Commercializing medicine or benefiting the people - The first public pharmacy in China

Asaf Goldschmidt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Argument In this article I describe the establishment and early development of an institution that is unique to the history of Chinese medicine - the Imperial Pharmacy. Established in 1076 during the great reforms of the Song dynasty, the Imperial Pharmacy was a remarkable institution that played different political, social, economic, and medical roles over the years of its existence. Initially it was an economic institution designed to curb the power of plutocrats who were manipulating medicinal drug markets in their favor. A few decades later, I claim, the Imperial Pharmacy became a public-health-oriented institution focusing on selling readymade prescriptions in addition to simples. Various records, including local gazetteers and local maps, indicate that the Imperial Pharmacy expanded about a century after it was established to include dozens of branches throughout the empire. The Pharmacy's impact on the practices of physicians during these years is somewhat vague. It seems, however, to have posed an unwelcome addition to the medical scene, since it enabled uninitiated practitioners who relied on the Pharmacy's formulary to fit patients' symptoms to their own prescriptions and dispense medications with relative ease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-350
Number of pages40
JournalScience in Context
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2008


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