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Chinese Doctor Spends Three Months in Jail for Saying Leopard Bone-Infused Medicinal Wine Doesn’t Cure Heart Disease

A young Chinese doctor was recently set free after spending three month in jail for claiming that a certain brand of medicinal wine was toxic and couldn’t cure heart disease and arthritis, as the manufacturer claimed.

It all started last December, when Guangzhou-based  physician Tan Qindong published a short article on Chinese social media platform Meipian, stating that the popular Hongmao Medicinal Wine was not only toxic, but also ineffective in treating serious heart conditions and arthritis, as advertised by the manufacturer. His post apparently drew a lot of attention, as Hongmao soon filed a defamation lawsuit against the 39-year-old doctor, claiming that it had “maliciously discredited” the brand’s reputation and had caused “significant financial losses” of as much as 1.4 million yuan ($223,000).

Photo: Tan Qindong, before and after jail

On January 10, 2018, an unsuspecting Dr. Tan was taken from his home in Guangzhou by police, taken to Inner Mongolia – where the maker of Hongmao is based – 2,300 km away, and thrown in jail without actually being charged.

According to a police document quoted by Red Star News, Hongmao complained that the doctor’s article, titled “Chinese magic pharmaceutical liquor is a toxic substance from heaven”, had been widely shared online and had resulted in two pharmaceutical distributors and seven individual customers returning the medicinal wine and asking for refunds. Police considered the article clear proof of defamation, so they arrested him.

Dr. Tan Qindong spent three months in a jail thousands of kilometers away from home, and was only released last week, after news of his arrest went viral, sparking uproar on Chinese social media. Lawyers, doctors and state-run news outlets started asking how a company known for exaggerating advertising claims could convince police to arrest someone simply for calling into question the benefits of its product.

Photo: Hongmao Medicinal Wine

Hongmao Medicinal Wine is the main export of Liangcheng County in Inner Mongolia. It contains 67 plant and animal ingredients, including leopard bones, and is supposed to relieve ailments like painful joints, frail kidneys, and weakness and anemia in women, as well as help cure heart disease. However, this is only according to the theories of Chinese traditional medicine, and has not been scientifically verified.

Dr. Tan was recently released from jail on a sort of bail, due to pressure from the media and the general public, but the investigation has not yet ended, and his lawyer has said that there is a change he could be arrested again.

In an interview he gave recently, the 39-year-old physician talked about the nightmare of being jailed, but also made it clear that he does not regret writing the article about Hongmao Medicinal Wine.

 

“Honestly, that time was not for humans. Every day I slept beside the toilet, every day I ate two and a half pieces of steamed bread. There was no freedom,” Dr Tan said about his jail time, adding that he even considered suicide at one point.

“It was right to write this essay,” he told Beijing News. “You must speak the truth a couple of times in your lifetime, and especially if a doctor doesn’t speak the truth and lets these ads about miracle cures run rife, they’ll hurt even more people.”

For now, Dr. Tan Qindong is being hailed as a hero, and Hongmao, the company that tried to silence him, is already feeling some backlash. Many drugstores in China have taken down the medicinal wine from their shelves to avoid angering customers.