Posts Tagged ‘Li po tai’

Herb Shops and Herb Doctors

in “Writers and the City: Philip P. Choy & San Francisco”


When the Chinese joined the Gold Rush of the ’40s, they brought two notable forms of culture baggage with them, worship of the gods and the ancient art of healing. Herb shops existed well into the 20th century, until 1949, when the embargo on goods from Communist China brought an abrupt end to the business. Today, after the normalization of the relationship between the U.S. and China, the use of herbal medicine has begun to thrive once again.

In the frontier west, the Chinese distrusted Western medicine, while non-Chinese sought the “miraculous” cures of herb doctors. One such doctor was Li Po Tai (1817-1893) from Sam Yup who found gold in Gold Mountain not by slaving in the gold fields but by treating over 100 people daily, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. According to legend, his patients included railroads magnates Leiand Stanford and Mark Hopkins. As his prowess for healing spread, people came even from the East Coast to seek his “miraculous” cures. Ever an astute businessman, Li Po Tai advertised his medical prowess with much hyperbole in the English-language press. His office on the southwest corner of Washington and Brenham Place was labeled a sanitarium on an 1882 Sanborn Map. (Originally drawn up to assess fire insurance liability, the Sanborn Maps proved a wealth of historical information concerning the development of urban America between 1867 and 1970.)

His fortune wasn’t entirely based on healing the sick. He also made money investing in real estate. In December 1870, Charles D. Carter’s Real Estate Circulars lauded Li Po Tai as the first “Chinaman” on the continent to invest in real estate, making money out of “white fools. “Carter predicted: “Between his profits from verdant white patients and real estate investments, the Doctor will be among our millionaires.” This prediction was a bit premature. At the time of his death, Li Po Tais wealth was estimated to be from $100,000 to $300,000 dollars, somewhat short of a million. Li Po Tai passed away on March 20, 1893, leaving a wife, four sons, five daughters, and two grandchildren. His oldest son and his nephew continued his practice in Los Angeles.



BOOK EXAMINES RITUALS. Pictured is the funeral of Li Po Tai as published in Morning Call, March 23, 1893.

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #18 (May 2, 2006), page 18.

San Francisco’s Chinatown: A Photo Story

Clayton Mory Schuster


Chinese laborers saw an opportunity and opened their own businesses on the outskirts of Portsmouth, founding restaurants and laundries as well as offering domestic services. In the early 1850s, the area hosted 33 Chinese-owned stores, 15 pharmacies/herbalists and five restaurants. It was variously known as ‘Little Canton’ and ‘Little Shanghai’ until 1853 when the press dubbed it ‘Chinatown.’

Attacks on Purported Quacks

How legislation targeted Chinese doctors in America.

By Tamara Venit Shelton  TUESDAY, DECEMBER 03, 2019


1878, ……..As Hall stood for trial at San Francisco’s Criminal Court, he fingered another local physician practicing without a license: the celebrity Chinese herbalist Li Po Tai. Li was the first of many Chinese doctors arrested under the Anti-Quackery Act. In the next year, six other Chinese physicians practicing in San Francisco were charged under the same law. All were convicted, paid their fines, and went back to work as if nothing had happened.


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