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Health care and pharmaceuticals

A doctor who prescribes beans and eggplant as cure-alls

Update (2010.05.31): The Global Times now reports that Zhang Wuben faked his credentials:

Officials with the Ministry of Health said Friday that the nutritionist qualification of Zhang Wuben, 47, a retired textile worker from Beijing, had been faked. The announcement came a day after an urgent inspection by health, industrial and commercial watchdogs of Zhang's clinic in the city, leading to the closure of his clinic, Wubentang.

Also, Zhang's rise to fame was engineered by book publishers, The Beijing News revealed last week. ESWN translates a MOP forum summary of the issues involved.

And finally, the Shenyang Evening News is reporting that Hunan TV's Encyclopedic Talk (百科全说), which aired a program touting Zhang's medical treatments in February, will be suspended in June. The timing is just coincidental, says a program producer, and is entirely unrelated to Zhang's fall from grace. SARFT is uninvolved, they say.

Yanzhao Seniors News, May 28, 2010

Zhang Wuben, a self-described nutritionist and Chinese medicine practitioner, has grown popular over the past year for a book and related TV interviews in which he claims that many of the world's most debilitating illnesses can be cured with large amounts of mung beans and eggplant.

The climbing price of mung beans has people grumbling that Zhang's popularity is to blame, but his problems seem to go far deeper than simply loving a few foods too much: he has been accused of misrepresenting his qualifications, overcharging patients for brief consultations and formulaic prescriptions, and worst of all, offering advice that actually does his patients harm.

An article in today's Yanzhao Seniors News described how Zhang's treatments work:

An endless stream of people made consult appointments at the front desk of Wubentang. "A standard consult is 300 RMB," said a young man at reception. A senior sighed: "Isn't there anything cheaper?" The young man answered, you can choose one of Zhang Wuben's apprentices for 188 RMB. The senior said he would take a 300 RMB standard consult, but then the young man took out an appointment book and said that the next opening was in 2012.

The young man gave the senior two suggestions. Choose Zhang's apprentice, and get an appointment in September. Or take a 1,800 RMB expert consult, which could be scheduled for January next year. On the appointment book, each consult was given roughly 10 minutes, and the young man said that Zhang Wuben would see 50 people a day. Even though the price was steep, lots of people still made appointments.

Among the rumors swirling around Zhang Wuben, the most peculiar is that his food treatments are largely made up of mung beans, balsam pear, and eggplant. At the Zhongyan Health Home on Qingnian Road, I was fortunate enough to see two prescriptions that Zhang had written out. One was for a woman with lethargy and dry eyes, and prescribed stewing 2.5 kg of mung beans with 50 g licorice root for seven to eight minutes, and substituting all beverages with that soup. Raw balsam pear was to be eaten for lunch, raw eggplant for dinner, and a glass of raw daikon juice before bedtime. Milk and yoghurt were prohibited.

The other, for a man who described himself as being in poor health, was much the same as the woman's, except that 1.5 kg of mung beans were to be stewed with milk vetch root.

A lung cancer patient from Tianjin made an appointment for a 1,800 RMB consult and was anxious to see Zhang Wuben as soon as possible. After ten minutes, the patient emerged from the consulting room, and five minutes later obtained a prescription. In addition to mung beans, balsam pear, and eggplant, there was a special note for a "Gaishi Gubao" (盖世骨葆, "peerless bone care") calcium powder. This powder was revealed to be a part of many prescriptions, and many people left the Health Home with several dozen boxes of the stuff at 120 per box.

The Yanzhao Seniors News report was assembled out of articles from the Beijing Morning Post, The Beijing News, and the Wuhan Evening News.

The Beijing News ran two-page features on Zhang Wuben both today and yesterday. Here's an interview the newspaper printed yesterday:

TBN: Daikon, mung beans, and eggplant are seen on your prescriptions all the time. Can those really cure everything?
Zhang: Daikon, mung beans, and eggplant are foods that I use frequently. In my prescriptions, the quantity of mung beans changes. Chinese medicine has very few drugs, but it's the quantities and combinations that are different. That's where the secret lies.

TBN: You charge 2,000 RMB for a consult. Many people call you "the most expensive Chinese medicine doctor in the capital."
Zhang: You can all work it out for yourselves. I charge just 2,000 RMB for a consultation, and there's nothing beyond that, it's all about food treatment. For example, could you cure a case of lupus at the hospital for even 1 million RMB? This is one of the world's most difficult diseases to treat, and I can do it for 2,000 RMB. That depression patient who takes 60 pills a day — how much does that cost? But here I only need 2,000 RMB to cure it. Is that expensive to you?

TBN: Did you pay for your appearances on TV programs?
Zhang: I have never paid a cent to appear on TV. It was those three stations who paid me to appear. Hunan TV saw that my stuff was good, and they also wanted to educate about Chinese medicine, so they came to me, and I was happy to participate.

TBN: The price of mung beans is skyrocketing. Do you think you have anything to do with it?
Zhang: When I first started, mung beans were only 4 RMB a kilo, but I never thought they'd become so popular. But the rising prices is completely unrelated to my food treatment. I am a man, not a god. You can't say that I have anything to do with a rise in the price of eggplant simply because I say to eat eggplant. Hot peppers are what I oppose most strongly, but their price has risen too. Besides, the rising price of mung beans means that people's health is improving, and that's a good thing.

TBN: Do you live your life strictly according to your food treatment standards?
Zhang: For breakfast, I eat an awful lot. The key is that I try not to eat oil or meat at night, but that's not to say I don't eat meat. I salivate at the sight of abalone. But I keep strict control over the quantities. If I eat it today, then I don't eat it tomorrow or the day after.

TBN: Have you ever been ill? What did you do?
Zhang: Ever since I can remember, from 3 to 44, the only time I've ever been ill was when I was at college and I went skating on Bayi Lake. I saw other people swimming, and with the arrogance of youth I jumped in too, and swam for a few minutes. When I got home, within an hour I had a fever of 42. I went to the medical office and they said I had encephalitis and they called for an ambulance to rush me to the hospital. I knew what was up, so I poured a basin of hot water and forced myself to drink it, and then when I reached the hospital I didn't feel a thing. Once I sweated the fever subsided and I was fine.

TBN: Did you follow your father into medicine when you were 6?
Zhang: When I was very young, I encountered Chinese medicine with my father. I really liked it, and it got into me at that time. Later on I didn't test into college and went to a factory instead, but I never abandoned the study of Chinese medicine. When my mother died in 1995, I was away seeing a patient. While I was saving that patient my own mother passed away — how could I not feel wretched? So I thought that I couldn't go on like that, and about how I could get rid of the illness. Gradually I found the way to food treatment.

In addition, I worked out my system on my own. Apart from my father, who is a teacher, I've studied with famous Chinese medicine practitioners.

TBN: An investigation has revealed you don't have the credentials you said you did. How did that happen?
Zhang: I've never denied my identity. I did indeed attend Beijing Medical University, and then I majored in Chinese medicine at Beijing Normal University. Then I obtained a Senior Nutritionist certification, and then I spent 40,000 RMB studying industrial and commercial management. This was all documented, but then I lost the documentation. I am currently working to replace it.

The Yanzhao Seniors News report contained allegations about Zhang's questionable CV:

Zhang Wuben's resume says he studied at the Department of Clinical Medicine, Beijing Medical University in 1981 and at the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing Normal University in 2000. It notes that he was among the first set of nutritionists certified by the Ministry of Health. Zhang claims that he comes from a Chinese medicine family and that his father Zhang Baoyang was doctor to state and party leaders. Is this the truth?

On May 24, an employee named Ma who was in charge of student records at the Peking University Health Science Center (formerly the Beijing Medical University) said that a search conducted for information on Zhang Wuben had turned up nothing. The name Zhang Wuben did not turn up in the records of incoming students for 1981.

It was also learned from the Beijing Normal University School of Continuing Education that in 2000, Zhang Wuben was a correspondence student in a professional training class, which did not require him to leave work and which was mostly self-study, with open-book exams.

As for the Senior Nutritionist certification Zhang claims to have received from the Ministry of Health, the name Zhang Wuben could not be found during a check of the National Vocational Qualification Certificate Inquiry website.

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Comments on A doctor who prescribes beans and eggplant as cure-alls

Shit like this happen in China all the time. Qi Gong, Xiang Gong, Falun Gong. And when shit hits the fan, they go from conning old grandmas to spreading democracy, and then they get funding from the CIA.

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