Like Shanghai itself and its cosmopolitan haipai (Shanghai style), the traditional Chinese medicine that took root and flourished in the city for around 100 years is notable for its practitioners' open mind and their willingness to embrace, adapt to many styles of both TCM and Western medicine.
To recognize the city's unique TCM heritage, the municipal government has a two- to three-year plan to renovate and reopen 15 historic sites, such as the residences of masters, old pharmacies and compounding workshops. The aim is to promote Shanghai's special, eclectic healing traditions.
"Shanghai TCM is unique in combining not only a wide variety of medical styles from around China but also opening its doors to Western medicine since the middle of 19th century," says Yan Shiyun, a TCM master and professor at Shanghai University of TCM. "Tolerance, absorption and mixture are the key words of haipai TCM."
With the opening of the Shanghai port in the mid-1800s, the city known as the "Paris of the Orient" and center of the nation's economy and culture, also attracted TCM practitioners from all parts of the country.
It featured acupuncture therapies from Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, massage from Shandong Province, pediatrics from Ningbo in Zhejiang Province and internal medicine from Chengdu in Sichuan Province, among many others.
In 1927, famous acupuncturist Lu Shouyan (1909-1969) from Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, opened his acupuncture clinic in Shanghai.
At the time many critics who were not familiar with TCM, considered the ancient practice to be witchcraft, and so it was dying out.
Lu started writing a newspaper column to explain the principles behind acupuncture, compiled medical books with his wife Zhu Rugong, and wrote many articles on how to cure disease and ailments with acupuncture.
In 1916, Zhu Nanshan (1871-1938) started to practice in Shanghai, the TCM he studied in Jiangsu. An expert in gynecology, Zhu was skilled in treating menstrual problems, such as pain, as well as infertility, and habitual miscarriage. His reputation spread and he treated around 200 patients a day.
"A striking feature of Shanghai-style TCM is that doctors respected and learned from each other," Yan says.
Gynecologists Cai Xiangyun and He Hongfang exchanged views and shared experience; pediatrician Xu Xiaopu learned from Zhu Weiju and even sent his son to study from Zhu. Ding Ganren took Wang Shilian and Tang Rongchuan as his teachers.
"Many TCM doctors coming to Shanghai at that time were very open-minded and pioneering," says Dr Shang Li, director of the Shanghai TCM International Trade in Service Promotion Center. It's a government-backed organization that promotes the TCM industry to the Western world.
In 1916, Ding Ganren, a TCM master from Menghe, Jiangsu Province, set up China's first TCM educational institution, which broke with the centuries-old tradition of keeping TCM in the family and not sharing its "secrets" and prescriptions with outsiders.
He was also believed to be the first TCM practitioner in China who introduced Western medicine to his students, including anatomy, physiology, pathology and other fields.
With his efforts, more than 40 TCM schools were founded during the early 1920s. Almost 80 percent of the famous modern TCM doctors in China today graduated from these schools.
Jiangsu-native Lu Yuanlei (1894-1955) was dedicated to combining ancient Chinese therapy with Western medicine. The master, fluent in English, German, French and Japanese, introduced many Western medical works to China.
In 1932, Lu opened a clinic in Shanghai to treat epidemic fevers, chronic hepatitis and tumors, with Western diagnostics and Chinese prescriptions.
At the same time, medical books on treatments combining Chinese and Western medicine were written and published by pioneers such as Lu.
"Shanghai created a tolerant, catholic environment, where the Eastern and Western medicines got along with each other. It was the first one to do so in China," says Dr Shang.
According to the Dictionary of Chinese Medicine, almost 1,300 medical books were published in Shanghai from 1912 to 1949, accounting for 43 percent of the total publications in China.
Ding's works received awards in Germany and Italy. Many were translated and circulated in the United States and Europe, and knowledge of TCM begin to spread overseas.
As an economic and trading hub, Shanghai also incubated the TCM industry. Famous pharmacies such as Hu Qingyu Pharmacy from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, Li Zhongsheng Drugstore from Foshan, Guangzhou, Shi Yi Pharmacy from Jilin Province, were attracted to Shanghai.
Within a decade, Shanghai became China's biggest TCM market for domestic and international trading. In 1928, TCM exports from Shanghai reached 3.3 million bai yin (silver dollars), worth around 660 million yuan (US$106 million). That was almost 1 percent of the city's total export volume.
There were many "firsts" in TCM.
The first TCM club was founded in Shanghai by Dr Li Shuping. It is also the place where the first TCM newspaper, Medical Journal, was launched by Zhou Xueqiao. In 1921, China's first modern TCM pharmaceutical factory was built, and in the same year the country's first comprehensive TCM dictionary, China Medical Encyclopedia, was published. It took Xie Liheng and his coworkers eight years to compile it.
"The move to combine Eastern and Western medicines was first launched in the early 1900s in Shanghai. After over a century, TCM practitioners like us are still working on it," Dr Shang says.
He is dedicated to further promoting TCM internationally through standardization of prescription ingredients, using high technology, including long-distance tele-TCM diagnosis, genetic screening for health risks, and spinal heath massage performed both by skilled therapists as well equipment.
"What we're doing now is just what those TCM pioneers did more than a century ago, that is to make TCM and Western medicine merge with each other, which is where the true spirit of Shanghai TCM lies," he says.