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Chinese Medicine Men

Chinese Medicine Men

Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia

Sherman Cochran

ISBN 9780674021617

Publication date: 05/30/2006

In this book, Sherman Cochran reconsiders the nature and role of consumer culture in the spread of cultural globalization. He moves beyond traditional debates over Western influence on non-Western cultures to examine the points where Chinese entrepreneurs and Chinese-owned businesses interacted with consumers. Focusing on the marketing of medicine, he shows how Chinese constructed consumer culture in China and Southeast Asia and extended it to local, national, and transnational levels. Through the use of advertisements, photographs, and maps, he illustrates the visual forms that Chinese enterprises adopted and the far-flung markets they reached.

Cochran brings to light enduring features of the Chinese experience with consumer culture. Surveying the period between the 1880s and the 1950s, he observes that Chinese businesses surpassed their Western counterparts in capturing Chinese and Southeast Asian sales of medicine in both peacetime and wartime. He provides revealing examples of Chinese entrepreneurs’ dealings with Chinese and Japanese political and military leaders, particularly during the Sino–Japanese War of 1937–45. The history of Chinese medicine men in pre-socialist China, he suggests, has relevance for the twenty-first century because they achieved goals—constructing a consumer culture, competing with Western-based corporations, forming business-government alliances, capturing national and transnational markets—that their successors in contemporary China are currently seeking to attain.


  • The first full-length study of one of the largest industries in prewar China, this is a thoughtful, accessible, and thoroughly welcome book. Sherman Cochran offers one of the very few works that show us Chinese businesses not only successfully using techniques of their own or modifying Western ones, but pioneering innovations that would later succeed in other parts of the world and are often thought to be Western in origin. Chinese Medicine Men will be very well received among readers of the history of modern China, international business, consumerism, and globalization.

    —Kenneth Pomeranz, author of The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy


  • 2008, Winner of the Joseph Levenson Book Prize


  • Sherman Cochran is Hu Shih Professor of Chinese History at Cornell University.

Book Details

  • 288 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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