THE DREAM OF WESTERN SOLUTIONS
TO CHINESE PROBLEMS
Huang Chujiu based his first major advertising campaign on the premise that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Chinese yearned for Western solutions to their medical problems. He tested the popularity of this belief by introducing China's first Chinese-made drug that appeared to be Western. He distributed the drug in bottles under a Chinese name, Ailuo bunaozhi (Ailuo Brain Tonic), which sounded like a Chinese transliteration of a Western name, and he had China's biggest publishing house, the Commercial Press, print instructions on the label in English. On the label and the outer paper wrapper he added, also in English, that the product was invented by Dr. T. C. Yale. Thus, on the outside, this medicine gave every indication of being Western.
Chinese Origins of a "Western" Alternative. Huang presented Ailuo Brain Tonic as Western even though he had no Western partner or Western financial backing, had never been in the West, and had never studied Western pharmacology or received any Western education. Born in 1872 in Taoyuan village, Yuyao county, Zhejiang province, 120 kilometers south of Shanghai, he had grown up as the son of a Chinese herbal doctor and had learned about Chinese medicine as an apprentice in his father's clinic. In his home village, until the age of fifteen he had attended a private school (sishu) of the kind that rejected Western educational reforms in favor of traditional Chinese learning. Only once, after the death of his father in 1887 had prompted him and his mother to move to Shanghai, had he been exposed to a Western-oriented institution, when he had enrolled briefly at the Qingxin Academy (Qingxin shuyuan). But in Shanghai he had soon discovered opportunities to make money selling medicine as a street peddler, so he had begun skipping classes and then dropped out of school and ended his formal education altogether. Thereafter he had gradually built up a business selling Chinese medicines, first as a hawker in teahouses and wineshops around the Temple of the City God (chenghuang miao) and then as the proprietor of a small traditional drugstore, which he and his mother had opened in Shanghai's old walled city.
In 1890, when Huang moved his business into Shanghai's French Concession, he took his first step toward identifying it with Western medicine by converting his
While Huang's drugstore and the label on his Ailuo Brain Tonic might have appeared to be Western, there was in fact nothing Western about the contents of this medicine. He bought the recipe for it from a Chinese pharmacist, Wu Kunrong, who had intended that it be used as a sedative. Huang employed forty Chinese workers to produce and bottle it, and he distributed it through his and other Chinese-owned new-style drugstores. He promoted it in advertising campaigns exclusively through Chinese-language media—newspapers, handbills, and posters— and in this advertising he concentrated on promoting his "Western" medicine by locating it in a Chinese medical context.
Huang's advertising urged Chinese to try his "Western" brain tonic to make up for the deficiencies of Chinese medicine. He traced these deficiencies to the traditional Chinese medical theory of the five yin orbs and six yang orbs (wu zang liu fu) and found fault with it for focusing too sharply on relations or functions in the body and not enough on relations or functions in the brain (naozhi). From Western medical theory he had learned, he said, that the brain was a sixth yin orb, and, on the basis of this discovery, he claimed to have formulated a new synthesis—the theory of the six yin orbs and six yang orbs (liu zang liu fu).
In his advertising, Huang invoked Western medical theory as the key to his insights and as the basis for his product, Ailuo Brain Tonic, but he delivered this message in terminology and logic that remained firmly embedded in Chinese medical theory. Whereas Huang claimed to be adopting a Western medical perspective, he described the body entirely in terms of orbs (zang), not organs, even though, as the medical historian Manfred Porkert has pointed out, "statements bearing on a certain orb can under no circumstances be made to agree completely with statements bearing on the corresponding organ in Western thought…. [It is fallacious to assume] that congruence may be achieved between the description of a Chinese orb and the characteristics that Western medicine postulates for its substratum." Huang made no comment on the differences between Chinese and Western modes of thinking about orbs and organs or, for that matter, about health and disease in general. Instead, keeping his advertisements strictly in Chinese terms, he boasted that he had discovered the "Western" theory of the sixth yin orb, and that it revealed the Chinese need for "brain health" (jiannao)—precisely the need that his product would satisfy.
Overcoming Objections to Claims of Westernness. Huang's product had barely hit the market before he faced two challenges to the claims in his advertising. In 1907, less than a year after Huang introduced Ailuo Brain Tonic, he was approached by "a little American bum" (Meiguo xiao wulai—to quote the characterization given in the Huang family's version of the story) who demanded royalties because he claimed to be the son of T. C. Yale, the inventor identified on the label of Ailuo Brain Tonic. Recognizing this as a minor threat, Huang disposed of it by paying off this Mr. Yale quietly in exchange for his signature on a legal document granting to Huang's Great China-France Drug Store all rights to Ailuo Brain Tonic.
Later in 1907 another complaint was lodged by a Portuguese physician named Yale. This doctor, an established medical practitioner in Shanghai's International Settlement, sued Huang for using his name to promote a drug without his permission and filed charges in the Mixed Court of the International Settlement. This time, unable to settle quietly out of court, Huang confronted his Western accuser and used the occasion to generate publicity for himself and his business.
Pleading innocent, Huang claimed that he had used the name T. C. Yale on the label because it was the Western equivalent of his own name. He explained that his name, Huang, means yellow, and since Yellow was not a common Western surname, he chose a common Western surname that sounds like Yellow: Yale. As for the initials T. C., these were the first letters of his two given names, Chu and Jiu, as romanized to represent the sounds of these two characters when pronounced in his native dialect.
Huang's performance in the courtroom was mesmerizing. The judge found in his favor and dismissed the charges, and newspaper reporters described his victory in sensational stories. As a result, Huang's reputation as a slippery character (huatou) spread widely. Even among Shanghainese (who have often been stereotyped by Chinese from elsewhere as "wily"), he became known jokingly as "one of the two and a half slipperiest characters in town."
Following the trial, Huang quickly earned high profits on Ailuo Brain Tonic. He priced it at 2 yuan per bottle and sold 500 bottles per day. Since each bottle (containing 168 cc of medicine) cost only. 40 yuan to make, his rate of profit was 400 percent. As the profits rolled in, Huang used them to buy a fancy automobile, renovate a three-story building made of reinforced concrete, and begin distributing his goods in China outside Shanghai. By 1911, he had reinvested enough profits in the Great China-France Drug Store to make it the second-largest new-style Chinese drugstore in Shanghai, with capital of 68,000 yuan, annual sales revenue of 250,000 yuan, and annual profits of 50,000 yuan. At that time, in 1911, he made his business officially Western. By paying several hundred yuan to the Portuguese consul in Shanghai, he bought the citizenship of a deceased Portuguese resident of Shanghai, and he registered the Great China-France Drug Store as a Portuguese enterprise. Thereafter the letterhead on its stationery proclaimed in Chinese as well as English that it was a Portuguese business.
By successfully introducing Ailuo Brain Tonic and defending it in court, Huang set precedents that opened the way for the sale in China of Chinese-made "new medicine" that appeared to have foreign origins. Impressed by his high profit rates, several Chinese drugstores began making their own new-style medicines, which became known as "goods under local trademarks" (benpai chanpin). By the mid-1930s the Great China-France Drug Store manufactured more than 500 such drugs under its local trademark, and it was by no means unique. Several other Chinese-owned new-style drugstores each made a comparable number of drugs under their local trademarks, and one, the Five Continents Drug Store (Wuzhou da yaofang), made as many as 780.
Popularizing Western Solutions to Chinese Medical Problems. Why did Huang Chujiu's advertising for Ailuo Brian Tonic become popular? The above account shows that Huang personally played the leading role in devising specific advertising campaigns for merchandising his goods, but how did he make his advertising effective? Was it (in Lu Xun's terms) because Huang's advertising ideas and images came from society or from the advertiser?
In this particular case, such questions are difficult to answer because scholars are still debating the history of Chinese popular attitudes toward medicine—a field worthy of future research. On the basis of work done thus far, it seems that Huang's emphasis on a Western solution as a viable alternative to Chinese medicine was an idea espoused at the time only by a segment of China's intellectual elite and was not representative of popular thought in Chinese society as a whole. Intellectual and political historians have shown that advocates of modern Western medicine (xiyi) and defenders of traditional Chinese medicine (Zhongyi) battled fiercely and mobilized substantial organizations against each other during the first half of the twentieth century,  but their studies of these factional rivalries concentrate exclusively on the educated elite—intellectuals, political leaders, physicians—and leave open the question of whether other Chinese thought of medicine in these dualistic Sino-Western terms.
On the basis of studies of Chinese medical practice, it seems likely that during the first half of the twentieth century Huang advertised in a society where most Chinese thought of their medical options not dualistically in Sino-Western terms but eclectically in a framework of "medical pluralism." As Nathan Sivin has observed, "the abiding problem of medical pluralism" is central to any understanding of Chinese medical practice before and throughout the first half of the twentieth century. According to his summary, "Chinese chose freely throughout history—as freely as their social and financial circumstances permitted—among priests, spirit mediums, magicians, itinerant herbalists and acupuncturists, classical physicians, and other healers." Writing in 1987, Sivin noted that this wide variety of choices was then still available in some Chinese communities on the periphery of the mainland, although in the People's Republic "most of them have
Sivin's thesis that pluralism in Chinese medicine did not give way to a Sino-Western dualism before the founding of the People's Republic has not yet been tested by historical research on healing services in China during the first half of the twentieth century, but it is convincing because it has strong support from his own historical research on pre-twentieth-century China and from several anthropologists' studies of Chinese medical practices in Taiwan and Hong Kong during the 1960s and 1970s.
Huang thus popularized his medicine as Western in a society where Western medicine had not become widely popular. Faced with this marketing challenge, he devised a strategy for promoting Western medicine that differed from the one adopted by members of China's intellectual elite. As shown here, he advertised in familiar Chinese medical terms (body orbs) rather than unfamiliar Western scientific ones (body organs), and he thereby made his product seem intelligible and unthreatening to Chinese consumers even while it retained its appeal as an (apparent) import from the exotic Occident. In Lu Xun's terms, one might say that Huang's advertising came from both himself (through his adaptation of Chinese intellectuals' advocacy of Western medicine) and society (through his accommodation to popular unfamiliarity with Western medicine).