A Chinese Treatise of “the Greatest Influence” in Japan

Baisō hiroku hyōki 黴瘡秘錄標記 [Secret Record of the Mold Sores, with Notes in the Top Margin].

50; 53 folding leaves. Two vols. Large 8vo, orig. semi-stiff wrappers (a little soiled) with orig. title slips, old stitching. Kyoto: Minayama Saburōemon 皆山三郎右衛門 & Nishimura Kichibei 西村吉兵衛, 1808.

[issued with]:

MURAKAMI, Toki 村上圖基. Baisō hiroku bekki 黴瘡秘錄別記 [Separate Notes on Secret Record of the Mold Sores]. Five woodcut illustrations. 21 folding leaves. Large 8vo, orig. semi-stiff wrappers with orig. title slip, old stitching. Kyoto: 1808.

Third Japanese edition (1st. ed. in Japan: 1724/25; 2nd ed.: 1774) of the first Chinese book dedicated exclusively to syphilis, here printed with an extensive commentary by its Japanese editor.

The Secret Record of the Mold Sores, or Meichuang milu in Chinese, was first published in 1632 at the end of the Ming period. Syphilis had entered China in the early 16th century through Guangdong in the South. Chen’s book was reportedly the first monograph in China to treat the disease. “Chen Sicheng inherited his father’s medical practice. He carried out far-reaching investigations into syphilis. Besides confirming that this disease is primarily transmitted through contact, he also discovered that it is inheritable and can be indirectly transmitted. In Meichuang milu, he recorded the symptoms of the different stages of syphilis, suggesting the use of a medication...containing arsenic for its treatment. This is the earliest record in the history of world medicine of the use of arsenic preparations to treat syphilis. In addition, in the book he also discusses methods for preventing syphilis” (Zhen Zhiya 甄志亚, Zhongguo yixue shi 中国医学史 [1991], p. 327). For an excellent synopsis of the work, see Albert S. Ashmead, “Synopsis of a Chinese Secret; Manuscript of Syphilis, reprinted in Japan, A.D. 1724, originally written by Chin-Shi-Sei, who lived under the Dynasty of Ming (A.D. 1368-1644)” in University Medical Magazine, Vol. 6 (Oct. 1893-Sept. 1894), pp. 530-34.

In addition to arsenic, Chen and other doctors advocated for the use of mercury. Meichuang milu was “the Chinese treatise that had the greatest influence over 18th-century Japanese doctors’ use of antisyphilitic mercury chloride compounds.” Yet our book shows that the Japanese reception of Chen’s ideas was not uncritical. Asai Nankō (1760-1826), who used the alternative name Wake Koreyuki 和氣惟亨 in our book, was “a doctor who opposed Ancient Formulas medicine” associated with harsh treatments, such as those involving mercury. He “had little patience for the idea that the mica and arsenic in...[Chen’s recipe] could disperse the poison of mercury to yield a milder drug; he insinuated that Chen had exaggerated the differences among these drugs as a ploy to extract greater profits from his patients” (Daniel Trambaiolo, “Antisyphilitic Mercury Drugs in Early Modern China and Japan,” Études Asiatiques 2015: 1004-5). Thus Asai maintains his own voice in the commentary to our book.

Asai’s student Murakami Toki (also known as Murakami Tōjun 等順) added the Japanese reading marks and interlinear comments seen in our book. The interlinear comments are not only informative but interesting, giving a sense of what Chinese expressions posed difficulties for Japanese readers. Murakami is also the author of the Separate Notes, which are written in Japanese and illustrated. The illustrations show the apparatus and methods for producing the mercury drugs. A number of pharmaceutical recipes are given.

The word used for syphilis in the title of our book is curious. It is the Chinese word meichuang (J.: baisō), with mei written with the character for “mold.” This name was clearly confusing to Murakami, who, quoting a Chinese collection of “jottings,” says that “it is called ‘mold sore’ because this sore is greenish blue, black, and ashen, like the color of things that have sprouted mold after it has rained for a long time.” It is tempting, however, to assume that the use of mei, “mold,” is here a homophonic substitution for mei 梅, “plum.” Syphilis was referred to as the “plum sore” disease because of the symptoms’ similarity to the fruit Myrica rubra, known as Yangmei, or “poplar plum,” in Chinese. Asai discussed these and other names of the disease in his notes and opposed the use of “plum sore.”

Fine set.

❧ Mestler, A Galaxy of Old Japanese Medical Books, III, pp. 136-38–“Like many of the early Japanese physicians, Chin considered his treatment (which he called an ‘invention’) secret and he asserted that he would reveal it to nobody. However, it appears to have been a mercurial treatment of syphilis, a form of therapy which was generally known and widely used. Indeed, much earlier than that time mercury (in the native form of cinnabar) was also known in Japan; and, since the Japanese were familiar with the use of mercury in the metallurgical refinement of silver and gold, it is believed that they must certainly have also used mercury in the treatment of syphilis.”.

Price: $7,500.00

Item ID: 10188