An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Xinxiu bencao 新修本草

Jan 8, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Xinxiu bencao 新修本草 "Newly revised pharmacopoeia" is a book on herbs and material medica for clinical medicine compiled by the Tang period 唐 (618-907) master Su Jing 蘇敬 (also known as Su Gong 蘇恭, died 674), of whose life not a lot is known. He came from Hubei and served as aide in the right Palace Gate Guard (you jianmengfu zhangshi 右監門府長史). He has also written the medical treatise Jiaoqi fangjuan lun 脚氣方卷論 that is lost. In 659 he was head of a group of 24 imperial physicians presenting to the throne a commented version of Tao Hongjing's 陶弘景 book on herbs from the Liang period 梁 (502-557), the Bencaojing jizhu 本草經集注. This book is China's earliest surviving state-issued pharmacopoeia. Li Ji 李勣, Duke of Ying 英國, was entrusted with the supervision of the final draft, for which reason the book is also called Ying Gong bencao 英公本草 or Ying Gong Tang bencao 英公唐本草. In the offical version herbs are added that were not included in Tao's old book because Tao Hongjing lived in southern China, while the north was ruled by the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534), where southerners had rarely access to. The Xinxiu bencao is 54 juan "scrolls" long and was finished in 659, as a compendium on pharmaceuticals to be found in the whole Tang empire. Chen Cangqi 陳藏器 published a supplement in 739, the Bencao shiyi 本草拾遺. The Xinxiu bencao consisted of 21 juan of text (including an index of 1 juan), 26 juan of coloured illustrations (Yaotu 藥圖, including an index), and 7 juan of comments to the pictures (Tujing 圖經). Only the text has survived, and of this, only fragments of the juan 3-5, 12-15, and 17-20 are transmitted until today, as quotations in other book, for instance, the Song period 宋 (960-1279) pharmacopoeia Zhenglei bencao 證類本草. It might be that the part Tujing is surviving in the chapter Yao chu zhou tu 藥出州土 in the book Qianjin yifang 千金翼方, which is a kind of geography of medical plants of China. It is also included in Han Baosheng's 韓保昇 book Shu bencao 蜀本草. Han lived in the empire of Later Shu 後蜀 (934-965).
The book describes 844 different herbs and plants, which is 114 more than in the first version (marked with xinfu 新附 "newly added"), the commentary to Tao Hongjing's old book. Tao's two categories "grasses and trees" (caomu 草木) and "creeping animals and beasts" (chongshou 蟲獸) were split up into four categories of materia media. The Xinxiu bencao arranged the pharmaceuticals into nine different categories: anorganic materials (yushi 玉石), herbs (cao 草), parts of trees (mu 木), beasts and birds (shouqin 獸禽), worms and fishs (chongyu 蟲魚), fruits (guo 果), vegetables (cai 菜), grains (migu 米穀), and such that are known, but whose medical effects are still not sufficiently explored (you ming wu yong 有名無用). These nine classes are divided into superior, mediocre, and inferior pharmeceuticals (shangpin 上品, zhongpin 中品, xiapin 下品). Each drug is described as to its character and appearance, the places where it grows or lives and can be harvested, how it is gathered, and which medical effects it has.
The compiler's most important principle of scholary work was to record only such drugs information about which is reliable, and not to include phantastic statements that cannot be proved. The Xinxiu bencao is of great value because of its attempt at standardization in the termini technici, and the critical approach towards ancient commentaries. It includes a lot of plants that are not indigenous but came from foreign lands, like borneo camphor (longnao 龍腦), fennel (huixiang 茴香), benzoin (anxixiang 安息香), litharge (mituoseng 密陀僧), dragon's blood (qilinjie 麒麟揭, peppermint (bohe 薄荷), root-tuber of aromatic turmeric (yujin 郁金), the fruits of Terminalia arjuna (kezi 訶子) or pepper (hujiao 胡椒). The Xinxiu bencao explains the appearance of plants, places where they grow, the taste of the medicine, and their medical effects, as well as alternative names. Tao's old commentatory text is introduced by the word jin an 謹案 "respectful annotation", and is written in smaller characters than the old core text of the Shen Nong bencao jing 神農本草經. The Xinxiu bencao corrects many errors included in the transmitted version of Tao Hongjing's pharmacopoeia.
In order to distinguish Su Jing's book from other pharmacopoeias, it is also called Tang bencao 唐本草 "Pharmacopoeia from the Tang period". In 721 the book was brought to Japan where it also served as an important textbook for medical treatment. 10 juan of this original version are surviving in Japan. Three old manuscript fragments of the Xinxiu bencao were discovered in the caves of Dunhuang 敦煌. The Japanese scholar Kojima Tadasu (?) 小島質 was able to discover a fragment of the Xinxiu bencao in the book Zhenghe bencao 政和本草. In 1955 the Qunlian Press 群聯出版社 pulished a faksilime edition of the version in the reprint series Zhuanxilu congshu 籑喜廬業書, and in 1957 the Health Press 衛生出版社 in Shanghai followed suit, as well as the Keji weisheng press 科技衛生出版社 and the Shanghai keji press 上海科技出版社. The Shanghai guji Press 上海古籍出版社 published a modern print in 1985. Li Mengying's 李夢瑩 version of the Xinxiu bencao exists as a manuscript. The Japanese scholar Okanishi Tameto 岡西為人 published a high-quality version, the Chōjō shinshū honsō 重輯新修本草 (1964 joint publication of Zhongguo yiyao yanjiusuo 中國醫藥研究所 in Taiwan and the Nihon gakujutsu tosho kankō kai 日本學術圖書刊行會), with red and black characters, the former representing the old text of Tao Hongjing, the black ones Su Jing's additions. It includes the description of 850 materia medica. Another excellent edition is Shang Kejun's 尚志鈞 Tang xinxiu bencao 唐新修本草 from 1981 (Anhui kexue jishu press 安徽科學技術出版社) that describes 853 pharmaceutical objects.

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