As China chokes under severe air pollution, one university has a novel remedy: a soup that claims to counter the ill effects of smog using the age-old wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Students at Henan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine were offered free anti-smog soup in the campus canteen on Monday night, according to an announcement from the university’s department of student affairs. The soup is prepared according to a prescription by Zhang Lei, a doctor at the university’s hospital.
The university is located in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province in central China and a city that has issued “red alerts” for smog multiple times since the beginning of December. The municipal education department has required schools to suspend classes six times. Smog can cause or aggravate a variety of illnesses, including upper respiratory infections, asthma, and lung cancer.
One student who tried the soup told The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, that it tasted just like ordinary medicinal broth. “It usually takes a while [for TCM soups] to have an effect,” the student said. “This is a special treat for TCM students. I think the university is very warmhearted.”
But the idea that soup can protect people against the harmful effects of smog has been met with plenty of skepticism by others, with one Weibo microblog user commenting: “There is no scientific evidence to show that any medicine can counter smog, and traditional Chinese medicine has side effects, too. It’s irresponsible for the university to give healthy students medicine.”
An employee at the university’s communications office told Sixth Tone that the soup was provided out of concern for students’ health, and that the TCM soup could reduce the harmful effects of smog on the respiratory system.
“We do this out of goodwill,” she said. “The smog was quite heavy, and we found that more students on campus were exhibiting respiratory problems like coughing. Since the students are currently under pressure with final exams, the student affairs department just wanted to do something nice for them.”
The employee said she was unclear when it came to the prescription’s ingredients, and staff at the student affairs department declined to comment when reached by Sixth Tone.
Yang Chunjing, an employee at the hospital that issued the prescription, told The Paper that the TCM soup can “clear toxins from the lungs, alleviate sore throats, and detoxify,” relieving symptoms like coughing. The hospital provided the university with a total of 2,000 servings of soup.
Yang Zhen, a professor at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, said that though TCM can ease symptoms, such as clearing phlegm, there is insufficient evidence to prove that TCM can effectively treat diseases caused by smog or help the body raise its defenses against air pollution.
(Header image: A man fills plastic bottles with herbal tea recommended to him by a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine to help with respiratory symptoms, Beijing, Nov. 2, 2014. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)