Without Healthcare, We Could Be Drinking Snake Wine

After spending three months doused in wine in a bottle, a snake “pulled a Jesus and sprang to life,” biting the hand of a woman and sending her to a local hospital, China’s English-language Global Times reported in September.  The woman (only her last name, Liu, was noted) lives in rural northern Heilongjiang Province and had purchased and pickled (or so she thought) the snake in the wine to treat her rheumatism.

Is healthcare in China so poor that many Chinese still rely on traditional folk medicine?

On paper, China indeed provides universal healthcare for its rural population. In early September, the Chinese government announced that 99 percent of rural Chinese (800 million individuals) now receive healthcare under the country’s New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS), says The Atlantic.

At a time when House Republicans are tying the continued funding of the federal government to delaying President Obama’s healthcare reforms, resulting in a government shutdown, it’s impressive to hear that so many in China have healthcare (keeping in mind that, in China’s one-party system, there was no bickering about the constitutionality of universal health care).

Look beyond the official statistics provided by the government and there is a different story, especially for the vulnerable and those with disabilities. Says Dr. Qiulin Chen, Assistant Professor of Population and Labor Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, to The Atlantic:

… the rural population as a whole may be underestimated, leaving out unregistered people ineligible for the NCMS [New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme]. These individuals remain uninsured. “Some rural people work in the city and are not covered [under the rural health insurance program] or any urban health insurance program,” Chen said. “Only those with official citizenship are [included].”

Chinese citizens with healthcare still face high out-of-pocket expenses and low rates for reimbursement, as Dr. Gry Sagli of the Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, points out. In addition, only a limited number of medical conditions are covered.

For those with additional medical complications, China’s rural healthcare provides inadequate coverage. Dr. Sagli states that, prior to the creation of the new rural health insurance program, “less than 10 percent of the people with disabilities in rural areas receive treatment and rehabilitation training”; this figure has not improved much under the new insurance. So far, the new program has been “inadequate in helping to improve their life situation and break the vicious circle of disability and poverty,” Dr. Sagli underscores.

Accordingly, traditional remedies remain an option and sometimes a dangerous one. The Global Times cites earlier reports of another case of “serpent resurrection in 2009 when a Hubei Province resident surnamed Zhang was bitten two months after he had placed a snake in a bottle of wine. In 2001, a resident of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region died a day after being bitten from a preserved wine snake.”

(No word in the Global Times about the snake who’d survived after three months submerged in wine and could teach us all something about staying alive in adverse circumstances.)

Other traditional Asian medicine treatments not only pose risks to those who use them but also to the rare, often endangered, animals used for them. Ground-up rhinoceros horn is thought to treat cancer, the gallbladders of sun bears to cure a host of ailments, including asthma and cancer and the skins, bones, teeth and claws of tigers to alleviate, among other things, a toothache.

Someone — in China, in Vietnam, in other Asian countries — is using these treatments; demand for rhino horns and the body parts of wildlife on the black market seems infinite.  If China really provided sufficient universal healthcare for its rural residents at prices they could afford and for a broad range of medical needs, could demand for such traditional medicines lessen? Resorting to pickling a snake in a bottle is the sort of thing people end up doing when there aren’t other, better options for healthcare.


Photo via Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven10 months ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Michelle R.
2 years ago

"Resorting to pickling a snake in a bottle is the sort of thing people end up doing when there aren’t other, better options for healthcare."
That is absolute nonsense, my french grandmother never visited a doctor, she used all kinds of plants to cure whatever was wrong with her. There is NO reason to have to use parts of animals. Ignorance and superstition are keeping those practices going and it has to stop!

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

if it's true, good for the snake.. I hope will all my heart taht all the sadist barbarians of China die horribly from snake bites. it would save the world from China's immoral greed.

Gill Kilroy
Gillian Kilroy2 years ago

My Chinese acupuncturist told me that there IS regular health care for people there, but a lot of older people swear by their old remedies and will not use 'western medicine', hence the call for all these (poor) animal products. However he did tell me his father preferred western medicine and wouldn't even allow him to use acupuncture on him!!

Candace Fawcett
Candace Fawcett2 years ago

I would rather suffer from rheumatism (which I have) than to kill another being .... even one I am scared of, like a snake. I would also rather suffer than drink that even if I didn't have a problem with the snakes being killed.
Maybe that's just me though .... :(

Dimitris Dallis
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you Kristina :)

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola2 years ago

Thank You for sharing

Mary L.
Mary L.2 years ago

That's some snake! I can't understand why people use unproven "traditional" things.

My grandfather from Hungary believed that onions were good for your heart, garlic for your lungs and a teaspoon of horseradish, the fresher the better, would cure a cold or sinus problem.

He still went to doctors.

Anette S.
Anette S.2 years ago

aaaargh - *seems