2019-12-27 10:52:22

The China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine said it will withdraw an annual social responsibility award bestowed to a company known for producing a controversial medicinal wine, in response to widespread criticism.

In a statement Thursday, the association apologized for having a “bad social influence” by recognizing Hongmao Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. as a shining example of corporate social responsibility. The statement added that the association had “failed to recognize the public impact of the ‘Hong Mao Medicated Wine incident’” when making its decision.

The company made headlines last year after a Chinese doctor was detained for over three months on suspicion of defaming a brand of its herbal liquor. The wine has been criticized by food and drug authorities several times for false advertising and reprimanded over 2,600 times since 2008 for violating the country’s advertising laws.

“We will withdraw the award, correct our mistake, and standardize our management,” the association said in its statement.

Hongmao Pharmaceutical was honored with the 2018 Star Enterprise for Corporate Social Responsibility award during an industry forum organized by the TCM association on Dec. 21. The company’s vice president was also selected as the association’s Socially Responsible Person of the Year.

Buchang Pharmaceuticals — whose chairman made international headlines earlier this year for buying his daughter’s admission to Stanford University — is also among the Star Enterprises selected by the association, according to domestic media. It is unclear how many companies received the honorific title.

The association’s decision to award Hongmao Pharmaceutical has sparked a public backlash, with many questioning the motive behind the “ironic” move.

“Anyone still remember Dr. Tan?” an online user asked on microblogging platform Weibo, referring to the doctor detained for calling out the problematic liquor. “This is extremely ironic, and it’s offensive to the so-called society and public,” commented another.

The awards have also raised doubts over the credibility of the TCM association, which was established in 2000 and previously managed by the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine until 2018. Companies are required to pay a membership fee of at least 5,000 yuan ($715) to join the association, while vice-presidential level members are charged a 30,000 yuan annual fee, according to the association’s website.

Starting this year, the association also began compiling an industry report to “sum up the corporate social responsibility of TCM companies in China over the past 40 years.” However, companies can pay an 80,000 yuan fee to be part of the editing committee and give “priority recommendations” for the award, according to Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper.

In the wake of the award controversy, a commentary in People’s Daily, an influential state-run newspaper, urged the association to reflect on the incident, as well as strictly supervise TCM businesses and crack down on illegal activities.

“The gold signboard and national title have extensive influence in the industry,” the commentary said. “Such credibility must not be squandered.”

Despite growing global awareness and usage of traditional Chinese medicine, the industry has faced major setbacks this year.

In May, the World Health Organization included a chapter on TCM in the latest version of its global diagnostic compendium, a move that was rejected by Europe’s leading medical experts. Months later, in November, eight academic institutions specializing in TCM were delisted from an international directory of medical schools, leading many graduates to worry about the implications this could have on their global careers.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Tuchong)