Chinese Medicine Men: Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia

By Rittersmith, Arielle Ann | The China Journal, July 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Chinese Medicine Men: Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia


Rittersmith, Arielle Ann, The China Journal


Chinese Medicine Men: Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia, by Sherman Cochran. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. x + 242 pp. US$45.00/£29.95/euro1.50 (hardcover).

In Chinese Medicine Men: Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia, Sherman Cochran examines the interrelated processes of globalization and localization, and the rise of Chinese consumer culture. Through detailed histories of early-20th-century Chinese entrepreneurs, he critiques analyses of globalization that focus solely on the impact of Western-based corporations on non-Western consumers, showing instead how Chinese entrepreneurs operated "beyond the frontiers of globalization", evaded political boundaries, localized goods and facilitated cultural homogenization. He relates how aspects of "the West" and Chinese culture were locally defined, (re)invented, appropriated and modified, as these cultural mediators promoted their businesses and products. In doing so, he shifts attention from the political or intellectual spheres to individual agents as the primary loci for change, and away from Western history as the exclusive context for globalization in early 20th century China.

Cochran first describes the Yue family, owners of a famous traditional Chinese medicine shop named Tongren Tang. Although the Yues enforced family tradition by prohibiting members from opening additional Tongren Tang branches, they also modified it by allowing the creation of "Olde Yue Family Shoppes". Yue Daren was thus able to establish a chain of stores, following Tongren Tang's lead in using specific traditions to foster the impression that his stores were local and family-operated. Because consumers were already familiar with his remedies, Yue' s problem was primarily one of supply. Cochran shows how he was able to reject Western-style advertising in favor of a more traditional image, while simultaneously embracing a Western organizational form (the chain store).

On the other hand, Chinese proprietors of Western drugstores, such as Huang Chujiu, used print advertising to educate Chinese consumers about their unfamiliar "new medicine". In doing so, they combined elements of Chinese culture with Western ideas and promotional techniques. For example, although Huang's drugstore and drug packaging appeared Western, the medicine itself was Chinese; he employed local artists and writers to produce advertising featuring representations of "the West" in Chinese-language media. Huang was thus able to open a mass market by distributing advertisements through a nationwide marketing hierarchy, appealing to the exotic Occident while rendering his products intelligible by retaining familiar Chinese medical notions.

As further illustration of early-20th-century Chinese entrepreneurs' ability to reach a mass market across macroregional borders, Cochran describes Xiang Songmao's business activities. Like Huang, Xiang created a hierarchical marketing system for his "Western" goods to appeal to China's urban élite. While localizing each level to some extent, Xiang directed this process closely from his headquarters through centralized control and careful appointment of managers from his native place. Without direct involvement, his products and advertisements were appropriated by shop owners of independently owned affiliates to suit their own needs. Although conceding that this entrepreneur's control was not total, Cochran uses this example to counter the scholarly tendency to focus on the educated, cosmopolitan élite as the sole facilitators of localization.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Chinese Medicine Men: Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?