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Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Cinnabar

  • Wang Shichang et al. (Ming period, 1368-1644)
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Credit: Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Cinnabar. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark

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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 cinnabar in mineral form. Bencao pinhui jingyao states: Cinnabar is first first mentioned in Shennong bencao jing (The Divine Farmer's Canon of Materia Medica). It is known as dansha or zhusha, and belongs to the category of mineral drugs. It is found in rocks in remote mountainous areas. "Chenzhou" cinnabar refers to its place of origin. Cinnabar is sweet in sapor and somewhat cold in nature. It is highly effective in calming the mind, settling the spirit, improving the clarity of vision and removing heat toxins. It can be used to treat cold damage and seasonal disorders; pestilence (wenyi) and headache; high fever (zhuangre) with violent pulses; abscesses, boils and ulcers, etc.

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Picture title: Chenzhou dansha (cinnabar from Chenzhou)

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