Legend says that Shennong in the ancient China tasted a hundred plants in order to discover herbal medicines to cure people of their ailments(微恙wēiyàng). This indicates that China boasts a long history in treating the patients with herbal medicine(草药cǎoyào).

The Compendium of Materia Medica, a book written by medical scientist Li Shizhen in the 16th century, listed a total of 1,892 types of the Chinese medicines.

Chinese medicinal materials include plants and minerals, animals and insects. Since plants made up the largest category, Chinese medicine in ancient times was referred to as "herbal medicine." For this reason, some Chinese apothecaries used to hang a bundle of hay under the eaves as their sign, symbolizing herbal medicine, but most common was a plaster model sign(as in the left picture). Others used three strings of pill forms with a sewn fish-shaped pendant. Still others, in front of the shop, put up a word plate as high as the door, popularly known as the "sky-scraping sign."