Health official called “pig foot director”

LANZHOU/BEIJING – A local official in Northwest China’s Gansu province has triggered a furious dispute among the public after promoting traditional Chinese medicine on his microblog.

Liu Weizhong, 54, director of the Gansu provincial Department of Health, was given the nickname “pig foot director” by netizens after advocating the medical benefits of pig feet on multiple microblog accounts.

His microblog posts wouldn’t necessarily draw criticism on their own, but a recent report by the China Youth Daily stated that a local government website posted Liu’s medical articles on its own website.

“These articles might possibly mislead the public, as they may believe that the Gansu provincial government is supporting Liu’s recommendations. Liu Weizhong should be responsible for this,” said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

Social networking sites, including microblogs, have become increasingly popular in China in recent years. Government officials have also taken to using the sites, many of whom have come under scrutiny for controversial posts.

“Government officials need to behave themselves on the Internet because of their position. Their words are more powerful than those of ordinary citizens,” according to Zhu Lijia, another professor from the Chinese Academy of Governance.

Liu said that he was prepared to deal with possible controversies as a result of his blogging.

“Before I started to microblog, I heard from experts in Beijing that you need to be prepared to do so,” Liu said.

“I did not expect that so many people would curse me. I am clean in my position and I seldom hear curses. But on the microblogs, people do not know the “real me.” They just thought I was saying nonsense,” he said.

For his part, Liu did gain some support by answering questions from his online followers, many of them related to medicine.

“We had 340 patients here after the fatal landslide in Zhouqu (in Gansu province) and the fatal earthquake in Yushu (in Qinghai province). All of them had my pig foot soup and recovered soon,” said Liu, who has a medical license and studied medicine at the Lanzhou Medicine College in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu, from 1978 to 1982.

“Patients with serious ailments need nutritious food like pig foot soup. I never said that the soup was a type of medicine, only that it enhanced the effect of medicine,” Liu said.

However, Liu’s recommendations have been disparaged by others, including Xiao Ji, a postgraduate student of clinical medicine at Shanghai Communication University’s School of Medicine.

“It is dangerous to feed pig foot soup to patients. The soup can easily cause stress ulcers in their digestive systems,” Xiao said.

Liu was quick to apologize after the China Youth Daily report came out, stating on his microblog that it was “improper” for his articles to be published on the local government’s website.

“I lack experience. Netizens are welcome to raise suggestions regarding the local health department’s work, as well as questions about the development of traditional Chinese medicine,” he wrote.

“Liu Weizhong has maintained a positive attitude during the disputes, which has helped him a lot. Maybe other officials will learn from him,” said Nie Hualin, a professor at Lanzhou University.

“Officials who are used to hearing only praise instead of criticism will have to learn how to speak in front of the public. In a country with the world’s largest number of Internet users, it will be a long road for them,” Nie said.

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