“The Crazy Coronavirus ‘Cures’ on the Chinese Web Include Trump’s Secret ‘Super-Drug,'” published in The National Interest on February 5, 2020
NANJING, China—China’s rulers are now calling the coronavirus epidemic a “major test of China’s system and capacity for governance” and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping is warning against any “lack of boldness” fighting it. But infections are rampant, the death toll is still mounting, and the country is increasingly isolated by a world community afraid this could become a pandemic. With no vaccine, hospitals overcrowded, and a dearth of solid information about how to treat the flu-like disease, what are China’s 1.4 billion people (or the rest of us) supposed to do?
The answers have come on the internet: stay away from your pet dog, gargle salt water, fumigate with vinegar, take a potion made from flowers, and smoke a lot.
Yes, fake news has gone viral in the fight against the virus, which you’d expect. But the picture is complicated by the Chinese media’s advocacy of traditional Chinese medicine, and some half-baked reporting that credits U.S. President Donald Trump with possession of a “super drug” he’ll be willing to share real soon.
Chinese citizens hungry for any kind of protection against the disease have been posting and re-posting dubious reports about miracle cures and alternative medicine on the main Chinese social networks: the microblog Weibo and the chat app Weixin.
In a country where many hundreds of millions of people are currently holed up inside, on break from work, and thirsty for any new information about the deadly virus, such bad reporting and fake news that goes viral can provoke some frenzied side effects.
After People’s Daily published an article claiming that scientists researching the novel coronavirus found shuanghuanglian oil, a traditional Chinese medicine concocted from three flowers, was effective treating it, believers in the efficacy of traditional medicine, or TCM, flocked to drug stores and bought up all of it they could find.
Sales and hype were such that the stock price of one producer, Fushen Pharmaceutical Co., soared by 120 percent on the Hong Kong stock exchanges as markets opened February 3. For a brief few minutes, founder and chairman and majority stakeholder Cao Changcheng was a billionaire, richer on paper than Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei, until the speculative rush died down and the price fell back to its opening level. Even so, at 8 Hong Kong dollars a share it’s worth twice what it was two weeks ago.