With good quality and reasonable prices, TRT medicines dominated the whole domestic medicine market


There was a statement of “top four medicine capitals” in the transaction market of traditional Chinese medicine in the past. TRT was of decisive influence on the north and south medicine markets. This was mainly because TRT had a great amount of purchase of medicinal materials with high quality standards and good reputation. And as TRT served the royal court, enjoying the royal privilege was also an important factor for its dominant influence in the market. 


Qizhou, a famous “medicine capital” (today’s Anguo County in Hebei Province) at that time, was the largest medicine market in northern China. Legend has it that Pi Tong, one of the twenty-eight generals of Liu Xiu, Emperor Guangwu of Han, was once the governor of Quyang and granted the title of Marquis of Lingshou when he died and was buried in Nanguan of Qizhou. He was very good at both civil and military affairs and proficient in principles of medical science. He was respectfully addressed King of Medicine by people for his efforts in curing people and saving save their lives. In the Northern Song Dynasty, the Temple of the King of Medicine was built in Nanguan of Qizhou. As people often went to the temple to offer incense, gradually a temple fair was formed around there and later it became a market for medicinal materials. During the reign of Emperor Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty when the medicine industry was thriving, druggists from all over the country came and gathered at Qizhou. And there were even merchants from Southeast Asia who came from afar engaging in purchase and sale of medicinal materials. From then on, Qizhou became a world-renowned medicine capital with the market opened twice every year, each with a long time span. It was called the “First Medicine Capital under Heaven” and listed among one of the four medicine capitals.


One day during the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China, several druggists dealing in rhizome of large-headed atractylodes came to Qizhou. Become they came hereBefore , they always did business in other famous medicine markets in like Bozhou of Anhui Province, Yuzhou and Huixian County of Henan Province and Zhangzhu of Jiangxi Province. As they have had long heard of Qizhou as the “First Medicine Capital under Heaven” Qizhou and there was the saying that “the herbs can become medicines only when taken to Anguo and medicines start to be fragrant only when coming totaken to Qizhou”,  they all came attracted byfor its the good reputation of Qizhou medicine market. However, when arriving at Qizhou, they discovered found that the market was full of although merchants came together from various places and all the medicinal herbs are were of varieties complete here, but no one did transactions in a real sense. The buyers were not anxious to buy and the sellers were not eager to sell. As they were completelyhave just arrived a total strangers to the place, they wanted to found find a middleman to help for in the business transaction who acted as a broker. At that time a middleman After the middleman helped bring the transactions to fruition, they wouldnormally take took 2% of the amount of transaction as the commission. This amount was not large and moreover, the middlemen in Qizhou were always reliable. ; They they were famous for never cheatingembezzling the price difference;. The dealers thought they could rest assured if if they found a middleman for thementrusting them. However, after talking to several middlemen,  they talked to they all said: “you’ve got good stuffsYour medicine is good, but the market is not open yet. When the market opens, you will surely sell for a good price.”


The dealers of rhizome of large-headed atractylodes were very surprised and asked why. The answere was, “Beijing TRT haven’t come yet and so the market cannot be opened. Thus the price is not easy to set right now.”


Why couldn’t the market be opened if TRT didn’t come? The dealers were puzzled but still decided to wait patiently for two days. When two days passed and they had visited several times the Pavilion of the Tomb of Pi Tong, the Hall of Famous Doctors, the Hall of the King of Medicine, Grand Stage and two iron flag posts with length of 8 zhang and weight of 30,000 jin built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, and they had also offered incense respectfully in the Hall of the King of Medicine, but the medicine market of Qizhou still did not open. The dealers could not wait any longer and commented among themselves: “It is true that TRT enjoys a high reputation; but this is a big medicine market and why should we wait until they come and open the market?”


“Right. I just cannot accept this. Let’s go around and find the buyer by ourselves. Without a middleman, perhaps we can sell a better price.”


“You said it!”


“Sounds reasonable!”


They decided to break the rule of “the market not opening before the arrival of TRT”. With a large amount of superior Atractylodes macrocephala at hand, it is no big deal to earm good money. They discussed with each other and set a price that they thought to be the best price and then went to the market for buyers.


Although the market was not open, there were already many merchants ready for buying goods. They happened to encounter several northern druggists who were very fastidious. For rheum officinale, they just wanted the firm ones but not the puffy ones, saying that the latter did not have good curative effect. They were even picky about the number of Panax ginseng in each jin. They wanted the exact amount.


The dealers of Atractylodes macrocephala said in admiration: “They are professionals and know what’s good!” They then came up and asked them to see their goods. One of the druggists, an old man, put on his presbyopic glasses and examed in detail: “It’s good!” On hearing this, the dealers were very happy and reached out their hands wanting to negotiate price. According to the regulations in the medicine market, both the buyer and seller hid their hands in their sleeves and bargained. The amount represented by the index finger, middle finger and ring finger and the meaning of stretching and bending fingers were all set. People could get to know the bid and counter-bid once they pinched their fingers. To the surprise of the dealers, they refused to bargain and said with smile, “We still have to wait until tomorrow when the market opens. Good products deserve good price. Don’t be anxious. When the market opens, you will surely sell for a good price.”


Hearing this, the dealers of Atractylodes macrocephala were very disappointed. So they had been wasting so much time in some “middlemen” again. They thought so because the druggists they met just said the same thing as what the middlemen said before. With this in mind, they suddenly thought of not even asking which store those guys were from. They only heard that there were 13 fractions on the medicine market of Qizhou. The druggists of Beijing, Tongzhou and Tianjin were all called “Jingtongwei fraction”. Besides, there were also “Guandong fraction”, “Shandong fraction”, “Shanxi fraction”, “Shaanxi fraction”, “Zhangwu fraction”, “Bozhou fraction”, “Sichuan fraction”, “Guang fraction”, “Ningbo fraction”, “Jiangxi fraction” and the local “Huangqi fraction” etc. They could not distinguish the accents of Beijing, Tianjin and Tianjinwei and did not bother to ask more questions and then tried to find other buyers.


Finally they did meet some druggists who bought all of their goods according to the preset price, saying they had something urgent and could not wait until the market opened. The dealers could not restrain their joy and went to a famous restaurant in Qizhou and drank their fill to have a celebration.


On the next day, they prepared to return home with victory, but they were attracted by the hustle and bustle right after they walked out of the hotel. On the street there were dragon and lion dances, stilt walk and land boating; on the stage there were performances. And there were throngs of people with joy in the Temple of the King of Medicine and areas around. It turned out to be the coming of TRT staff and the market would be opened.


The dealers of Atractylodes macrocephala thought they had earned a lot and were happy to watch this lively scene. In front of the Temple of the King of Medicine, a venerable elder knocked a gong for three times and declared the opening of the medicine market of Qizhou. People said he was the manager of TRT as it must be people from TRT who beat the gongs to open the market and it had become an established practice. The sharp-eyed among the dealers shouted, “Isn’t the man who beat the gongs the one wearing presbyopic glasses and examined our goods? So he is from TRT.”


Then TRT announced the prices of all medicinal materials. The druggists began to do business with enthusiasm. Some transacted in cash, some in  bandar’s note and some bartered. And private banks and storehouses were all busy working. At this time, the Atractylodes macrocephala dealers all looked blue and shouted,“ It’s too bad”! “Terrible”!


It proved that the price of Atractylodes macrocephala offered by TRT was much higher than their selling price. The transaction of medicine on the medicine market of Qizhou was conducted according to the price offered by TRT and Atractylodes macrocephala was no exception. And according to the rules, on Qizhou medicine market it should be TRT that bought the first goods, or the first batch of goods after the market opened so that it could buy the best medicinal materials. The staff of TRT specially found the dealers of radices paeoniae alba and wanted to buy all of their goods, which was called “buying the whole stock.” People from TRT said they could offer an even higher price, as small stores could not afford the high quality “whole stock” and they were also afraid that the good medicinal materials with high prices could not be sold out and caused them to lose money. Therefore, TRT would rather spend more money to ensure that the quality of their products was much better. Hearing this, the dealers of Atractylodes macrocephala regretted even more.


Then they wanted to go back to the buyers and tried to raise the price a bit to reduce the loss. But according to people who were familiar with Qizhou medicine market, if the transaction was promoted by a local middleman or the medicine was sold to local druggists at Qizhou, they could find the regulatory commission for intermediation. The regulatory commission was composed of local famous celebrities. As long as disputes in transactions occurred, they always first punished local druggists or middleman. In Qizhou medicine market, the regulatory commission enjoyed an even higher authority than the local government office. But the purchasers of Atractylodes macrocephala from the dealers were not native of Qizhou and the dealers didn’t know which fraction or store they belonged to and there was no way to find them.. So the loss could not be recovered.


The marketing situation of Qizhou quickly spread to all the areas producing medicinal materials. The plan for the dealers of Atractylodes macrocephala was that, they first collected the goods and came to sell them in Qizhou and then returned to share the profits with the party of delivery of the goods according to the price of Qizhou medicine market. Therefore, they didn’t earn any money and even suffered great losses. No wonder they complaint a lot. Some of them even got seriously ill.


In Qizhou there were many other merchants having learnt the same lesson. Therefore, from then on no one did business before the arrival of TRT. The practice of “the market not opening before the arrival of TRT” is still kept till today. In Qizhou TRT arrived to open the Qizhou medicine market; when TRT left, the governor of Qizhou sent them off in person and put up yellow flags on the carts of TRT to indicate that the medicines inside the carts were royal medicines and dispatched soldiers to escort them out of the boundary. On the way from Qizhou to Beijing, the fleet was escorted by bodyguards from a famous agency until they arrived at the capital. There were fixed rules for the specific route of the bodyguards. It was because they had written or unwritten agreement with the outlaws. The outlaws would not rob them but the bodyguard agency needed to send money and gifts to the outlaws and the highwaymen. If the outlaws came to the city, the bodyguard agency should also treat them as honorable guests. Therefore usually there would not be something unexpected happening on their familiar route. And TRT only entrusted the escort of the fleet with the bodyguard agency familiar with the route and would not change it at random.