
  2. 胡万林: Hu’s medical theories held that sickness had to be expelled from the body through spitting, vomiting, or diarrhea. The second half of Discovering the Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor (发现黄帝内经, 1997), a 700,000-character work by novelist Ke Yunlu (柯云路), built up Hu’s image as a miraculous healer. More on Baidu Baike and Wikipedia. []
  3. Kombucha, a concoction of tea fermented with yeast and bacteria, originated in Russia and is still consumed in many places in around the world. []
  4. Earlier in the text, Sang Ye distinguishes “external alchemy” (外丹), a form of Daoist cultivation intended to aid the body and prolong life, from “internal alchemy” (内丹), techniques designed to transform a mortal into an immortal. []
  5. 城市老爷卫生部: Mao Zedong’s “Directive on Public Health” (对卫生工作的指示), issued June 25, 1965, used this language to refer to government elites. It opens:
    Tell the Ministry of Public Health that it only works for fifteen per cent of the total population of the country and that this fifteen per cent is mainly composed of gentlemen, while the broad masses of the peasants do not get any medical treatment. First they don’t have any doctors; second they don’t have any medicine. The Ministry of Public Health is not a Ministry of Public Health for the people, so why not change its name to the Ministry of Urban Health, the Ministry of Gentlemen’s Health, or even to Ministry of Urban Gentlemen’s Health? (English translation from Marxists.org.)
    The term translated as “gentlemen” (老爷, laoye) was traditionally a term of polite address for a superior. []
  6. Chen Zhongwei (陈中伟, 1929-2004), “father of limb reattachment.” On January 2, 1963, as a surgeon in Shanghai, Chen successfully reattached the hand of Wang Cunbo (王存柏), a factory worker injured in a punch press accident. See the Baidu Baike entry for more. []
  7. 大学之年、大比之年: A People’s Daily editorial on February 1, 1964 titled “Learn from the People’s Liberation Army in Political and Ideological Work”; the paper’s editorial for February 24 furthered that campaign by trumpeting “A Year of Great Learning, a Year of Great Comparison” (link). []
  8. ‘三大革命’运动: namely, the production struggle, class struggle, and scientific experiment (生产斗争、阶级斗争和科学实验), which Mao announced in 1963. []
  9. 有所发现,有所发明,有所创造,有所前进: Sourced to a People’s Daily summary of Premier Zhou Enlai’s government work report presented at the first session of the 3rd National People’s Congress in December, 1964. The report included this line in a paragraph beginning “Chairman Mao often tells us....”; it was part of Mao’s own “Notes and Edits to the Draft Government Work Report” which he wrote up on December 13. The paragraph was later included in the “Little Red Book” under the category Methods of Thinking and Methods of Work. []
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There are currently 2 Comments for Chicken blood injections and other health crazes.

Comments on Chicken blood injections and other health crazes

congratulations, very interesting

Thanks for a fascinating article. The bull-headed rejection of sound science in the name of sticking it to the elites just never seems to go out of style. Now we see it in the Republicans' rejection of climate change science and evolution.

I only hope we're all around in fifty years to laugh at them the way we do at chicken blood injections now.

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