Traditional Chinese herbal pharmacies keep up with times

Source: Xinhua

For centuries, Chinese herbal pharmacies worldwide look very much the same: herbs are retrieved from a wall of wooden drawers by a grey-haired pharmacist, weighed in a steelyard and divided into several portions before being wrapped up and bundled in paper.

With a history of more than 2,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), seen by many as a national treasure for its unique theories and practices, has found its way to connect with the rapidly changing demands of modern people.

In the pharmacy at northwest China's Gansu Provincial Hospital of TCM in Lanzhou City, 500 white plastic bottles are lined up against the wall like honeycombs, replacing the usual wooden cabinets. Each bottle has a unique QR code on its packaging and contains different concentrated herbal granules.

Once receiving a prescription, pharmacists will pull out the bottles from the walls and place them into an automatic dispenser, which can quickly identify different medicines and blend them in the proper proportions.

After all the granules have been mixed together, the dispenser will automatically seal them into different small packages.

"It used to take more than five minutes on average for a skillful pharmacist to fill a prescription. Now the whole process is completed within one minute and traceable on the computer," said Wang Hongli, deputy director of the department of pharmacy at the hospital.

Cao Yong, a 26-year-old white-collar worker, got his prescribed medication after a short wait. "It is convenient and simple for busy office workers like me, as all I need to do is open the package and pour the granules into hot water," said Cao.

In recent years, such smart TCM pharmacies have blossomed in many cities in China, catering to young people's need for effective medical services in their fast-paced life.

At the same time, some time-honored pharmacies have embraced a "fusion" style to renovate their prestigious brand.

In downtown Shanghai, Tonghanchuntang, which was founded in 1783, has gone viral for turning its old pharmacy into a TCM experience store last December.

With stylish interior designs such as colorful boxes holding herbs inlaid in the ceiling, the store is positioned as a fashionable TCM healthcare center targeting younger consumers.

"We bought low-fat herbal drinks downstairs and experienced pulse-feeling upstairs. That was a fascinating trip, giving me a rare opportunity to get to know the charm of the TCM culture," 23-year-old Yang Lu commented online.

More advanced technologies, such as big data, artificial intelligence and 5G, have provided strong support for the research of TCM, while multi-disciplinary collaborations have sped up the inheritance and innovation of the whole industry, leading to greater opportunities for business growth.

The secret of TCM's lasting popularity and vibrancy is that it can continuously adapt to changing times to meet the diverse demands of different generations, said Ning Yanmei, an associate professor at the college of pharmacy at the Gansu University of Chinese Medicine.