The 122nd Peking University Medical Humanities Forum: The Rise of Western Pharmacy in the Late Qing Dynasty and the Early Republic of China: the Case of Watsons

Lecture Information:

Time: Nov. 20, 2023 (Monday) 9:00-11:00 (Beijing Time)

Venue:Room 620, Yifu Teaching Building

Speaker:  President Zhao Yue (Hong Kong Society of Pharmacohistory)

Moderator: Associate Professor Chen Qi (School of Health Humanities, Peking University) 


Lecture Title: The Rise of Western Pharmacy in the Late Qing Dynasty and the Early Republic of China: the Case of Watsons



At the end of the 18th century, Western imperialist businessmen led by Britain exported opium from India to China in the name of free trade in exchange for tea, minerals and other materials. After the First Opium War, Watsons and other western pharmacies engaged in retail, wholesale and patent medicine production in China, including "opium smoking cessation drugs", cosmetics, foreign wine, soda and other fast-moving consumer goods. In 1888, Gu Songquan, a former British pharmacy employee, founded the first Western pharmacy in the Shanghai Public Concession, called the Chinese and Western Pharmacy, copying the British business model of retail, wholesale and quantitative production of prepared medicines. During the period 1909-1911, major events such as the Yangtze River flood, the plague in Northeast China, the Shanghai stock market crash and the Revolution of 1911 led to a sharp depreciation of the silver dollar in 1912, and almost none of the more than 100 retail stores owned by Watsons in the mainland were spared. In the early period of the Republic of China, due to the advantages of private enterprises in policy deduction, operating costs, Nanyang market and sales channel establishment, foreign retail and wholesale pharmaceutical industry was rapidly acquired and replaced by local entrepreneurs in the 1910-30s. After the end of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, thousands of western pharmacies and more than 300 western pharmacies were registered in the "Shanghai Yellow Pages Telephone directory" in 1947, and ethnic enterprises have since become the pillar of Western pharmaceutical industry.