A look into China’s history of pharmacy and herbal medicine

A72BB1 The Great Wall Mutianyu China


In November 2016, twenty RPS members had the chance to take part in the ‘Pharmacy in China Tour 2016. Fellow of the RPS Dr Stuart Anderson FRPharmS, led the trip, he shares his two week experience.

“When I was told in September 2015 that the RPS were hoping to support a study tour to China with Jon Baines tours and asked me if I might be interested in acting as tour leader I jumped at the chance, having previously visited Shanghai and Hong Kong. After a lot of planning and promotion the two-week Pharmacy in China Tour finally took place in November 2016.

Twenty of us met up for the first time at our hotel in Beijing on Saturday afternoon. It was a delightfully mixed group; some recently and some not so recently retired pharmacists and their partners, some still with very busy careers, either just beginning and others well established, and some pharmacy students who had managed to take time out from their studies. Backgrounds too extended from community pharmacy proprietors to hospital, regulatory and industrial pharmacists. In the evening we met up with our Chinese guide, Zhong (‘John’).

The tour itself was a careful mix of sightseeing and professional visits interspersed with travel, eating and entertainment. Sunday was devoted to sightseeing. After stopping off to see the pandas at Beijing Zoo we headed for the spectacular Summer Palace. In the afternoon we went for a short climb along the Great Wall of China, and in the evening it was time for a roast Peking Duck dinner.

On Monday we had our first full day of pharmacy visits, beginning with a tour of the inpatient and outpatient pharmacies at the 2,000 bed Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMCH), a western style hospital, proceeded by a look round their extensive medical history museum. At lunchtime I gave a talk on the history of remedies to the group together with pharmacists and students from the hospital, and in the afternoon we visited the Tong Reng Tang traditional Chinese medicine pharmacy, founded in 1669.

On Tuesday it was back to sightseeing, with visits to both Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The afternoon included a walking tour of hutongs, the traditional narrow streets of Beijing, and a trip to view the Birds Nest Arena on the former Olympic site. The evening included an optional visit to the Chinese Acrobats show. Wednesday was a travel day, with first a coach trip to the station and then a journey by high speed train to Xian.

Thursday began for the enthusiastic participation in Tai Chi in a local park, but the main event was an unforgettable trip to see the Terracotta Warriors, about an hour’s drive from the city, with our local guide, Ying. This was followed by a tea sampling session at a local tea shop, before returning to Xian and a tour of the old city walls, the bell tower and the street market. The evening’s entertainment included an optional theatre visit. Friday was another full day, which began with a visit to the Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Gallery, where participants tried their hands at writing ‘pharmacist’ in Chinese characters (by combining ‘remedy’, ‘making’ and ‘master’). This was followed by a tour of the local jade factory and a demonstration of jade carving.

The afternoon was devoted to a visit to the three distinct pharmacies at the Chinese Medicine Hospital at Xian, specialising in western, traditional Chinese medicines and traditional Chinese patent medicines respectively. We saw the herbal medicines being weighed out and mixed, and visited the cooking room where the mixed herbs were boiled in water in rows of pressure cookers for ready use by those willing to pay a little extra. We also heard about the training of traditional Chinese medicine doctors and pharmacists by one of the professors. We then move on to the Acupuncture Department, where the professor of traditional Chinese medicine demonstrated techniques including massage, acupuncture and moxibustion on members of the group.

Friday evening involved a late flight from Xian to the city of Guilin followed by a coach ride to our hotel in its magical setting. This was an all too brief stop, as on Saturday morning it was straight off with bags packed for the coach ride down to the departure point for the boat trip on the Li River. The scenic cruise along the winding river took about 4 ½ hours past the strangely shaped hilltops and small fishing villages, a highlight of the tour for many of the participants, eventually arriving in the small town of Yangshuo. The afternoon was free for exploring and shopping, and the evening included an optional visit to the spectacular son et lumiere show.

Sunday was another mix of sightseeing and professional visits. Participants either cycled or motored through the countryside, eventually stopping to visit the ‘barefoot doctor.’ This lady was a former nurse who provided a wide range of public health activities, health advice and vaccinations in her local community, from a shop on the main street. From there it was off to see the local river, paddy fields and waterwheel. The afternoon included an optional Chinese cooking class, and after dinner l gave a talk on the history of pharmacy in China.

Monday involved an early start for a coach to the airport followed by a flight from Guillin to Shanghai. A further 2-hour coach trip followed to take us to the ancient city of Suzhou, famous for its silk, canals and gardens. After checking in it was off to the vast siIk museum and factory and a conducted tour of the amazing process involved in cultivating and harvesting the silk and turning it into the vast range of products that are available today.

The next morning we visited the Master of the Nets Garden, acclaimed as one of the finest gardens in China and a UNESCO World Heritage site. From there it was the 2-hour coach trip back to Shanghai, and an afternoon visit to the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, first established in 1956. We had a conducted tour of the three storey Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine which tells the story of Chinese medicine from antiquity to the present, with one of the medical students, in the fifth of his eight-year course, followed by a visit to the extensive herb garden.

Wednesday was our last full day in China, and was devoted to sightseeing in Shanghai. It included visits to the Bund, to Shanghai Museum, to People’s Square, Nanjing Road, the Yuyuan Garden and a walking tour of Old Shanghai. The tour was rounded off with a farewell dinner and a walk along the Bund to view the lights. Thursday brought sad farewells and a homeward journey.

Despite one or two minor hiccups the tour was a resounding success, and all participants returned home with unforgettable memories. It was undoubtedly a busy and sometimes hectic schedule, and at the end we were all amazed at how much had been crammed into two weeks. The consensus was that the balance between professional activities and sightseeing was just right, and as this trip already had a waiting list the next tour is from 14 – 27 October 2017. book your place today!





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *