Healing with Poisons
Potent Medicines in Medieval China
- PUBLISHED: June 2021
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, History, Health
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 276 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 7 b&w illus., 1 map, 3 tables
- ISBN: 9780295748993
Open access edition: DOI 10.6069/9780295749013
At first glance, medicine and poison might seem to be opposites. But in China’s formative era of pharmacy (200–800 CE), poisons were strategically deployed as healing agents to cure everything from chills to pains to epidemics. Healing with Poisons explores the ways physicians, religious devotees, court officials, and laypeople used powerful substances to both treat intractable illnesses and enhance life. It illustrates how the Chinese concept of du—a word carrying a core meaning of “potency”—led practitioners to devise a variety of techniques to transform dangerous poisons into efficacious medicines.
Recounting scandals and controversies involving poisons from the Era of Division to the early Tang period, Yan Liu considers how the concept of du was central to the ways people of medieval China perceived both their bodies and the body politic. Liu also examines a wide range of du-possessing minerals, plants, and animal products in classical Chinese pharmacy, including the highly poisonous herb aconite and the popular arsenic drug Five-Stone Powder. By recovering alternative modes of understanding wellness and the body’s interaction with potent medicines, this study cautions against arbitrary classifications and exemplifies the importance of paying attention to the technical, political, and cultural conditions in which substances become truly meaningful.
Healing with Poisons is freely available in an open access edition thanks to TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem) and the generous support of the University at Buffalo Libraries.
Authors & Contributors
Yan Liu is assistant professor of history at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Liu writes with an accessible, clear and inviting voice. It will prove to be excellent material for teaching in cross-cultural contexts... This nimble and accessible book will surely lay the foundation for more adventurous studies to follow.- Social History of Medicine
Based on a comprehensive study of the most significant Chinese texts, Liu offers a clear exposition foradvanced students and specialists of the development of these medicines and provides a list of some of the most importantdrugs and their uses.- Choice
Beautifully written, this book makes a major contribution to Chinese medical history.- Marta Hanson, Johns Hopkins University
Blows the lid off the myth that Chinese medicine is the opposite of Western medicine in every conceivable regard, showing that medieval Chinese doctors not only treated acute illnesses but also commonly used potent drugs, fully aware of the potential to damage the health of the body.- Miranda Brown, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor