Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Dragon bone

  • Wang Shichang et al. (Ming period, 1368-1644)
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Traced copy of an illustration from Bencao pinhui jingyao (Materia Medica Containing Essential and Important Material Arranged in Systematic Order, completed 1505), in red and black ink. In 1503, the Ming emperor Li Zong put imperial physician Liu Wentai in charge of compiling a new herbal (bencao). The resulting work, which ran to 42 volumes, contained entries on 1815 pharmaceutical plants and other substances, with 1358 full-colour illustrations by artists including Wang Shichang. It was completed in the spring of 1505. However, in the summer of that year, The Emperor contracted a fever, which unsuccessfully treated by Liu Wentai, proved fatal. As a result Liu Wentai was banished from court, and the herbal was not allowed to be engraved or published. The original manuscript was preserved in the imperial palace, where only a select few officials were allowed to consult or copy it. The exemplar held in the Library of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine) is a traced facsimile made in the Ming (1368-1644) period by an unknown hand. The illustration shows the medicinal substance known as dragon bone. Bencao pinhui jingyao states: Dragon bone is first mentioned in Shennong bencao jing (The Divine Farmer's Canon of Materia Medica). 'Dragon bone' refers to the fossilized remains of prehistoric creatures. It was believed to calm fright and quieten the mind; arrest sweating and check seminal emission; and strengthen the intestine so as to stop diarrhoea. It was used to treat heart palpitations and 'fright epilepsy'(jingxian); insomnia and excessive dreaming; excessive sweating; profuse menstrual bleeding and vaginal discharge; diarrhoea and loose stools, etc.


Dragon bone


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