After discovering the practices and sins of one Xiao Hongchi (Christened Xiao Hongcai) on a seven month old death of a seven year old, I penned this piece for my magazine, The World of Chinese.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015 | BY: TYLER RONEY
Traditional Chinese Medicine—which for the sake of balance we’ll say may or may not be a rank collection of superstitions perpetrated by occasionally well-meaning fatuous egotists—has many quirks, from eating pangolins to urine drinking. And, TWOC has hereto been happy to share some of the more uncommon eccentricities of this kindergarten art of healing with its readers, based as they are on the original medical advice of people who didn’t know the earth goes around the sun. However, even in the strange annals of TCM, there are some standouts, and such is the case of Xiao Hongchi and his slapping therapy.
Xiao Hongchi bases his practice of TCM on Paida and Lajin (slapping and stretching) in which a person is slapped to relieve them of their “sha”, which I can only deduce from context clues means “money”. You might have seen a form of mild paida; old dama on the street lightly tapping their shoulders and thighs. But Xiao’s therapy leaves bruises. The BBC had a rather interesting piece on slap therapy, in which Pamela Koh went to some slapping/beating treatment where she was caned with bamboo in the knee to relieve her of likely nonexistent clots (note: bruises on the knee cause blood clots) until she begged her “healer” to stop.
In fact, if you’re not bruised, you’re not doing it right. A patient, or rather client, is slapped and smacked to bring out bruises on their skin in a tradition not that far from cupping and scraping—which, once again for balance, are both either a valid form of medication or a load of old bollocks. The bruises show that toxins are being removed from the body. And it’s all funny and strange, and everyone, including Xinhua (who called Xiao a “quack” in 2012), had a good chuckle. That is, until a kid died.
In April of 2015, a child with Type 1 diabetes, Aidan Fenton, in Sydney’s Hurstville area died at Xiao Hongchi’s week-long slap therapy seminar ($1,800). To be fair, Xiao’s real-and-not-at-all-made-up therapy wasn’t necessarily directly to blame; he was, however, questioned by police, and, before he left Australia, it was suggested that his advice may have included the cessation of the child’s insulin or Xiao’s oft-recommended three days of fasting. All that can truly be said is that a seven-year-old child with diabetes was at a seminar where he was told to hit himself and starve.
Xiao released a statement on his Facebook page regarding the incident: “Even before the police have concluded their investigation, the media has used inflammatory terms such as ‘killer’ or ‘con man’.” In this, Xiao is right. He can not be called a killer. But con man? Certainly.
For the sake of clarity, Xiao readily states on his website and everywhere else that he is not a doctor. No, no one thought that. Doctors don’t wear changshan to work. Of course, you might presume he is a wise old man who has studied TCM for a lifetime—if by lifetime you mean the past couple of years. He only stopped being an investment banker at the ripe old age of 44, a profession known for being entirely spiritual in nature. Two years after giving up his far more respectable day job (note: sarcasm), he wrote a book which became a best-seller. The book, The World of Medicine: The Paida Lajin Self-Healing Method, became a best-seller because the world is a horrible place.
The currently un-incarcerated Xiao Hongchi, is still the world-leading expert in slap therapy, and the website paidalajin.com comes complete with his number in Beijing and the 11 other countries in which his organization does business. It must be said, Xiao Hongchi is certainly the world’s leading expert in paida. He kind of has to be. He made it up.
After the death of Aidan Fenton, Australia’s The Daily Telegraph contacted TCM experts for their opinion on Xiao’s methods: Judy James of the Asian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (which I won’t get into right now) said, “Hitting a person all over their body until they are bruised is something that I have never heard of”; the Australian Traditional Medicine Society director commented: “It’s not a real therapy”; in the previously mentioned article from Xinhua, Ma Kejian, director of the research institute of traditional Chinese medicine in Yunnan Province had heard of it, but said, “Although TCM includes slap therapy, the healing effects are limited, and it isn’t suitable for anybody.” Even in a world of demented rubbish, this theory strikes many as implausible.
In 2011, Xiao was found in violation of certain folk remedy laws in Taiwan, attempting to pass off his brand of voodoo/abuse as real medicine—specifically that slapping oneself could cure diabetes in seven days—for which he was fined around $1,600 and given seven days to leave the country. He also told two people on Taiwan TV that they should “shut up” if they hadn’t tried paida in a fierce debate about his objectively rubbish healing techniques.
Xiao is always quick to point out that his methods are not medicine, rather a self-healing exercise. It’s neither. He has said several times in several countries that his practices heal everything from diabetes to liver cancer. Relatives of a liver cancer patient in Beijing in 2011 reported Xiao to the authorities after their relative spent more than 20,000 RMB on Xiao’s therapy and died three months later. Xiao also (and this is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write) recommends that children with autism have group slapping games, and his website abounds with stories of parents slapping their children (including infants) to cure their stomach flu and fevers.
So, why him? Why dredge up the death of a child seven months ago to rage at one con artist? Because he’s winning.
He’s traveled the world with this shtick—Scotland, Germany, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese talk shows, India, Malaysia, Switzerland—assaulting the globe with his odd brand of complete hokum. He has several publications, best-selling books, gets invited to speak at alternative medicine galas, sells special stretching benches, and his clinics are often sold out. Hell, you can even go to his Tmall shop to buy bendable sticks shaped like hands to slap yourself (note: the arm is already a bendable stick with a hand on it with which you can slap yourself). And, what’s more, it has staying power for the gullible. Even after the death of Aidan Fenton, one Australian man spoke highly of the practice, saying that it worked for his back pain even though he didn’t understand the science behind it (none, just, no science—no science is how much science is behind it).
My blood pressure is pleased to report that Xiao Hongchi could not be reached for comment, as he is busy plying his claptrap to the people of Hong Kong this week (10,800HKD for a seven-day seminar).
One might be expected at this point to recommend the services of only professionally-accredited TCM doctors. I won’t. They’re charlatans. But, they’re well-meaning charlatans…probably. In the case of Xiao, reason suggests that there are three distinct possibilities: he is painfully deluded, he is a monster, or I have entered a Twilight Zonesci-fi realm in which one might literally beat Alzheimer’s disease out of someone.
Open-minded as I am, though, I’m perfectly happy to give it a go. Not on the receiving end, obviously. Like Mr. Xiao, I also live in Beijing and would be perfectly happy to cure his delusions with paida for a very reasonable hourly rate in a session filled with all the slapping he can handle. After all, I have just as many qualifications.