Project 523

The secret Maoist Chinese operation that conquered malaria – and won a Nobel

Author: Jia-Chen Fu Assistant Professor of Chinese, Emory University

1964 poster: ‘Prevent Malaria and Take Care of People’s Health.’ Painted by Wu Hao 吴昊


At the height of the Cultural Revolution, Project 523 – a covert operation launched by the Chinese government and headed by a young Chinese medical researcher by the name of Tu Youyou – discovered what has been the most powerful and effective antimalarial drug therapy to date.

Known in Chinese as qinghaosu and derived from the sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua L.), artemisinin was only one of several hundred substances Tu and her team of researchers culled from Chinese drugs and folk remedies and systematically tested in their search for a treatment to chloroquine-resistant malária. Read more.