p re faC e and
aC knowle dgme nts
My mother made a big discovery when she was cleaning out
the apartment in Shanghai where her late father had lived.
Among her father’s medical files were three gaofang writ-
ten between 1985 and 1987. Gaofang, or “prescription of rich
paste,” typically consists of thirty to forty tonifying herbs to be
cooked into a thick paste, stored in a sealed jar, and consumed
daily for forty to fifty days beginning on the winter solstice.
Because of the complexity of gaofang it is prescribed exclu-
sively by experienced herbal doctors. My mother could barely
contain her excitement when she asked me over the phone,
“Can you guess who wrote these prescriptions for your grand-
father? It’s someone you know.”
I was carried back to the winters of 1998 and 1999, when as
part of my translocal and multi-sited field research on tradi-
tional Chinese medicine I followed several herbalists as each
of them traveled to and practiced at multiple clinics and hos-
pitals in Shanghai. In the weeks leading to the winter solstice,
they added extra clinic hours to meet the spike in demand for
gaofang, which having long been popular among the elderly
was now beginning to attract members of the emerging young
urban middle class who found their health compromised by
their stressful lives and careers. The name of one practitioner
stood out for me, “Is it Dr. He Liren?”1
I guessed right. Today—four days after the conversation
with my mother—three pieces of pink paper arrived through
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