[Eight parts in four vols.]: Ben cao bei yao [Completion of the Important Elements of the Materia Medica] & [23 parts in four vols.]: Yi fang ji jie [Collected & Analyzed Medical Formulas]. Ang WANG, or Ren-an or Heng.

“The Most Successful Work of Pharmacy”–Bian

[Eight parts in four vols.]: Ben cao bei yao [Completion of the Important Elements of the Materia Medica] & [23 parts in four vols.]: Yi fang ji jie [Collected & Analyzed Medical Formulas].

Eight vols. 8vo, orig. wrappers, modern stitching. [China]: Ping hua shu wu, 1845.

A rare edition. These two works, issued and sold together, were also part of a larger edition — Ping hua shu wu yi xue cong shu (1845-47) — of the writings of Ang Wang (1615-94). These works were first published in the 1680s and ‘90s and enjoyed great popularity for several centuries, due to their clearness and brevity. Like our edition, the two first editions were issued without illustrations (see Zheng Jinsheng, “Observational Drawing and Fine Art in Chinese Materia Medica Illustration” in Lo & Barrett, eds., Imagining Chinese Medicine [2018], p. 157). Some later editions purloined illustrations from other materia medica texts, resulting in bizarre mismatches.

“The most successful work of pharmacy emerged toward the end of the seventeenth century, promoting an eclectic combination of regularity and individual insight. In 1694, Complete Essentials of Materia Medica (Bencao beiyao) was published as the work of Wang Ang, a native of Huizhou Prefecture who did not practice medicine. Wang Ang’s career as a medical author took off in his sixties, when he realized the demand for books that not only share medical recipes but also explained them. Wang gradually built his publishing studio, Huanduzhai, into a successful enterprise that had outlets in multiple cities across the Lower Yangzi region. In the 1690s, Wang set his mind to creating the most definitive book on bencao. With the astute eye of a cultural entrepreneur, Wang reminded the reader that the pharmacopeia-style books like Bencao gangmu were too long to master: ‘reading it always makes me want to lie down and fall asleep.’ To remedy this situation, Wang borrowed passages from Miao Xiyong’s Exegesis, especially the best explanatory parts that provided the reader ‘something meaningful to chew on.’ Complete Essentials was thus designed to be a readable combination of Li Shizhen’s erudition and Miao Xiyong’s discerning insight, a portable volume that discussed a modest number of 240 common drugs. The first edition of Complete Essentials proved so successful that Wang produced a second edition in a mere five years with some expansion, now covering 400 drugs.”–He Bian, Know Your Remedies. Pharmacy and Culture in Early Modern China (Princeton University Press: 2020), p. 112-13.

The Ben cao bei yao lists plants of medicinal use, arranged into categories — grasses, trees, fruits, grains and vegetables — and also minerals, animals, scaled animals including fish and snakes, insects, and humans. The Yi fang ji jie records about 800 commonly used pharmaceutical recipes. Each recipe provides details on the composition of the drug, diseases for which it is appropriate, and instructions on correct preparation and administration. Our edition of the Yi fang ji jie, in 21 books, has the additions of the Fu jiu ji liang fang and Wu yao yuan quan, in one book each.

Fine set, preserved in a chitsu. One volume has some minor worming.

❧ Georges Métailié, Traditional Botany: an Ethnobotanical Approach, Part IV of Vol. 6 of Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China, pp. 100 & 211.

Price: $7,500.00

Item ID: 7071

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