As for what’s driving the demand for exotic wildlife, we need only look to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which is very widely-adopted in China and among the Chinese diaspora. Its philosophical roots can be traced all the way back to the ancient text The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, written roughly 2,000 years ago. This is the source material that lays out the various therapeutic effects of specific wild animal parts and suggests that consuming exotic meats confers wealth and status upon its devotee. What a tragedy that the 100,000 pangolins that are purged every year are sacrificed over the false belief that their scales can aid in blood circulation and cure rheumatism! Meanwhile, Beijing continues to aggressively promote TCM both internationally and domestically, in a bid to project nationalistic pride and soft power. Late last year, the state-run China Daily news website reported Xi Jinping saying that ‘traditional medicine is a treasure of Chinese civilization, embodying the wisdom of the nation and its people’. Most recently, Chinese officials have also been touting the success of deploying TCM methods to treat over half of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Hubei province, an ironic move given that it was the very indulgence of magical belief in traditional remedies that most likely caused the coronavirus outbreak in the first place.
To its credit, the Chinese government has since taken swift action to close down some 20,000 wildlife farms and punish over 2,000 people for wildlife crimes since COVID-19 broke out uncontrollably. They have also temporarily banned the wildlife trade until the epidemic is over, but not without carving out exceptions for wild animals for the purposes of TCM. Unless this loophole is closed, people can and will simply abuse the system and use TCM as an excuse to smuggle in more meat and partake in the trade.