China's first law on traditional Chinese medicine was passed by the top legislature on Sunday to ensure development of the time-honored medical science and enhance the public's ability to access more quality products and related services.
The law will take effect on July 1.
"It is a milestone for TCM development as it's recognized by law," Wang Guoqiang, head of the State Administration of TCM, said at a news conference on Sunday.
The law is also an indication of public demand and expectations for TCM, which has proved effective but at times cannot be easily defined or regulated by mainstream Western medical approaches, he said.
"The adoption of the law is only a start, and more matching policies and regulations will follow in the spirit of the law boosting TCM," he said.
TCM long ago was the only treatment available in China, but Western medicine first introduced in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) began to dominate over time. In recent years, some have even called on authorities to drop TCM's status as a legally accepted treatment option.
The law recognizes TCM as an important part of the country's healthcare system and encourages TCM's development. It also allows it to be managed and regulated according to its own characteristics.
Unlike many doctors of Western medicine, some TCM practitioners learned their skills from a master instead of going through a standard school education.
But "many do command great skill. The law allows them to get a license to practice TCM and go mainstream", said Deng Yong, a researcher of law at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.
The new law stipulates that practitioners must pass exams highlighting practical skills and treatment outcomes by provincial-level TCM authorities, and obtain recommendations from two certified practitioners.
That's a major breakthrough as "many competent TCM doctors work underground since they couldn't pass the exams for medical doctors that focus on Western medicine or the English tests", he explained.
The law also makes it easier to open individual practices and clinics by requiring only the filing of a record at the local health authority, instead of an approval, he added.
There are 3,966 TCM hospitals and 42,528 TCM clinics across the country with roughly 452,000 practitioners, according to a white paper on TCM issued by the State Council Information Office this month.
Annually, they receive an average 910 million visits nationwide, it said.
"The law will help bring more competent TCM doctors to the patients," said Wang Guoqiang.
By clearly setting the boundaries of treatment, the law helps eliminate fake TCM doctors who often boast they can cure all diseases, Deng said.
"That protects patients' rights and health and the reputation of TCM," he said.
TCM products and services can be advertised only with approval from the local TCM authority, the law stipulates.
To safeguard consumers' health, the law also calls for strengthened management and quality control over TCM raw materials and related procedures including raising, planting, collecting and stocking such materials.
Highly toxic pesticides cannot be used to cultivate medicinal herbs, it said.