The Belt and Road Initiative has given a new boom to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a 2,000-year-old national treasure in China.
Years ago, Niu Hongwei's TCM company in Weiyuan, a county in northwest China's Gansu Province, used to only sell herbs to domestic pharmaceutical enterprises.
Among the 23 impoverished counties in Gansu, Weiyuan is known for its medicinal materials, in particular, astragalus root and dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula).
"Our business took off in 2013 after the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed," recalled Niu. "Foreign entrepreneurs and officials began visiting my company to seek cooperative opportunities."
The initiative, or formally the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was put forward by China in 2013 in a bid to boost connectivity and seek common prosperity.
In 2016, Niu signed an agreement with a merchant from the Republic of Korea (ROK). He provides herbal medicines every month to the merchant whose company processes them into cosmetics and health products.
Next month, Niu will make his first business trip to Singapore, exploring opportunities in a new foreign market.
"It was unimaginable for small companies like mine in China's remote west to engage in international trade in the past. Now we have more opportunities," he said.
Another pharmaceutical company Foci, based in the city of Lanzhou, has collaborated with 28 countries and regions across the world, exporting hundreds of types of herbal medicines.
"We hope that TCM can be included in the medical insurance by the local governments, so more people can benefit from it," said Sun Yu, general manager of Foci.
With a history of more than 2,000 years, TCM is seen by many as a national treasure in China for its unique theories and practices, such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, and dietetics.
In addition to the growing overseas demands for traditional Chinese herbs, the TCM services and culture have also attracted more global attention.
The affiliated hospital of the Gansu University of Chinese Medicine has been cooperating with a medical institute in Brazil to set up a TCM center in Sao Paulo.
Zhang Xiaogang, president of the hospital, said that both sides have agreed on issues about the location and talent training. In May, 20 Brazilian doctors came to China for TCM theory and practice training.
Located in northwest China, Gansu is the birthplace of TCM masters Qi Bo and the Yellow Emperor, and the province is rich in TCM culture.
Local authorities have increased efforts to promote TCM overseas, with eight TCM medical colleges and six medical centers in countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, and France.
Last year, the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine said that China had established 26 overseas centers of TCM in the past three years, most of which are in countries along the Belt and Road.
Yao Xiaoqiang, a TCM practitioner sent from China to Kyrgyzstan, gives lectures to foreign colleagues and sometimes offers free treatments to locals at a TCM center.
Patients need to have X-rays, blood tests or other diagnostic tests before the TCM practitioner offer treatment. "They come to strengthen and balance their overall well-being and relieve pain," Yao said.
Alexander Gerovchars, associate professor of acupunctureand moxibustion with Bogomolets National Medical University in Ukraine, has visited Lanzhou four times to attend intensive TCM training courses.
Gerovchars said that TCM and Western medicine can improve the overall medical services for people, with each complementing the other. "Traditional Chinese medicine provides a new way to solve health problems. We need it."