Jutei Honzo komoku [Compendium of Materia Medica [or] The Great Pharmacopoeia].
Jutei Honzo komoku [Compendium of Materia Medica [or] The Great Pharmacopoeia].
Jutei Honzo komoku [Compendium of Materia Medica [or] The Great Pharmacopoeia].

“Probably the Greatest Naturalist in Chinese History”

Jutei Honzo komoku [Compendium of Materia Medica [or] The Great Pharmacopoeia].

52 parts in 33 vols., plus three vols. of woodcuts, one vol. of Prefaces & “Grand Index,” and one vol. of “Addenda,” for a total of 38 volumes. Large 8vo, orig. wrappers (some rubbing & minor wear), new stitching. [Japan: ca. 1640-53].

Second edition to be published in Japan of “The Great Pharmacopoeia” [in Chinese: Ben cao gang mu [or] Pen Tshao Kang Mu], the largest and most complete work on materia medica of its time, by the father of Chinese pharmacy and one of the greatest of all physicians of China. All of traditional Chinese herbal medicine is based on this work.

Li Shih-Chen (1518-93), “was probably the greatest naturalist in Chinese history, and worthy of comparison with the best of the scientific men contemporary with him in Renaissance Europe. His scholarly approach to the wealth of previous literature makes him also the greatest Chinese historian of science before modern times, for his works are an unparalleled source of information on the development of biological and chemical knowledge in East Asia…

“Li Shih-Chen wrote a dozen books, but [the present work] is by far the greatest of them…when he was thirty, he began to be oppressed by the confusion which persisted in the pandects of pharmaceutical natural history…[and] decided to devote himself to the colossal task of producing a revised and truly modern encyclopaedia of pharmaceutical natural history. This was an act of real audacity, since in former times works of this magnitude had generally been commissioned by imperial authority and undertaken by whole teams of physicians. Li was well aware of the vast mass of literature which he would have to review, and of the travels which he would have to make to collect pharmacognostic specimens, studying minerals in situ as well as the plants and animals in the natural habitats…

“Although by respect for custom we allow ‘The Great Pharmacopoeia’ as a translation for the title of Li Shih-Chen’s work, it is infinitely more than that name would imply. This can be seen only by reading his introduction. All that has been recorded, he said, shall be discussed, whether it has a practical use in medicine or not. The book is thus a pandectal treatise on mineralogy, metallurgy, mycology, botany, zoology, physiology and other sciences in its own right, so far as they could be distinguished in the +16th century. All facts, said Li, shall be presented critically, whether acceptable to particular practitioners or not. This involved him in careful historical accounts of the development of knowledge in the different departments of natural history…

“The drugs were placed under the types of diseases in which they ought to be exhibited; the book thus also constituted a general system of medicine, including as it did a wealth of specimen prescriptions (no less than 11,096) and a discussion of the principles of the art of prescribing…

“[This work], divided into 52 chapters, contains a total of 1895 entries, of which 275 belong to the mineral kingdom, 446 to the domain of zoology, and 1094 to that of botany. Entries newly added by Li Shih-Chen himself amount to 374, and 39 others were devoted to drugs which had been successfully used by the physicians of the Chin Tartar, Yuan and early Ming dynasties, though not recorded in the pharmacological natural histories before his time…

“It is still a little too early for the definitive evaluation of Li Shih-Chen’s scientific attainments…[this book] is one of the finest flowers produced before the age of modern science.”–Needham et al., Science & Civilisation in China, Vol. VI:1, Botany, pp. 308-21–(& see the many references to Li Shih-Chen throughout all of Needham’s writings).

There are important sections on biology, distillation, industrial diseases, fermentation, and wine-making.

The first edition of this work was published in China in 1596, and the first edition to be published in Japan was in 1637. Our edition contains the three volumes of woodcuts, the “Addenda,” and the “Grand Index” as well as the four Prefaces (1603, 1603, 1590, and 1596) from earlier Chinese editions and the new 1640 Preface. All the texts are in Chinese with Japanese reading marks.

Very good, fresh set. An earlier Chinese scholar has made a series of neat annotations in the upper margins of many of the volumes. A few of the volumes have light dampstaining, and there is some mostly marginal worming to several other volumes. Part 13 has one leaf somewhat stained, but the text is entirely legible.

❧ D.S.B., VIII, pp. 390-91–His “greatest work, known to every educated Chinese even today as the culmination of the pharmacognostic tradition”–(& see pp. 390-98 for a fine summary of Li and this book).

Price: $17,500.00

Item ID: 6584