For centuries, Chinese herbal pharmacies around the world looked much the same: herbs were retrieved from a wall of wooden drawers by a gray-haired pharmacist, weighed with a balance scale and divided into portions before being wrapped up in paper.
With a history of more than 2,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine, seen by many as a national treasure for its unique theories and practices, has found a way to connect with the rapidly changing demands of modern people.
In the pharmacy at Gansu Provincial Hospital of TCM in Lanzhou, the provincial capital, 500 white plastic bottles are lined up against the wall like honeycombs, replacing the usual wooden cabinets. Each bottle has a unique QR code on its packaging and contains different concentrated herbal granules.
Once they receive a prescription, pharmacists pull out the bottles they need and put them in an automatic dispenser, which can quickly identify different medicines and blend them in the proper proportions.
After all the granules have been mixed together, the dispenser automatically seals them into small packages.
"It used to take more than five minutes on average for a skillful pharmacist to fill a prescription. Now the whole process is completed within one minute and is traceable on the computer," said Wang Hongli, deputy director of the hospital's pharmacy department.
Cao Yong, 26, got his prescribed medication after a short wait.
"It is convenient and simple for busy office workers like me, as all I need to do is open the package and pour the granules into hot water," he said.
In recent years, such smart TCM pharmacies have blossomed in many cities in China, catering to young people's need for effective medical services in their fast-paced lives.
At the same time, some time-honored pharmacies have embraced a "fusion" style to reinvigorate their prestigious brands.
In downtown Shanghai, Tonghanchuntang, which was founded in 1783, went viral when it turned its old pharmacy into a TCM experience store in December.
With stylish interior design touches such as colorful boxes holding herbs inlaid in the ceiling, the store is positioned as a fashionable TCM healthcare center targeting younger consumers.
"We bought low-fat herbal drinks downstairs and experienced pulse-feeling upstairs," Yang Lu, 23, said online. "That was a fascinating trip, giving me a rare opportunity to get to know the charm of the TCM culture."
More advanced technologies, such as big data, artificial intelligence and 5G, have provided strong support for TCM research, while multidisciplinary collaborations have sped up the inheritance and innovation of the whole industry, leading to greater opportunities for business growth.
The secret of TCM's lasting popularity and vibrancy is that it can continuously adapt to changing times to meet the diverse demands of different generations, said Ning Yanmei, an associate professor at the College of Pharmacy at Gansu University of Chinese Medicine.