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by Edward A. Gargan

BEIJING, Jan. 24 - His pate gleaming like a freshly peeled potato, the man waited expectantly in the whitewashed room, the buoyant confidence of a lottery ticket buyer lighting his eyes.

Dr. Zhao Zhangguang dipped a small brush into a plastic bottle filled with an apricot-colored liquid and began daubing the hairless dome in a sort of invisible pointillism. On the bottle containing the liquid, a gold label read: "101 Hair Regeneration Liniment."

The substance is among an array of elixirs, syrups and potions produced by doctors here in a crusade to retard or even reverse baldness.

Most prominent in the crusade is Dr. Zhao, who has produced a substance that is championed by some Beijing city officials and that is inspiring hope among those sporting nature's tonsure.

Former Barefoot Doctor

"I used to be a barefoot doctor," Dr. Zhao, 45 years old, said, his own shaggy thatch evidence that he does not need a dose of his own medicine. "I am from the mountains in Zhejiang. In the mountains, we pay a lot of attention to plants and herbs."

"Basically I was trained in herbal medicine, treating skin disease. What got me into this was the case of a woman schoolteacher who came to me one day in 1973 who was bald. She had to wear a wig, but everybody still called her bald. After a while she just stopped teaching because people make fun of her. When she used to go to her mother's home she always had to take out-of-the-way paths instead of the main road because people laughed at her.

Dr. Zhao lit a cigarette, dragged deeply and continued. "Well, this was how I started to think about this problem. I was a bit famous for curing skin disease, but had no experience with hair. So I decided to have a try with traditional herbs."

In the beginning, Dr. Zhao said he begin mixing herbs and oils that were traditionally believe to stimulate hair growth, things like the dried Rhizome of Rehmannia or tubers of multiflower knot weed.

"Those just don't work." Dr. Zhao said. "Everyone thinks they do, but they don't. In the beginning I was using a bit here, decreasing there. There was not any effect at all."

'I Kept on Working'

After about 40 failures, Dr. Zhao said, he was ready to throw up his hands. "people said I was mad," he said. "People scorned me. They didn't think I'd would be successful."  

That did it, he said, " I kept on working."    

As he work, his money ran out and he had to rent out one of the three rooms of his house to another villager. " I still didn't have enough money," he said, "My wife said that she would support me and she started raising pigs and chickens."

What the Liniment Contains

Altogether, Dr. Zhao said, he whipped up 101 different mixtures before he hit on the right concoction. " I had a patient who was bald, but he came to me because he had a fever and skin rash," Dr. Zhao explained. "I gave him a new medicine I had been working on. One day he came over and started yelling at me that I hadn't cured the fever but that he was growing hair."

Word spread. First villagers from around his home county came by, then people beyond the county. "In the first group of 50 patients, there was some effectiveness, " the doctor said. I made some changes and the effectiveness improved."

What did the trick, Dr. Zhao said, was the careful blending of ginseng, the root of membranous milk vetch, Chinese Angelica, a type of Aconitum, dried ginger, walnut meat, salflower, the root of red-rooted Salvia, a psoralea and alcohol.

Word spread some more. In 1976, a reporter from Hangzhou came by to look into rumors that there were no bald men in Dr. Zhao's county anymore. The reporter, Pan Guozheng, happened to bald.

"He came to see me," Dr. Zhao said. "Of course he didn't believe any thing. but I gave him some of medicine and after about three months he began to grow hair. Then he wrote up a report. That was the first."

The newspaper invited Dr. Zhao to Hangzhou to try his remedy in the big city. Over several years, he said, he treated more than 1,000 patients there with a success rate of more than 90 percent.

In Beijing, a group of city officials heard of advancing hairlines down south and sent a delegation to see what the excitement was about. By this time, Dr. Zhao said, he had compiled a hefty caseload of satisfied patients and had his liniment certified by the provincial authorities as effective.

Officials from Beijing's Bureau of Civil Affairs wooed the good doctor with promises of housing, a factory of his own and fame. So in 1986 Dr. Zhao move to the capital and began to set up a plant to produce "101 Hair Regeneration Liniment."

Word spread out of China. Dr. Zhao found himself traveling to Hong Kong and Japan bearing hope for the depilated. Then, last October, he was awarded the top prize of the 38th Brussels Eureka World Fair, a gathering of inventors from around the globe. Dr. Zhao was made a Chevalier and awarded a lustrous white cross dangling from  a red ribbon.

Today, Dr. Zhao works out of a third-floor office in a grubby masonry building in the industrial quarter south of Beijing. Surrounded by stacks of before-and-after color photographs, a staff of hair specialists treat patients, and for difficult cases Dr. Zhao himself offers an expert view.

The bald gentleman that sat before him now despaired over the last quarter century, during which not as much as a tuft of fuzz found root atop his head, Dr. Zhao was not overly optimistic.

Treatment Costs About $100

"He has been bald for 25 years," the doctor said. " This is not easy. But perhaps after three months I think he will have some hair. We will see."

An average treatment takes two to three months and involves daily applications of Dr. Zhao's liniment. At $12 a bottle for the liquid, the treatment costs about $100, an extraordinary sum in a country with an annual per capita income of less than $300. But Dr. Zhao said plenty of people were willing to spend that kind of money.

Dr. Zhao asserted that his tonic worked, and others did not, because he had exploited the principle of traditional Chinese medical practice. Or more precisely, "101 Liniment," he said, "invigorates the circulation of the blood, frees the main and collateral channels of the body and thereby makes hair grow."

When asked about a competing medication, a syrup called "Shen Er Fa" blended in Wuhan and drunk, not applied to the scalp, Dr. Zhao turned up his nose ever so slightly. "Yes, I've heard of Shen Er." he said, "But I've heard the effects are not so remarkable." 

Tuesday, January 26, 1988

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