New Edition of Zhenghe Classic Classified Materia Medica


Chinese materia medica began with Shennong ben cao jing (Shennong’s materia medica), which appeared before the Qin period (221‒206 BC). By the time that Tang Shenwei (11th century‒12th century) of Song dynasty compiled Zheng lei ben cao (Classified herbal medicine) the number of medical herbs included had increased to well over a thousand. According to Tang’s original text, it was Cao Xiaozhong who, under imperial order, revised the work. Originally it had 30 juan. The Library of Congress copy presented here, which dates from 1249, is incomplete and has only 13 juan (juan 1, 4‒5, 7‒8, 10‒11, 15‒16, 18‒20, 22) bound in 10 volumes. There were two official Song editions of Tang’s work, one entitled Daguan ben cao (Materia medica of the Daguan era), published in the second year of Daguan (1108), the other called Zhenghe ben cao (Materia medica of the Zhenghe era), issued in the sixth year of Zhenghe (1116). This copy is an early Yuan edition based on a Zhenghe copy, printed by Zhang Cunhui of Pingshui (also called Pingyang, present-day Linfen, Shanxi), who also added the work of Ben cao yan yi (Augmented materia medica) compiled in 1116 by Kou Zongshi (active 1111‒17). During the Jin and Yuan dynasties Pingshui became an important center of printing and publishing. The work’s pictorial quality and illustrations are superior. Most of the subjects were derived from Zhang Cunhui’s long-time practice. He added processing methods and prescriptions for each herb. The book has separate discussions of jade, stones, grass, wood, humans, animals, birds, insects, fish, fruits, grains, and vegetables. While the mid-11th century Jiayou ben cao lists 1,118 herbal medicines, this work has a total of 1,746 items. It is the key representative of the Song medical works, published privately, but also promulgated officially. It was popular for several hundred years.

Last updated: January 16, 2018