Beijing Pharmacy Experience

by Andrew Stein

When wondering through the old parts of Beijing, I came across a beautiful Chinese “pharmacy”. I placed the word pharmacy in quotes because I would have been hard pressed to find Advil, Tylenol and multi-vitamins. Instead, in this multi-storied building, I found things like flying squirrel feces, rhinoceros horns, snake oils, and turtle shells. I witnessed medicines made from insects, made from fungi, and made from plants. All these medicines, including those only made from plants, came with a high price tag either because of the age of the plant or the care the plant received. There was even a thousand dollar ginseng root. In addition, each medicine served a different purpose from aiding with kidney problems to liver problems to indigestion to sexual dysfunction.

The outside of the pharmacy:


I am not about to discuss the merits of eastern versus western medical beliefs; however, being that I am in Beijing, I wanted to learn and begin to understand some of the basic tenants of eastern medicine. Eastern medicine is based a lot on traditional religious ideas of balance and opposites—yin and yang. Stemming from this, illness then derives from an imbalance, either between competing body systems or between the body and its environment. Furthermore, these eastern medicines can help bring the various body systems into better balance.

Having studied biology at school, I am one who always wants to see evidence for any claim, but in this case, although the westernized explanation for why a specific remedy works may not be available, there is at least some empirical evidence that these medicines work. Chinese medicine has changed little since antiquity and has been improving the lives of people which it has treated throughout its tenure. Also, there are many examples of westerners finding a more scientific explanation to why certain eastern medicines function as they do. All in all, it was an eye-opening experience to walk through this eastern pharmacy in the heart of Beijing.