It’s not possible to fully understand China’s pharmacies without considering them within the larger context of how market reforms have impacted China’s health care services and pharmaceutical industry. Although China has a rapidly growing retail pharmacy industry, the majority of China’s pharmacies are associated with hospitals and clinics. Market reforms have left China’s health care institutions responsible for their own profits and losses. As a result, drug sales have become the major source of revenue for China’s health care institutions, constituting 50 per cent or more of total hospital income. Imported, joint venture and locally manufactured drugs all vie for a share of this lucrative market; joint venture products have been particularly successful.
Pharmacies are at the nexus of the economic well-being of China’s pharmaceutical industry, health care institutes and doctors.
China’s pharmacies are also distinguished by their diversity of products, which span the spectrum from innovative new pharmaceuticals to herbal medicine products that have been part of China’s material medica for more than two millennia. Larger hospitals generally separate these products into four different pharmacies: biomedical pharmaceuticals, ‘Chinese medicine raw herbs’ (jinpian), ‘Chinese medicine patent drugs’ (zhongchengyao) and hospital preparations (not available elsewhere). In retail pharmacies, these distinctions are blurred. All retail pharmacies carry a wide range of biomedical pharmaceuticals and a growing number of zhongchengyao. Other pharmacies, some with long histories of commercial operations, also feature Chinese medicine yinpian. Beijing’s Tongrentang Pharmacy, established in 1669, is a famous example of the latter; it served as the official pharmacy of the Qing court.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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