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This is a from a HSK6 past exam (paper H61005, page 18):

photo of the pharmacy, with the characters 同仁堂 visible on a sign

每一个中华老字号都是一个品牌奇迹,“同仁堂”有 300 多年的历史,京城最老的老字号“鹤年堂”的历史超过 600 年。今天它们不仅仅是品牌,更是一种文化,当我们提起这些品牌,最津津乐道的还是那些被人熟知的动人故事。

少年康熙曾得过一场怪病,全身红疹,奇痒无比,宫中御医束手无策。康熙心情抑郁,微服出宫散心,信步走进一家小药铺,药铺郎中只开了便宜的大黄,嘱咐泡水沐浴。康熙遵其嘱咐沐浴,迅速好转,不过三日便痊愈了。为了感谢郎中,康熙写下“同修仁德,济世养生”,并送给他一座大药堂,起名同仁堂

这就是家喻户晓的中华老字号品牌——同仁堂诞生的故事。1669 年,同仁堂药铺落成。时过 341 年,这间百年老店深深影响着几个世纪的中国人,首先影响到的便是听到同仁堂诞生故事的人们,一家平民小店与皇室的故事,一个小郎中打败宫中御医的故事,故事中的高超医术夹杂着传奇色彩,看病的或听故事的人纷至沓来。 ...

It tells a story of Emperor 康熙 getting sick, and only a doctor working at a 小药铺 (~small pharmacy stand) could cure him. He rewards the doctor by giving him a magnificent pharmacy, calling it 同仁堂.

About this snippet it asks the following question (with the given answer in bold):

97 同仁堂诞生之前是

  1. 一家商铺
  2. 一个小药铺
  3. 宫中御药房
  4. 京城知名大药店

This question confuses me for two reasons:

  1. 诞生 literally means "to be born", but is often used metaphorically to mean something like "to be brought into existence" (as per my understanding). So it appears the question asks about what 同仁堂 was before 同仁堂 existed, which is nonsensical---by definition, it didn't exist! So I feel like the answer could be 同仁堂诞生之前是不存在的。

  2. The story says that the pharmacist's 小药铺 existed before 同仁堂, thus 小药铺 and 同仁堂 are two distinct entities (otherwise 康熙 couldn't give it to the pharmacist, since it already belongs to the pharmacist). Analogously, if I own an housecat, and someone gives me a tiger, it's obviously incorrect to say "before my tiger existed, it was a housecat"---they're two different things.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something here.

Question: How can I understand the seemingly illogical HSK6-exam answer: 同仁堂诞生之前是:一个小药铺?

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  • Even if we get pedantic, "born" does not mean something was non-existent before it was born. Before you were born, you were a fetus. Here you ≈ 同仁堂; fetus ≈ 小药铺
    – Betty
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 1:06
  • The 药铺 evolved into 同仁堂. What's ilogical in that? Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 1:59

3 Answers 3

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小药铺 is not the name of a medicine shop. It merely describes a shop or roadside stall that sells medicine. Perhaps it didn't even have a name at all. That's why it was referred to as 一家小药铺, i.e. simply as "a medicine shop", 一家 being merely a quantifier / measure word. If 小药铺 was a shop's name, 一家 would never be included.

The Emperor, 康熙, in gratitude, gave this obscure perhaps unnamed shop or roadside stall a name, namely, 同仁堂.

So, "before 同仁堂 came into existence or so named" ("诞生之前"), it was a nameless medicine shop or roadside stall. It became 同仁堂 only because the Emperor gave it that name; otherwise it probably would have remained a nameless medicine shop or roadside stall or 无名小药铺.

I suppose you have to consider the whole phrase 诞生之前, and not just 诞生, because the former implies that before the present state of being / existence, there was a "pre-existing" state of being / existence. So, the former nameless 小药铺 carried on its state of being / existence under a name 同仁堂.

Think of a fetus not having a name while still in the mother's womb. When the baby is born it gets a name. You cannot say that before the baby is born it did not exist just because it didn't have a name?

So, the answer 一个小药铺 is perfectly logical; 一个 being a quantifier / measure word means that 小药铺 was never a shop's name but merely describes what it sells.

As an analogy, there is a story, or legend, of how my surname 谢, (Thank you), came to be a surname.

The story goes that a certain tribe of people of a certain surname rendered some meritorious service to a certain emperor who changed the surname of this whole tribe of people to 谢 as a gesture of eternal gratitude.

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Before 同仁堂 was 'born' (established) it was an obscure Chinese medicine store with a different name. This obscure Chinese medicine store became 同仁堂 because the emperor gave it this name.

The Chinese medicine store named 同仁堂 didn't exist before an obscure Chinese medicine store received the emperor's reward with this name.

一个小药铺 was 同仁堂's 前身 (predecessor)

Just like Meta didn't exist before Facebook changed its company's name, so you can say "Before Meta was born, it was a company called FaceBook"

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同仁堂诞生之前是:一个小药铺?

The name (同仁堂) was born (诞生) after 康熙's complimenting poem; the nature of the business remained the same - 一家药铺 (a drug store), but the size of the business dealing had grown from a lesser-known/unknown small drug store (小药铺) to the famous, well known, drug store country-wide (大藥局).

In here, 诞生 means the name was non-exist prior.

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