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The global trade in wildlife affects ~24% of terrestrial vertebrates, and demand for traditional medicinal materials, especially for traditional Chinese medicine, is a high profile driver. Much research has established a causal link between demand for medicinal materials for “TCM” and negative impacts on species conservation and on individual animals’ welfare. Key hopes for reducing these impacts are demand reduction and redirection strategies, targetted at consumers and professionals. Conservation research papers routinely treat “TCM” as a homogenous entity, and we argue that in so doing fail to identify distinct markets or communities within "TCM", and that recognising these distinctions would facilitate strategies for demand reduction and redirection. We present an initial taxonomy of “TCM” - using medicinal materials derived from wild animal species as a proof of concept - separating it into three principal components: (a) zhongyi is the broad, all-inclusive medical field representing diverse medicinal materials used in so-called pre-modern and modern medical practice, and described in a number of traditional and revived modern texts; (b) TCM represents a regulated suite of medical and pharmaceutical practises that began to be established from zhongyi in the 1950s and also belongs among zhongyi practices today. Medicinal materials within TCM which represent a curated subset of those within wider zhongyi, are described in the Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China, and are subject to change (for example if trade in a species becomes strictly regulated); finally, (c) CMP, ‘Chinese medicine and pharmaco-therapy’ is a neo-liberal extension to mainly TCM but also to some aspects of zhongyi. It represents a highly commodified and commercialised form of TCM and zhongyi and includes also some newly designed health products not previously considered ‘traditional medical’ - let alone ‘traditional Chinese medical’ - which are dispensed in drug shops, frequently in the absence of a medical practitioner. Practitioners, suppliers and potentially consumers in each category of what in conservation circles is labelled using the blanket term “TCM” are likely to regard themselves as distinct from the others. This appreciation raises the possibility of working with official TCM authorities, professional bodies, academics and practitioners to reduce, and perhaps eliminate, the use of species of conservation and animal welfare concern.-

Original publication




Journal article


Global Ecology and Conservation

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