Makers of Chinese herbal ‘anti-cancer drink’ investigated after death of 7 year-old girl

A manufacturer of Chinese herbal healthcare products is under investigation after a debate about its hand in the death of a seven-year-old cancer patient were reignited in China this week.

Quanjian Group, a company founded in the northeastern port city of Tianjin in 2004, is being investigated by the local government for false marketing practices after one of China’s leading health publications accused it of making bogus claims about its herbal cancer treatments.

On Tuesday, the website DingXiang Doctor, one of China’s leading healthcare publications, linked the company to the 2015 death of seven-year-old Inner Mongolian girl Zhou Yang.

Yang, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 at the age of four, had undergone several operations and painful chemotherapy treatments when her uncle first appeared on television to appeal for more research and better treatment for China’s cancer patients.

The uncle said he was subsequently contacted by a representative for Quanjian, who arranged for the family to visit their headquarters in Tianjin to learn about their “secret” cancer treatments.

A week later, Yang’s father Zhou Erli, who worked as a farmer in Inner Mongolia, removed the girl from her treatment at Beijing Children’s Hospital and started her on Quanjian’s anti-cancer drink.

Three months later in March 2013, the girl’s cancer was found to have spread, so her father sent her back to the Beijing hospital to re-start chemotherapy. 

That May, Zhou found Quanjian had released adverts online falsely claiming their treatment had cured his daughter. 

In early 2015 he filed a lawsuit against the company at his local court in the northern autonomous region, but it was ruled he did not have enough evidence to prove the company had misled in their marketing materials and made false claims about his daughter. 

By the end of the year, Yang was dead.

Quanjian lists a number of “natural medicine technologies" on its website, including massaging shoe insoles and magnetic anion sanitary towels.

Besides such products, the company also owns a local football team, a high-end beauty salon and a yacht rental service, according to its official company registration information. 

According to DingXiang Doctor, the Quanjian company first shot to fame in 2005 when they pioneered a treatment dubbed “fire therapy”, which they claim can cure almost any disease. 

In the patented process, areas of the patient’s body are covered with a cloth which doused in alcohol and set on fire. 

There are now more than 7,000 fire treatment centres across China.

The website also claims Quanjian has assumed several names and been taken to court multiple times for duping Chinese citizens into taking part in pyramid schemes.

These claims seem to be backed up by commentators on China’s micro-blogging site Weibo, some of whom say their elderly relatives had to take out huge illegal loans after getting wrapped up in the company’s scams.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which encompasses the use of herbs, acupuncture, massage and mediation and movement practices, dates back more than 2,500 years to the ancient philosophies of Taoism. 

Although it is usually still the first remedy sought by the sick in China, most Western practitioners say there is not enough rigorous scientific evidence to prove TCM is effective in treating the conditions for which it is prescribed. 

Most Chinese hospitals use a combination of Western medicine and TMC when treating cancer, although some patients will choose to use only herbal remedies.

Compound kushen injections, which were found to kill cancer cells in a similar way to chemotherapy by researchers at the University of Adelaide in 2016, are approved for use in China and commonly prescribed.

After the DingXiang Doctor article went viral this week, Quanjian issued a statement on Twitter claiming the website had “gathered untrue information from the internet and has slandered Quanjian, violated Quanjian’s legal rights and led the public to misunderstand the company.”

DingXiang Doctor responded, saying it stands by every word of its account.

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