Thu, Jan 03, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Book tells the story of Chinese medicine shops

By Liu Wan-chun and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Author Cheng Pei-wen holds a copy of her book about the history of Tainan’s traditional Chinese medicine shops during an interview in Tainan on Nov. 5 last year.

Photo: Liu Wan-chun, Taipei Times

In her book published by the Tainan Cultural Affairs Bureau, author Cheng Pei-wen (鄭佩雯) writes about the nation’s development of traditional Chinese medicine, specifically in Tainan, and the challenges traditional Chinese medicine shops face.

The story of traditional Chinese medicine in Tainan began toward the end of the Ming Dynasty and developed there before it did in Taipei’s Dadaocheng area (大稻埕), Cheng said in the book.

The medicinal herb trade boomed during the Qing Dynasty and in Tainan it centered in the “five channels” area (五條港) in today’s West Central District (中西), she said.

With the arrival of Western medicine in the Japanese colonial era, the use of traditional Chinese medicine was discouraged, she said.

However, its popularity rebounded after World War II and each shop developed its own herbal formulas, Cheng said.

At the height of Taiwan’s economic boom in the 1980s, there were more than 800 traditional Chinese medicine shops across the nation, she said.

Noting regional differences, Cheng said Taipei residents would purchase expensive herbal ingredients as gifts, while wealthy families in Tainan would purchase them for personal use.

However, in 2016, less than half of the original shops still existed, Cheng said.

Factors such as National Health Insurance, laws and regulations, government policies, a shortage of talent and market competition threaten the survival of traditional Chinese medicine shops, she said.

For her book, Cheng interviewed nearly 50 traditional medicine shop owners across former Tainan City’s six administrative districts before it merged with former Tainan County to become a special municipality in 2010.

Thirteen of the shops have been around for more than 100 years, she said.

The oldest traditional Chinese medicine shops share three characteristics — they are either family businesses or sustained through apprenticeships, they value medical ethics and they carry herbs that are unique to their shops, Cheng said.

Many shop owners are pessimistic about the industry’s future, but are finding ways to transform their businesses, she said.

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