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Classics on Chinese Medicinal Substances

 

  • Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica)  

Before the Shang Dynasty (16751029 B.C.) and Zhou Dynasty (1046256 B.C.), the concept of “medicinal substances” was established, and the term .The word “drugs (yao)” was found in existing inscriptions on bronze. In remote antiquity, medicinal substances exclusively referred to medicinal herbs, so “materia medica” stands for Chinese medicinal substances.  Those of animal origin and mineral origin were developed later. Through long exploration and accumulation of medical knowledge thee emerged Yao Lu (Records of Medicine Substances), Yao Lun (On Medicinal Substances) and Ben Cao (Materia Medica) in the Warring States (475221 B. C.).
In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.220 A.D.), Shen Nong Ben Cai Jing, one of the most important herbal classics, came into being. It contains 365 entries and the substances are divided into three classes: first, second and third. It spread far and wide and had a seminal influence.  It is considered the earliest pharmacopeia in China.  The original book was lost, but the main idea of the book was recorded in later publications, such as Zheng Lei Ben Cao ( Materia Medica Arranged According to Syndromes). Thus, there are several varied editions, of which the one written by Sun Xingyan of the Qing Dynasty (16441911 A. D.) is well-known and the one by Shang Zhijun, a modern philologist, is the most authoritative.
  • Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu (Annotations on Materia Medica)

Around 500 A.D., Tao Hongjing, a practitioner of the in Northern and Southern Dynasty (386589. A.D), complied the book in 7 volumes. He supplemented and annotated Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, and added 365 entries to it, making a total of 730 entries. He improved the way of herbal classification.  It can be viewed as a summary of the data available at that time.  At present, there is only one remnant bamboo slip of the book (written before the Tang Dynasty) unearthed in Tu Lu Fan and one hand-written copy (718 A. D., Tang Dynasty). Later, scholars at home and abroad have restored the book based on the remnant bamboo slip, Xin Xiu Ben Cao (Newly Revised Materia Medica), and Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu. The edition published by Shang Zhijun is available in China now.

 

 

 

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