Solving Scientific and Medical Problems in General Research on China

Nathan Sivin

Draft 4


Science and Medicine, General *

Biography *

Number and Measure *

Astronomy and Astrology *

The Human Body, Health and Illness *

Dictionaries *

Plants, Animals, Minerals *

Elixirs and other Accoutrements of Immortality *

Topography *

Technology, Agriculture *


This is a first draft of a guide to what might be called science for poets. Chinese poets and other authors grew up in a culture that gave cosmology a central place in the understanding of the state and of the body. Literati could expect of their readers a knowledge of the natural world in all its aspects, and (from the Sung on) acquaintance with the main medical classics. To understand what they wrote, it is essential to have access to their knowledge of the physical world. Although scientific illiteracy was for a large part of the 20th century a mark of pride among Sinologists, it has led to any number of misunderstandings, not only of particular texts but of fundamental ideas. The key to comprehending ancient Chinese culture is a lifelong willingness to learn whatever one needs.

The purpose of this document is to outline basic sources in European and Asian languages for dealing with common problems that come up when reading literary and historical documents. Each section begins with an orientation that suggests how to get started in dealing with that class of problems. It then provides an annotated list of some important reference sources.

If you want your command of these tools to be active rather than passive, it is a good idea to spend a couple of hours examining the most important resources listed here, so that, when you need them, you will know what they contain and what they are good for.

Science and Medicine, General


The most comprehensive overview of Chinese science is

Needham, Joseph, et al. 1954- . Science and Civilisation in China. 22 vols. to date. Cambridge University Press. The volumes on technology are the strongest, and those on mathematics and astronomy the weakest. The bibliographies in each volume tend to be extremely detailed, and are often the best on a topic.

From the 1970s on, other scholars wrote volumes of this series on various topics. The earliest fascicles are half a century old and, partly because of the inspiration that Needham provided for further studies, mostly out of date. It is therefore essential to use more recent publications.

Many of the new results in the field are written up in the journal East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine, which before 1999 was called Chinese Science.

Most of the older dictionaries of classical Chinese did not survey scientific and medical writings. They therefore tend not to be very useful. In this as in many other respects.

Lo Chu-feng 羅竹風, ed. 1987-1994. Han-yü ta-tzu-tien 漢語大詞典 (Unabridged dictionary of Chinese). 12 vols., indexes. B: Han-yü Ta-tzu-tien Ch'u-pan-she.

sets a new standard.

For a comparison of how and why strong scientific and medical traditions emerged in different forms in East and West, see

Lloyd, G. E. R., and Nathan Sivin. 2002. The Way and the Word. Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece. New Haven: Yale University Press.

If you are interested in comparative studies, consider its innovative methodology.


The Bibliography of Asian Studies includes science and medicine, but is far from exhaustive.

For a carefully selected, annotated bibliography of important scholarship in Western languages, kept up to date, see

under "reference materials."

For Japanese studies, use

Tōyōgaku bunken ruimoku 東洋学文献類目 (Classified bibliography of documents in Oriental studies; Kyoto, 1934-), an annual volume, attentive to technical subjects. It is exhaustive for Japanese publications, and includes a number of Chinese and some Western publications.

There is no annual bibliography in Chinese, but

Chiang Li-jung, editor. 2002. Chung-kuo ko-hsueh chi-shu shih. Lun-chu so-yin chüan 中国科学技术史论著索引卷 (History of Chinese science and technology. Index of writings). Beijing: Ko-hsueh Chu-pan-she.

is an up-to-date topical bibliography of Chinese and Japanese articles and books, with author index.

It is also worth while to check

Yen Tun-chieh 严敦杰. 1986. Chung-kuo ku-tai ko-chi-shih lun-wen so-yin 中国古代科技史论文索引 (Index to articles on the history of science and technology in ancient China). S: Chiang-su Ko-hsueh Chi-shu Ch'u-pan-she,

comprehensive to the early 1980s.

Wilkinson, Endymion. 2000. Chinese History: A Manual. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series, 52. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

is excellent for Western, Chinese, and Japanese reference materials, primary and secondary, that bear on history, especially recent ones.


A good place to look for the most distinguished historical figures in science and medicine is

Chin Chiu-peng 金秋鹏. 1998. Chung-kuo ko-hsueh chi-shu shih. Jen-wu chüan 中国科学技术史人物卷 (History of Chinese science and technology. Personages). B: Ko-hsueh Chu-pan-she. Includes 77 biographical sketches , from Mo-tzu to Hsu Shou, of ca. 7 pp. each, by experts.

For less eminent figures, see

Tu Shih-jan 杜石然, editor. 1992-1993. Chung-kuo ku-tai ko-hsueh-chia chuan-chi 中国古代科学家传记 (Biographies of ancient Chinese scientists). 2 vols. B: Ko-hsueh Chu-pan-she. Shorter accounts of 235 Chinese and 14 missionaries.

Ho Shih-hsi 何时希. 1991. Chung-kuo li-tai i-chia chuan lu 中国历代医家传录 (Biographies of physicians in China through the ages). 3 vols. B: Jen-min wei-sheng CPS. 1/3300. Fanti. Copies biographical notices on 22,000+ people from a wide range of sources, incl. gazetteers, with occasional notes. Usually but not always listed by ming; dates rarely given; almost everyone listed under a "specialty"; many excerpts in each article on most famous doctors. Separate stroke-order contents list in each vol. Appendices: (1) medical teaching lineages; (2) recorded medical books; (3) alternate names; (4) books cited.

Number and Measure


For classical writings on mathematics, see

Ting Fu-pao 丁福保 and Chou Yun-ching 周雲青, editors. Ssu pu tsung lu suan-fa pien 四部總錄算法編 (General catalogue of the four divisions: volume on mathematics). S: Shang-wu Ch'u-pan-she, 1957. Largely modeled on the Ssu ku chüan shu tsung mu ti-yao, with notes on rare as well as important works.

Histories of Chinese mathematics tend to be chronological summaries of primary texts, emphasizing who did what first. The prominent exception is

Martzloff, Jean-Claude. 1997. A History of Chinese Mathematics, tr. Stephen L. Wilson. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. Tr. of Martzloff, Histoire des mathématiques chinoises (Paris: Masson, 1988).


For detailed studies of every aspect, see

Wu Wen-chün 吴文俊, editor. 1998-2000. Chung-kuo shu-hsueh-shih ta hsi 中國數學史大系 (Unabridged systematic history of Chinese mathematics). 8 vols. B: Bei-ching Shih-fan Ta-hsueh Ch'u-pan-she. NS

Every Sinologist knows that weights and measures changed regularly, and before very recent times were never standardized over the whole empire. For a quick overview of changes over history, see Appendix C of

Sung Ying-hsing. 1637/1966. T'ien-kung K'ai-wu. Chinese Technology in the Seventeenth Century, tr. E-tu Zen Sun & Shiou-chuan Sun. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press. Excellent annotated translation of a remarkable, comprehensive encyclopedia, which gives a good view of traditional technologies.

For details, see the definitive monograph on historical weights and measures,

Chiu Kuang-ming 邱光明. 2001. Chung-kuo ko-hsueh ji-shu shih. Tu-liang-heng chuan . 度量衡卷 (History of Chinese science and technology. Metrology). Beijing: Ko-hsueh Ch'u-pan-she. Unlike earlier studies, this is based on thorough study of excavated artifacts as well as of texts.

There is (finally!) a concordance to the two best-known mathematical classics:

Anon. 2000. Chou pi suan ching chu-tzu so-yin. Chiu chang suan shu chu-tzu so-yin 算經逐字索引。 九章算術逐字索引 (Concordances to the Chou Gnomon and the Mathematical Methods in Nine Chapters). Philosophical Works, 48-49. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

Astronomy and Astrology


Wang Li王力. 1956. Ku-tai Han-yü 古代漢語 (Ancient Chinese). 4 vols. B: Chung-hua Shu-chü. 2d ed., idem, 1981-82.

is an exceptional classical Chinese textbook. Among its many virtues are several chapters called "chung-kuo wen-hua chang-shih 中國文化常識 (common knowledge about Chinese culture)." These cover a broad range of ancient usages. The chapter on astronomy and astrology, written in clear, simple Chinese, introduces basic terminology and explains how classical time reckoning, calendars, etc., worked.

For going from Chinese star and constellation names to Western equivalents and vice versa, and locating them on clear star maps, use

I Shih-tung 伊世同. 1981. Chung-hsi tui-chao heng-hsing tu piao 1950.0 中西对照恒星图表 (Maps and tables with Chinese and Western fixed stars juxtaposed, epoch 1950.0). 2 vols. B: Ko-hsueh Ch'u-pan-she.

On the fundamental topic of Han cosmology, see the lucid explanations in

Cullen, Christopher. 1996. Astronomy and Mathematics in Ancient China: the Zhou bi suan jing. Needham Research Institute Studies, 1. Cambridge University Press.

For the stars as Tang authors imagined them, see a Sinological classic,

Schafer, Edward H. 1977. Pacing the Void. Tang Approaches to the Stars. University of California Press. Like most of Schafers other writings, based on mastery of the entire corpus of Tang poetry. Excellent non-technical discussions of lunar lodges (erh-shih-pa hsiu 二十八宿), field allocation (fen-yeh 分野), etc.

There are many handbooks for converting old Chinese dates to modern ones, but

Chang Pei-yü . 1997. San-chien-wu-pai-nien li-jih tien-hsiang (Calendrical days and celestial phenomena for 3500 years). 2d ed. Cheng-chou: Ta Hsiang Ch'u-pan-she. Orig. publ., Cheng-chou: Ho-nan Chiao-yü Ch'u-pan-she, 1970.

has superseded all the others. Its scope of information and the accuracy of its astronomical data make it far superior to its predecessors. In addition to using excavated almanacs, etc., it provides unprecedented data, e.g., dates and times of new as well as full moons and the 8 main divisions of the solar year (pa chieh 八節), and the maximal phases and magnitudes of eclipses as seen from 8 ancient capitals. It is also exceptionally easy to use.

Note: The comments on astronomical phenomena in James Legges translations of the Chinese classics and Homer H. Dubss translation of the History of the Former Han Dynasty, etc., are based on obsolete methods, and can be dangerously misleading. Instead, use the sources cited above.

If you are interested in the iconography of astronomy from the viewpoint of art history or some other field, a rich survey is

Feng Shih 冯时. 2001. Chung-kuo tien-wen kao-ku-hsueh 中国天文考古学 ("Archeoastronomy in China"). Chung-kuo She-hui-ko-hsueh Yuan ching-nien hsueh-che wen-ku . B: She-hui-ko-hsueh Wen-hsien CPS.

For a fine collection of rare early star maps, some in color, see

Chen Mei-tung 陈美东. 1996. Chung-kuo ku hsing tu 中国古星图 ("Star charts in ancient China"). Shenyang: Liao-ning chiao-yü CPS. 1/300. Includes some previously unpublished, w/18 color plates & 111 b&w ills.


The most detailed and up-to-date history is

Chen Tsun-kuei 陈遵妫. 1980-1984. Chung-kuo tien-wen-hsueh shih 中国天文学史 (History of Chinese astronomy). 3 vols. S: Shang-hai Jen-min Ch'u-pan-she.

An excellent briefer one, organized by topics, is

Chen Mei-tung 陈美东. 1995. Ku li hsin tan 古历新探 (New investigations of ancient astronomy). Shenyang: Liao-ning chiao-yü Ch'u-pan-she.

Although the official histories are the main repositories of observational data and computational methods, they list only a fraction of the phenomena.

Chuang Wei-feng 庄威凤; Wang Li-hsing 王力兴, editors. 1988. Chung-kuo ku-tai tien-hsiang chi-lu tsung chi 中国古代天象记录总集 (Ancient Chinese records of celestial phenomena: general). N: Chiang-su Ko-hsueh Chi-shu Ch'u-pan-she. Has greatly expanded the accessible record by screening almost the whole of ancient literature, including all local gazetteers extant in China, and tabulating the actual descriptions chronologically.

Another offshoot of the same project is

Wang Li-hsing 王力兴, Chuang Wei-feng 庄威凤, and Feng Nan 冯楠, editors. 1989. Chung-kuo tien-wen shih-liao hui pien 中国天文史料汇编 (Collected historical materials for Chinese astronomy). Vol. 1. B: Ko-hsueh Ch'u-pan-she. Excellent for biographical data on astronomers (its sole topic), many of them obscure, less useful for major figures, since it often abridges long notices.

 For comparing Chinese eclipse records with those of other cultures, the most comprehensive study is

Stephenson, F. Richard. 1997. Historical Eclipses and the Earths Rotation. Cambridge University Press. Detailed theoretical and empirical study of historic records.

The Human Body, Health and Illness


Some excellent textbooks of medical classical Chinese (i ku-wen 医古文) are used in Chinese medical schools. If you want to learn to read medical texts, their generous selections from many kinds of medical writing, with detailed notes and sometimes vernacular translations, vastly ease the process. The best is

Tuan I-shan 段逸山. 2001. I ku-wen 醫古文 (Medical classical Chinese). B: Jen-min Wei-sheng Ch'u-pan-she. Revised and expanded version.

Because of the enormous but uncritical demand by acupuncturists and their patients for writings on Chinese medicine, the quality of publications in European languages is generally abysmal. You are likely to be grossly misled if you do not approach books and web sites on the topic critically. If you are just beginning research in this area, it is a good idea, until you are ready to evaluate sources yourself, to restrict yourself to those listed in the carefully selected bibliography on my web site (see p. * above).

For a general orientation to the relations of medicine with every aspect of Chinese culture, see

Li Liang-sung 李良松; Kuo Hung-tao 郭洪涛. 1990. Chung-kuo chuan-tung wen-hua yü i-hsueh 中国传 统文化与医学 (Chinese traditional culture and medicine). Xiamen: Hsia-men Ta-hsueh Ch'u-pan-she. Medicine in every aspect of culture over the centuries, in the classics, misc. masters, histories, literary collections, encyclopedias, poetry, drama, fiction, major early 20C figures, etc. Chronological chart, no index.

Nor is there any usable translation of any early Chinese medical classic. The best strategy is to consult one of the better modern annotated editions. For the Inner Canon, probably the best from the viewpoint of scholarship also translates the two most commonly used recensions into modern Chinese:

Kuo Ai-chun 郭霭春 . 1981. Huang-ti nei ching Su wen chiao chu yü i 黄帝内竞素问校注语译 (Critical edition of the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor, Basic Questions, with vernacular translation). Tianjin: Tien-chin Ko-hsueh Chi-shu Ch'u-pan-she.

Kuo Ai-chun 郭霭春 . 1982. Ling shu ching chiao-shih 灵枢经校释 (The Divine Pivot: Critical annotated edition). B: Jen-min Wei-sheng Ch'u-pan-she.

Another useful reference work for exploring the Inner Canon is

Kuo Ai-chun 郭霭春. 1991. Huang-ti nei ching tzu tien 黄帝内经词典 (Dictionary of the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor). Tianjin: Tianjin Kexue Jishu Chubanshe. 1/6000. Indexes by stroke-order and romanization, survey of writings on Inner Canon before 1911, and bibliography of modern studies.

There is no comprehensive and reliable history of medicine in any Western language. The many books of Paul Ulrich Unschuld are frequently careless in interpretation and translation, and can be seriously misleading if not used with his Chinese and Japanese sources in hand. The medical volume of Needhams Science and Civilisation in China (vol. 6, part 6, 2000) comprises only a few topical essays, positivistic in approach, although the editors introduction surveys the recent literature and outlines present and future directions of research.

The best history of medicine in Chinese, the only one informed to some extent by modern historiography, is

Ma Po-ying 马伯英. 1994. Chung-kuo i-hsueh wen-hua shih 中国医学文化史 (A history of medicine in Chinese culture). S: Shang-hai Jen-min Chu-pan-she.

A parallel volume on cultural transmission is

Ma Po-ying 马伯英; Kao Hsi高晞; Hung Chung-li 洪中立. 1993. Chung-wai i-hsueh wen-hua chiao-liu shihChung-wai i-hsueh kua-wen-hua chuan-tung 中外医学文化交流史中外医学跨文化传统 (Cultural contacts between Chinese and foreign medicine. Transcultural traditions involving Chinese and foreign medicine). S: Wen-hui Ch'u-pan-she.

Sivin, Nathan. 1987. Traditional Medicine in Contemporary China. A Partial Translation of Revised Outline of Chinese Medicine (1972) with an Introductory Study on Change in Present-day and Early Medicine. Science, Medicine and Technology in East Asia, 2. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Center for Chinese Studies. Half is a translation of a modern textbook that explains concepts of the body, illness, and health, and half is a topical study of changing concepts and methods from the earliest medicine to the present. Gives a clear account of such matters as chi and other body contents, and pathological concepts. Its index is designed for use when translating medical concepts.

For a diverse collection of recent research by young scholars, see

Hsu, Elisabeth, editor. 2001. Innovation in Chinese Medicine. Needham Research Institute Studies, 3. Cambridge University Press. Unlike most conference volumes, this books essays consistently address its topic.

What is now called "Traditional Chinese Medicine" is, due to the influence of biomedicine, far from traditional, and continues to change quickly. It is impossible to ignore the question of whether it can survive. On that topic, the best study, an innovative and passionate interpretation informed by the authors clinical as well as scholarly experience, is

Scheid, Volker. 2002. Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis. Durham: Duke University Press.


The best large word and phrase dictionary that pays attention to classical usages is

Chung-kuo Chung-i Yen-chiu-yuan 中国中医研究院; Kuang-chou Chung-i Hsueh-yuan 广州中医学院. 1995. Chung-i ta-tzu-tien 中医大辞典 (Unabridged dictionary of Chinese medicine). B: Jen-min Wei-sheng CPS. Over 36,000 items.

For special medical meanings of single characters, the best of several reference works is

Fang Wen-hui 方文辉. 1982. Chung-i ku-chi tung-chieh-tzu ku-chin-tzu li shih 中医古籍通借字古今字例释 (Explications, with examples, of loan characters and historical variants in the early literature of Chinese medicine). Kuang-chou: Ko-hsueh Pu-chi Ch'u-pan-she.

Chinese-English medical dictionaries are on the whole compiled by Americans who do not understand classical medicine or Chinese who do not understand English terminology. The only one not to avoid is

Yuan I-hsiang 原一祥 et al. 1997. Han Ying shuang chieh Chung-i ta tzu-tien 汉英双解中英大辞典. (A Chinese-English Dictionary of Traditional Chinese Medicine). B: Hua Hsia CPS. Also functions as an all-Chinese dictionary. 8760 entries on every aspect of medicine in stroke-count order. Character and pinyin indexes, both in pinyin order.

For the terminology of acupuncture, use

Shih Hsueh-min 石学敏; Chang Meng-chen 张孟辰. 1998. Han Ying shuang chieh chen-chiu ta tzu-tien汉英双解针灸大辞典 ("A Chinese-English Dictionary of Acupuncture and Moxibustion"). B: Hua-hsia Ch'u-pan-she. Over 4000 entries, mainly on loci, disorders, acupuncturists, books, miscellaneous technical terms, with detailed definitions. Pinyin order, with transcription and tones. Appendices: list of 258 East Asian acupuncturists from legendary to modern times; index of loci; index of English terms. Lists first mention of each locus.


For sources in Western language, consult my web site,

The only bibliography devoted to the topic is

Chung-kuo Chung-i Yen-chiu-yuan. Chung-kuo I-shih Wen-hsien Yen-chiu-so中国中医研究院 中国医史文献研究所. 1989. I-hsueh-shih wen-hsien lun-wen tzu-liao so-yin. 医史文献论文资料索引1979-1986. Ti erh chi 第二辑. 1979-1986. (Index to essays and materials on the history of medicine and medical literature). B: Chung-kuo Shu-tien. Sequel to unofficially published compendium of 1980, which covered from 1907 to 1978.

For a remarkable introduction to the philological study of medical texts, see

Ma Chi-hsing 马继兴. 1990. Chung-i wen-hsien-hsueh 中医文献学 (The study of Chinese medical literature). S: Shang-hai Ko-hsueh Chi-shu Ch'u-pan-she. No index.

Given the paramount importance of the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor (Huang-ti nei ching 黃帝内經) throughout medical history, it is fortunate that a quasi-concordance with an excellent text exists:

Jen Ying-chiu 任應秋, editor. 1986. Huang-ti nei ching chang-chü so-yin 黃帝内經章句索引 (Phrase index to the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor). B: Ren-min Wei-sheng Ch'u-pan-she. Excellent text; indexes over 44,000 phrases, including all technical terms, with a summary of each section.

Keep in mind as well that this is one of the few indubitable surviving Han Huang-Lao texts, all of which are medical.

There are actual concordances, accompanied by well-edited texts, in the ICS Ancient Chinese Texts Concordance Series:

Anon. 2002. Nan ching chu-tzu so-yin. Shang han lun chu-tzu so-yin. Chin kuei yao lueh chu-tzu so-yin 難經逐字索引。傷寒論逐字索引。金匱要略逐字索引 (Concordances to the Canon of Problems, Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders, and Essentials in the Golden Casket). Philosophical Works, 45-47. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.

For basic descriptions of important medical books, the mostcomprehensive source is

Chiu Pei-jan 裘沛然. 2002. Chung-kuo i chi ta tzu-tien 中国医籍大辞典 (Unabridged dictionary of Chinese Medical Books). 2 vols., 3+2+100+2194 pp. Shang-hai Ko-hsueh Chi-shu Chubanshe. 1/4000. Lists over 17,600 extant and "openly published" works, and 4700 lost ones, with substantial articles for important surviving works. Plain stroke-order indices of titles and authors, the latter including variant names.

A remarkable collection of information about all medical books to the end of the Sung period, extant or lost, is

Okanishi Tameto 岡西. 1958. Sung i-chien i chi kao 宋以前醫籍考 (Studies of medical books of the Sung and earlier). B: Ren-min Wei-sheng Ch'u-pan-she. (Note that i-chien often, as in this instance, is inclusive and therefore cannot be translated "before.")

A similar recent compilation includes later dynasties. It includes little but copies of prefaces, but they can be extremely useful, particularly as a source of data on social relations.

Yen Shih-yun 严世芸. 1990-1994. Chung-kuo i chi tung kao 中国医籍通考 (General compendium on traditional Chinese medical books). 4 vols., 1 vol. index. S: Shang-hai Chung-i hsueh-yuan CPS. Not general; reproduces prefaces to ca. 9000 books, extant and list, with occasional notes on authors.

For a complete collection of the important medical texts excavated at Mawangdui, Hunan, ca. 1973, annotated and provided with many aids to scholarship, see

Ma Chi-hsing 马继兴. 1992. Ma-wang-tui ku i chi kao shih 马王堆古医籍考释 (Ancient medical books from Ma-wang-tui, with critical annotations). Changsha: Hu-nan Ko-hsueh Chi-shu Ch'u-pan-she. By a leading expert on medical texts,

and a similar compilation for Dunhuang medical fragments,

Ma Chi-hsing et al., editors. 1998. Tun-huang i-yao wen-hsien chi chiao ("Collected collations of the medical texts from Dunhuang"). Tun-huang wen-hsien fen-lei lu chiao tsung-kan. N: Chiang-su Ku-chi Ch'u-pan-she. Handwritten critically edited transcriptions into modern fanti script of the 80+ Tunhuang medical MSS that survive anywhere in the world. Some sources on history. Introduction to each book estimates dates of composition and writing. Substantial foreword on study of these documents. No index.

In identifying acupuncture loci, there are a good many discrepancies between different reference works. Some sources blithely translate the names of loci, neglecting the formidable scholarship necessary to determine what they mean. The most trustworthy source is

Institute of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Chinese Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 1990. State Standard of the People's Republic of China. The Location of Acupoints. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press. Profusely illustrated. Includes substantial material from early sources with discussions to resolve contradictions, and data on related anatomical, incl. nerve, structures.

For methods of identifying ancient Chinese medical disorders, see Appendix H of

Sivin, Nathan. 1968. Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies. Harvard Monographs in the History of Science, 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

and the index of Sivin 1987 (see p. * above).

A great many important medical documents are not in medical writings. Three useful anthologies, each gathered from different kinds of literature, are

Chen Pang-hsien 陈邦贤. 1982. Erh-shih-liu shih i-hsueh shih-liao hui-pien 二十六史医学史料汇编 (Collection of materials for the history of medicine from the 26 Standard Histories). B: Chung-i Yen-chiu-yuan, Chung-kuo I-shih Wen-hsien Yen-chiu-so. Transcriptions arranged topically under each history, including the Draft History of the Ching; gives text and standard commentaries, cited by chuan number. Completed 1964.

Chien Yuan-ming 钱远铭, editor. 1986. Ching shih pai chia i lu 经史百家医录 (Record of medical material in classics, histories, and other writings). Guangzhou: Kuang-tung Ko-chi Ch'u-pan-she. Excerpts arranged topically, from about a thousand sources, including fiction. Sources specified in detail, but no index.

Tao Yü-feng 陶御风; Chu Pang-hsien 朱邦贤; Hung Pi-mo 洪丕漠. 1988. Li-tai pi-chi i shih pieh lu 历代笔记医事别录 (Classified anthology of medical matters in the jotting collections of various periods). Tianjin: Tien-chin Ko-hsueh Chi-shu Ch'u-pan-she. About 2000 jottings from the pi-chi literature; some censorship of "superstitious" items.

An important current research theme is the role of astrology and divination in medicine (which was also important in the West before the rise of modern biomedicine). An excellent introduction is

Harper, Donald J. 1998. Early Chinese Medical Literature: The Mawangdui Medical Manuscripts. Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series. London: Royal Asiatic Society. With substantial prolegomena and material from other archeological discoveries, and indexes of materia medica, physiological terms, ailments.

A good example of the contribution that gender studies is now making to medical history is

Furth, Charlotte. 1999. A Flourishing Yin: Gender in China's Medical History, 960-1665. Berkeley: University of California Press. On medical care for women and childbirth, with a chapter on women as healers.

There have been a number of recent dissertations that aid understanding of the social circumstances of medical practice, and that situate it in local history. See, for instance,

Hanson, Marta. 1997. Inventing a Tradition in Chinese Medicine. From Universal to Local Medical Knowledge in South China, the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century. Ph.D. dissertation, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania.

An informative recent study of the social settings of 16th-century medicine is

Grant, Joanna. 2003. A Chinese Physician. Wang Ji and the Stone Mountain Medical Case Histories. Needham Research Institute Series, 2. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

For a sensitive and well-written comparison of the experience of the body in two ancient cultures, with no attempt to establish reasons for the differences, see

Kuriyama, Shigehisa. 1999. The Expressiveness of the body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine. New York: Zone Books.

Plants, Animals, Minerals


The structure of the traditional Chinese sciences was very different from that of modern disciplines. There was no field that corresponded to biology. Knowledge about living things was distributed through many kinds of literature. Books on materia medica are the richest sources for Chinese knowledge; in fact Charles Darwin drew on such sources in his writings on evolution. For the practical purpose of identifying names of plants, animals, and minerals in early writings, scholarship based on drug ingredients is most productive.

For plants, the standard source is

Hu Shiu-ying. 1999. An Enumeration of Chinese Materia Medica. Rev. ed. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press. Hu lists medicinal plants by Chinese name, and in each case gives scientific and pharmaceutical identifications and English names (some of which she worked out for the first time). There is an index to this book that makes it possible to look up substances by Latin or English name on my web site (see above, p. *) under "research materials."

Sometimes useful for gathering information about plants, which Hu does not give, is

Read, Bernard E. 1936. Chinese Medicinal Plants from the Pen Ts'ao Kang Mu . . . A.D. 1596. 3d ed. B: Peking Natural History Bulletin. List by botanical classification of ca. 900 plants, with Chinese names. Mainly references to other sources.

For plant and animal substances, use

Read, Bernard E.[, Li Yü-t'ien, and Yu Ching-mei]. 1931-41. Chinese Materia Medica. 6 vols. Peiping: Peking Natural History Bulletin. Translations, numbered in a single series, of ch. 39-52 of Pen-tsao kang-mu. Correspondence of item numbers with volumes:

1-101. Insect Drugs, 1941

102-127. Dragon and Snake Drugs, 1934 128-198. Fish Drugs, 1939

199-244. Turtle and Shellfish Drugs, 1937

245-321. Avian Drugs, 1932

322-444. Animal Drugs, 1931

Read, Bernard E.; C. Pak. 1934/1936. A Compendium of Minerals and Stones Used in Chinese Medicine from the Pen Ts'ao Kang Mu. Li Shih Chen. 1597 A.D. 2d ed. B: Peking Natural History Bulletin, 1936.

Old Technical Terms in Early Sources

Early primary sources often use names of diseases and raw drugs that have dropped out of modern medical literature. In many cases all one can do is look for scholarship that identifies them. There are three secondary sources that deal with a wide variety of names:

Yü Yen 余嚴 (name given as Yun-hsiu 雲岫). 1953. Ku-tai chi-ping ming hou shu i 古代疾病名候疏義 (Glosses on the names and symptoms of ancient diseases). B: Jen-min Wei-sheng CPS. Judicious but positivistic identifications of words for diseases in early dictionaries and classics.

There are a couple of indexed modern eds. of the enormous Systematic Materia Medica of 1596, which lists a great many names given in earlier compilations of the same kind. The best is

Chen Kuei-ting 陈廷贵. 1992. Pen-tsao kang-mu tung shih 本草纲目通释 ("General explanation of compendium of materia medica"). 2 vols., 7+10+2323 pp. B: Hsueh-yuan 学苑 CPS. 1/5000. Complete text with detailed commentary, modern scientific identifications, information from modern studies of clinical applications, etc. Stroke-order index of drugs and formulas, alphabetical index of Latin names. Includes illustrations from 1596 ed. Simplified chars. The index distinguishes different compounds with the same name.

A reference work that includes names of drug ingredients from a wider range of sources is

Chiang-su Hsin I-hsueh-yuan 江苏新医学院. 1977-78. Chung-yao ta tzu-tien 中药大辞典 (Unabridged dictionary of Chinese materia medica). 3 vols. Shanghai: Shanghai Ko-hsueh Chi-shu Ch'u-pan-she.

Elixirs and other Accoutrements of Immortality


The most detailed account of alchemy is in Science and Civilisation in China (see above, p. *). Four thick fascicles (vol. 5, parts 2-5) deal with its many aspects. Most is written from the viewpoint of modern science, but for the aims, conceptions, and symbolic structures of the alchemists themselves see vol. 5, part 4, pp. 210-304, "The Theoretical Foundations of Elixir Alchemy."

For reading alchemical writings, the annotated translation in Sivin 1968 (see p. * above), with all technical terms in the index, will be useful.

For a bibliography, see

Pregadio, Fabrizio. 1996. Chinese Alchemy. An Annotated Bibliography of Works in Western Languages. Monumenta Serica, 44: 439-473. For an updated version, with other important resources, see

A recent history of practical chemistry and alchemy is

Chao Kuang-hua 赵匡华; Chou Chia-hua 周嘉华. 1998. Chung-kuo ko-hsueh chi-shu shih. Hua-hsueh chüan 中国科学技术史化学卷 (History of Chinese science and technology. Chemistry). Beijing: Ko-hsueh Chu-pan-she.

For a variety of representative studies, see

Chao Kuang-hua 赵匡华, editor. 1985. Chung-kuo ku-tai hua-hsueh-shih yen-chiu 中国古代化学史研究 (Studies in the history of chemistry in ancient China). B: Pei-ching Ta-hsueh Ch'u-pan-she.


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Technology, Agriculture

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