Liu Hongbin has the type of face that people are inclined to trust. Her short grey hair is smart yet pragmatic, her unlined face radiates good health, and her glasses hint at scholarly pursuits.
Liu is the archetypal senior citizen: cultured, accomplished and kind. Such types appear in commercials in China for everything from bank accounts to cooking oil. But several pharmaceutical companies have decided to go one better than relying on Liu’s real persona to promote their wares, hiring her instead to pose as a doctor on television chat shows, where she peddles their medicines.
According to an investigation by the state-owned China Youth Daily, Liu has appeared on at least six provincial channels over the last three years, plugging numerous remedies.
Each time she changed her purported specialisation to support the drug that she was promoting. In 2014 Liu appeared on Tibetan television selling a herbal asthma drug. She claimed to be a traditional doctor from the Miao ethnic group and donned a folksy looking robe to add credibility.
On Fujian TV Liu claimed to be a dermatologist and wore a white coat. She was promoting anti-freckle cream.
This year she appeared on Shandong television shilling a new heart drug and claiming to be a fifth-generation herbalist from Mongolia.
“It has no side effects,” she insisted, dressed in a traditional-looking tunic.
Yet, as other newspapers have reported, many of the medicines Liu was endorsing were unlicenced and unsafe.
In total, she claimed nine widely different medical specialisations over the course of her three years on television. But no one of Liu’s name and age was registered with the authorities as a practitioner of traditional or Western-style medicine, Beijing Morning Post reports.
The public is divided over who to blame for Liu’s deception. Interestingly she is not the direct focus of their anger – indeed, some of the social media commentary has focused on her “excellent” acting skills.
Instead, China’s profit-hungry drugs brands are getting more of the flak for trying to hoodwink ordinary, often elderly citizens.
Other netizens have targeted the local TV stations for giving Liu and the drug companies the platform to promote their goods. “If they had done any research they could have seen she was a fake,” an angry viewer rebuked.
Staff at a channel from Henan said that they weren’t to blame because the content of these kinds of shows is produced by advertising companies. But their critics weren’t convinced. “Driven by huge profits, some television stations take the risk of broadcasting such programmes. And they have become rampant due to loose government supervision,” Wang Sixin, a law professor at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times.
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