Situated in a siheyuan courtyard amid modern mansions lies the
Tongrentang Museum. Inside you can find artefacts of Chinese
medical culture dating back over three centuries.
Last year, the Tongrentang brand, which produces traditional
Chinese medicines (TCM), was named as a national intangible
cultural heritage. Inspired by the honor, Beijing Tongrentang Group
opened the museum in April to present its unique culture of
inheritance and renovation of TCM to the public.
A variety of crude ancient drug making tools, exquisite silver
spoons and pots used for making medicine for royal families, and
bronze models with acupuncture points for medical training provide
insight into ancient medicine practices.
Each exhibit tells a different story of the history of medical
practice at Tongrentang. For example, one employee risked his life
to rescue the horizontal inscribed board of the pharmacy from a
One of the most notable exhibits is a family tree chart of the
pharmacy's owners over 13 generations. Tongrentang was established
in Beijing in 1669 by Yue Xianyang who served as a senior physician
of the royal court of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The name Tongren is derived from the Book of Changes, meaning
"harmonious and selfless" and "treating others equally". These are
life philosophies Yue prescribed to.
In 1702, Yue Fengming inherited the business from his father and
moved the pharmacy to Dashila, the busiest commercial center in
Beijing at that time. In the preface of his book he left to his
descendants, he warned them that no matter how complicated the
procedures of pharmaceutical production were, they should spare no
effort in making the best medicine.
In 1723, Tongrentang was appointed by the emperor as the sole
supplier of medicinal herbs and herbal medicine to the royal court
and remained so until the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.
In 1754, the pharmacy fell on difficult times as stakes in the
business were sold to outsiders. In the mid 1800s the new heir of
the family business, Yue Pingquan, bought back the pharmacy and
regained a full control of it.
He promoted the business by mailing ready-made medicine and
raising funds by every means possible. He also had a rich
understanding of TCM and oversaw the development of about 100 kinds
of new medicines. He encouraged all his family members to
participate in the pharmacy in a professional capacity, thereby
preserving their pharmaceutical formulae.
Xu Yefen, Pingquan's wife, carried the burden of Tongrentang
after her husband passed away. Tongrentang continues to grow
steadily even during the chaos of the late Qing Dynasty thanks to
In 1954, Tongrentang applied for a joint State-private
ownership, a form of socialist transformation of capitalist
enterprises at that time. Yue Songsheng, the 13th descendant,
served as the manager.
In 1966, Tongrentang became a State-owned enterprise, the
time-honored brand also became national property.
Over the centuries, Tongrentang has adhered to its core medical
principle, producing drugs in the traditional way by observing the
standards of royal court with emphasis on superior quality,
according to Jin Yongnian, the spokesman of Tongrentang.
Until recently, it still maintained the traditional drug making
techniques inherited orally from past masters.
However, maintaining tradition doesn't necessarily mean that
Tongrentang only observed the rules handed down by ancestors, said
No other pharmacies opened by family members elsewhere could use
the title of "Tongrentang", all pharmacies had to adopt the same
formulae, and the production of the drugs must not shift out of
"These rules played a positive role in controlling quality and
preventing counterfeit drugs," Jin said.
Since the 1990s, Tongrentang has set up branches in 14 countries
and regions such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia and Britain.
"I believe the best way to spread traditional Chinese medicine
culture around the world is to export our best medicine and doctors
and convince people of the remarkable curative effects of our
medicine," Jin said.
(China Daily May 23, 2007)