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close this bookMedicinal plants: Rescuing a global heritage (WB, 1997, 80 p.)
close this folder2. China
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentProduction and trade
View the documentNotable Chinese medicinal plants
View the documentGovernment initiatives
View the documentLinks to modern medicine
View the documentLinks to agriculture
View the documentLinks to forestry
View the documentProtecting medicinal-plant biodiversity

Government initiatives

China's long-term goal is to eventually unify and integrate traditional and Western approaches to medicine, but, given the complexities involved, this will require years to achieve. There has been a movement to speed the process of shared use of hospital facilities, cooperative approaches by traditional medicine and Western medicine. Most importantly, this has involved mobilizing and training traditional medicine practitioners as part of a primary prevention strategy against chronic disease. In this, the Chinese Academies of Science and Medical Sciences play a leading role in medicinal-plant research. The Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry appear to play a very limited role.

One part of the governmental health service deals specifically with the application of traditional medicine. The State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was established in 1987 as a separate administrative agency reporting directly to the State Council. A separate TCM structure is present at the Provincial and City levels. The formal TCM structure has, as its lowest level, a series of TCM hospitals. These are sometimes quite large institutions. There are many thousands of both formally trained and informally trained traditional practitioners. TCM practices are found at most Western hospitals and in most clinics and health centers. The separate vertical structure is justified by TCM authorities as being needed to protect TCM institutions and personnel from being overwhelmed and absorbed by the larger and more powerful Western medicine system.

A government corporation is the leading promoter of medicinal-plant cultivation. The National Corporation of Traditional and Herbal Medicine is an integral part of the State Pharmaceutical Administration of China. Established in the early 1950s, it was given responsibility for the cultivation, collection, and distribution of medicinal substances of natural origin, as well as for the industrial production and domestic distribution of phytopharmaceutical preparations. This organization's importance has been rising ever since. In 1987, for instance, China devoted 300,000 hectares strictly to medicinal-plant cultivation. By 1995, the area had increased almost 50 percent, to 439,000 hectares, a clear recognition that the government has responded to the need to meet the rising consumer demand (see Table 5). Government policy encourages producers to see their work as a longterm business. Interest-free credit is given to farmers on request.

Table 5: Cultivation of Traditional Chinese Medicinal Plants 1990-1995 (1000 of ha)








Area planted







Source: State TCM Administration (S. Kuipers, pers com.)

In 1987, UNIDO carried out a joint study with the National Corporation of Traditional and Herbal Medicine to determine the needs of an expanded pharmaceutical industry. They concluded that important socioeconomic advantages would be gained by using domestic medicinal-plant raw materials, resulting in the creation of jobs both in agriculture and industry, and the regular availability of safe and effective drugs at an affordable price for primary healthcare. The investment costs to support a pharmaceutical industry were considered relatively small, the dosage form and quality control capacities would be convertible, and the acquired knowledge and experience would prove useful at an eventual diversification date. Programs supporting integration of traditional and modem medicine would include:

· special educational Programs to publicize the proper use of plant-derived herbal medicines; and

· consultations at regional levels on various facets of the medicinal-plant industry, stressing quality standards and safety, with a view to promoting the wider use and acceptance of herbal medicines.

In recent years phytopharmacological researchers have isolated and chemically characterized 571 active compounds from crude drugs. Sixty new drugs have been developed that originate directly or indirectly from these substances. They include:

· a new class of antimalarial/antipyretic properties from the leaf of sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua);

· analgesic and nervous system depressants from the rhizomes of yanhusuo (Corydalis sp.); and

· antitumor ingredients from bark of the plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia).