Since the dynastic age, the Chinese have been curing themselves with ancient elixirs and secret serums. They still do—but this time with over the counter convenience
Many believe in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since, unlike Western medicines, TCM is supposed to have a deeper understanding of the laws and patterns of nature that govern the human body.
Perhaps one of the most fervent and steadfast proponents of TCM is Chinese pharmaceutical company Beijing Tong Ren Tang (Beijing TRT), founded by Le Xianyang. A native of Zhejiang Province, Le relocated to Beijing during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
At the time of Le’s birth, his ancestors had been practicing TCM for three generations. At a very young age, Le started studying herbal prescriptions and preparations, both from books and through his elders. He then devoted himself to manufacturing medicine for what would become a long list of patrons, some of whom were royalty.
In 1669, Le Xianyang founded Beijing TRT with the aim of “advocating morality and saving lives.” The words Tong, Ren, and Tang mean equal, benevolent, and hall. The brand name incorporates the values and vision of being “a benevolent medicine provider that serves and benefits one and all.”
In 1723, TRT was appointed sole supplier of herbal medicines to the imperial families of the Qing Dynasty, a commission it held until 1911. As the only herbal medicine supplier licensed by the court, Beijing TRT followed imperial standards for selecting herbs and concocting them according to their secret recipes.
The collaboration of Beijing TRT and the Imperial Court produced unique prescriptions from meticulously chosen ingredients, which became part of the foundation of TCM. As the sole provider of herbal medicines to the Imperial Court, Beijing TRT served eight emperors, beginning with Qing Emperor Yongzheng.
Emperor Yongzheng was the third Qing emperor and the fourth son and successor of Emperor Kangxi. For 13 years, Yongzheng ruled the Qing empire before his sudden death in 1735. Unfortunately for Beijing TRT, historians say that his death was caused by an overdose of some medication!
The next imperial family TRT served was that of Emperor Qianlong, the fourth son of Yongzheng. After his death in 1799, his fifteenth son, Emperor Jiaqing took over. In 1820, Emperor Jiaqing died of unknown causes. He was then succeeded by his second son, Emperor Daoguang.
Beijing TRT also served Emperor Xianfeng and his successor, Emperor Tongzhi. When Tongzhi died without an heir, the Empress Dowager Cixi installed her nephew Guangxu, who was a patron of Beijing TRT. Another imperial nephew, Emperor Xuantong was the last emperor to lead the Qing Dynasty. He was also the last of the imperial family served by Beijing TRT.
The fall of the Qing Dynasty after the 1911 Chinese Revolution led to a movement to modernize China and to recast it in a more Western mold. The then-Republic of China soon decreed a ban on traditional Chinese medicine, favoring instead more “civilized” Western medicine.
By 1949, when the Communist Party of China ascended to power, medical services were virtually non-existent. Given the situation, the new communist government allowed the use of TCM because they were cheap and backed by centuries worth of study.
By the mid-1950s, TCM was widely popular with the Chinese people. Acupuncture and herbal medicine prescriptions became accepted hospital treatments. Hospitals even began to open clinics to provide, teach, and investigate traditional Chinese medicine and its methods. Research institutes were put up in Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing.
Despite the popular acceptance of TCM, it again went through a series of unfortunate events during the Cultural Revolution. From 1966 to 1976, traditional doctors and practitioners were either jailed or killed for not conforming to Maoist values but instead clinging to old ways.
After the dust settled, centuries of traditional Chinese culture had been lost. Despite attempts to edit and republish Chinese medical texts, it wasn’t until the 1990s that TCM doctors were freed of repressive dogma. By then recognizing TCM’s benefits, the government began initiating mentor programs to pass on the ancient healing arts.
Same-old Brand New
It was in 1989 when the State Administration for Industry and Commerce recognized Beijing Tong Ren Tang as a brand, giving the pharmacy exclusive copyright to its name.
Beijing TRT discovered and developed new plants and herbs that they claim could treat cancer, improve the immune system, and slow the effects of aging.
They have also expanded into selling over the counter medicines. “All comes from nature,” says Beijing Tong Ren Tang’s Dr Liu Guo. The herbs in Beijing TRT are fresh and clean since they are kept in an air-conditioned room until sold.
Beijing Tong Ren Tang has been around for over 300 years, making it the oldest chain of Chinese medicine shops in the world. Beijing TRT products are available in over 40 countries and regions, including the Philippines, where owners Peter and Annabelle Chua set up shop in 2007.
Print ed: 01/10