And Finally

Beijing’s Mr Bean

Health expert who sold 3 million books exposed as a scamster

Beijing’s Mr Bean

Zhang: bad diet

Can mung beans cure cancer? And will eggplant relieve the symptoms of diabetes and hypertension?

Zhang Wuben, 47, a self-proclaimed expert in traditional Chinese medicine, seems to think so. Zhang has become a household name after appearing on the Hunan TV show Baike Quanshuo (Encyclopaedic Talk) in February. He insists that many of the world’s most debilitating illnesses are curable with a decent portion of mung beans and eggplant.

His theories caught public attention. Prices for mung beans (leave them to germinate and they become bean sprouts) are up four-fold from a year ago, and Zhang has sold 3 million copies of his food therapy book, Cure the Diseases You Get from Eating by Eating. Patients have been queuing up at his clinics in Beijing for a Rmb5,000 ($730) consultation. Apparently, the appointment schedule stretches well out into 2012.

The problem, however, is that Zhang is not quite the guru that he claims to be. And last week, the health ministry took the highly unusual step of chastising the mung bean miracle worker for misrepresenting his qualifications.

Zhang claims to have studied at Beijing Medical University, and that he worked as a nutrition expert with the Ministry of Health. But the university has no records of him studying there. Ministry officials deny he was an expert with them too.

Worse, health specialists say Zhang’s advice might actually do some of his patients harm. Disciplined followers of his mung-and- eggplant regimen have complained of stomach pains and diarrhoea, says the China Daily. Whoever said that you can never eat enough greens?

Zhang has now gone into hiding, his best-seller is off the shelves, and his TV show off the air. The clinics are still packed, but mostly with disgruntled patients demanding refunds.

The Beijing Times says Zhang’s popularity was boosted by rising disenchantment with the medical system in China. Rather than visit a doctor, many health-conscious Chinese resort to alternative remedies to ward off illness. In issue 41, we reported that demand for garlic and star anise also took off amid rumours that they would help prevent swine flu.

There’s nothing wrong with a decent diet, of course. But dieters need a spoonful of common sense with their high-fibre breakfasts, says the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau.

Zhang’s mung bean moment in the sun proves the point. “The government needs to impose better standards for traditional Chinese medicine therapy and the public should stop blindly believing these self-claimed masters,” an unnamed official warned.

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