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This article emerges from a workshop titled “Producing Efficacious Medicine: Quality, Potency, Lineage, and Critically Endangered Knowledge,” held in Kathmandu, Nepal, in December 2011. An experiment in collaborative event ethnography (CEE), this

A response from the author of the article on the research on collaborative event ethnography (CEE) organized by engaged anthropologists in Tibet, China is presented.

This article advances the hypothesis that “traditional” Asian pharmaceutical industries are rapidly growing in size and prominence in contemporary Asia, and identifies a lack of empirical data on the phenomenon. Addressing this gap, the article provides a quantitative outline and analysis of the Sowa Rigpa (Tibetan, Mongolian and Himalayan medicine) pharmaceutical industry in China, India, Mongolia and Bhutan. Using original data gathered through multi-sited ethnographic and textual research between 2014 and 2019, involving 232 industry representatives, policy makers, researchers, pharmacists and physicians, it assembles a bigger picture on this industry's structure, size and dynamics. Revealing a tenfold growth of the Sowa Rigpa pharmaceutical industry in Asia between 2000 and 2017, the study supports its initial hypothesis. In 2017, the industry had a total sales value of 677.5 million USD, and constituted an important economic and public health resource in Tibetan, Mongolian and Himalayan regions of Asia. China generates almost 98 percent of the total sales value, which is explained by significant state intervention on the one hand, and historical and sociocultural reasons on the other. India has the second largest Sowa Rigpa pharmaceutical industry with an annual sales value of about 11 million USD, while sales values in Mongolia and Bhutan are very low, despite Sowa Rigpa's domestic importance for the two nations. The article concludes with a number of broader observations emerging from the presented data, arguing that the Sowa Rigpa pharmaceutical industry has become big enough to exert complex transformative effects on Tibetan, Mongolian and Himalayan medicine more generally. The quantitative and qualitative data presented here provide crucial foundations for further scholarly, regulatory, and professional engagement with contemporary Sowa Rigpa.

Despite the recent growth of social science literature concerning the traditional medicine industry in Asia, insights into the contemporary dynamics of so-called 'classical formulae' remain relatively scant, as do studies of small-scale, less capitally intensive and technologically advanced modes of production. This paper seeks to address these gaps by considering a single Sowa Rigpa (Tibetan medicine) formula known as Samphel Norbu, or 'wish-fulfilling jewel', which appears in numerous texts and is today among the most popular Tibetan medicines in the world. Drawing primarily upon long-term fieldwork in Himalayan India, the paper follows Samphel Norbu's rise from exclusivity to popularity and examines the ways it has been transformed in the process, both materially and in its economic, social and clinical significance. The paper shows how Samphel Norbu acts as a marker of inequality between different groups of healers, and examines the role the medicine played in the development of commercial pharmacy and the proliferation of complex medicines. Tracing out wide variations in the medicine's formulation, composition, mode of production and pattern of circulation places the issue of multiplicity at the centre of analysis, and leads to a questioning of the assumptions that underpin the category 'classical formula'. The paper reflects upon the repositioning of such formulae within emergent configurations of knowledge, power, industry and market, and on their transformations and transformative effects both over time and in the present moment.