Researching Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been practiced for more than 2500 years, yet outside of China very little is known about this form of traditional medicine. One of the fundamentals of TCM is that the bodies vital energy (chi or qi) circulates through channels in the body called meridians. These branches connect to our organs and are also connected to our bodily functions. TCM practice includes various forms of medicine based on herbal medicine, massage, tai chi, acupuncture, exercise, and dietary therapy, all aiming at finding harmony between opposing yet complementary forces.

There are roughly 13,000 medicinals used in TCM and over 100,000 medicinal recipes recorded in the ancient literature. The term “herbal medicine” is somewhat misleading in that, while plant elements are by far the most common ingredients used in TCM, other, non-botanic substances, including various wildlife products and minerals are also used.


While China has long embraced science-based medicine, TCM is often offered alongside it in hospitals and clinics. The popularity of TCM is growing; it has over half a million practitioners in China, and earned more than $130 billion USD in 2016, accounting for one third of China’s total medical industrial output. The industry is also expanding outside of China, with practitioners in over 180 countries.

Despite its long history and growing popularity, robust scientific studies for the effectiveness of many of the claims of TCM are limited, and members of the medical community have questioned TCM for lacking efficacy in many of its applications. Certain TCM practices have also been criticized by the conservation community for relying on substances derived from endangered species.

What We Are Doing

We are currently conducting a research project investigating crime in the various supply chains of marine wildlife used in TCM. This comprises a very large number of products and species, endangered, threatened, or otherwise. We are beginning our research by focusing on the ‘Four Treasurers of Cantonese Cuisine’ – shark fins, abalone, fish maw, and sea cucumbers, but also cover other species, such as sea horses.


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