My wife’s out of town for a couple days and I’m doing what I like to do–watching Penn & Teller and flipping through books on ancient Taoist alchemy. I’ve been working up to blogging about Rhinoceros horn (Xi Jiao in Pinyin), and here it is, in James Ware’s classic _Alchemy, Medicine, and Religion in the China of A.D. 320_. This rare book is one of the only translations of Ko Hung’s (in Pinyin it’s Ge Hong) “Bao Pu Zi.” This important early work, which I’ve written about before, is called “The Master Who Embraces Simplicity” and is one of the most famous early Daoist alchemical medicine texts (I switch spelling Taoist/Daoist intentionally to keep you on your toes. It’s always pronounced ‘Dow’ist).
Rhinos have cute ears.
I particularly appreciate this book for saying that gold and silver are the best medicines, and that no plant substance comes close. To be fair, Ge Hong also says he never could afford gold and silver, so just made them out of mercury, arsenic, and lead. Signs of heavy metal poisoning include delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, etc. Ge Hong displays many of those, making his writings even more fascinating. He also says he has collected a lot of stories from other people. He sure writes them down with the firm conviction they are true!
I’m definitely not recommending the use of Rhino horn. In fact, I’m documenting this history partly so curious people can see how absurd the traditional claims of Rhino Horn use in Chinese medicine are. Check it out (Ware, 297): Continue reading →
Classical Chinese education, both in medicine and art, places a high value on three phases:
1) Memorize the Classics
2) Practice from the Classics
3) Teach the Classics
When I was teaching English in Taiwan, a high school student was on the path to being a traditional watercolor painter. I liked his waterfalls and his rocks, and we had many conversations about Chinese art. I asked him if he had ever been to Taroko Gorge, a Taiwanese scenic are with many waterfalls and rocks.
A city boy, like most kids in Taiwan, he hadn’t. But, he told me, to study traditional Chinese landscape painting, it was more important to copy the past masters than to look at the real subjects yourself. In fact, it is frowned upon to paint your own compositions until you’ve spent years meticulously copying the masterpieces.
I really like Chinese brush painting, and while I’m only a so-so cartoonist, I am inspired by Sumi-E brushwork. Here are some pretty horses:
The most famous Chinese horse painting is “Eight Galloping Horses.” It has the special meaning of success in your career (“Horses Come and Bring Success” is the saying on many of them).
It’s amazing what one brush stroke can convey in Chinese and Japanese scroll painting!
You can see in a few of these examples how the composition is nearly identical–generations of Chinese painters have copied it. This is not forgery, it is tradition.
Belief can alter observation; human confirmation bias… leads a person with a particular belief to see things as reinforcing their belief, even if another observer might disagree. Researchers have often noted that first observations are often somewhat imprecise, whereas the second and third were “adjusted to the facts”…
Needham’s Science and Civilization in China uses the ‘flying gallop’ image as an example of observation bias: In these images, the legs of a galloping horse are shown splayed, while the first stop-action pictures of a horse’s gallop by Eadweard Muybridge showed this to be false. In a horse’s gallop, at the moment that no hoof touches the ground, a horse’s legs are gathered together—not splayed. Earlier paintings show an incorrect flying gallop observation.
To the credit of the Chinese painters, one of the horses I selected does have the feet together, and the horses in the traditional “flying gallop” pose are still pretty and nice to look at. It is undisputable, however, that generations of artists, whether they were around real horses or not, learned to paint the “flying gallop” from the Classics of Chinese painting. This happened in Western art as well.
The same tradition of observation and confirmation bias is well-established in Chinese medicine. Often attributed to a taboo against mutilating human bodies, generations of Chinese doctors memorized that the human body had 360 bones, 360 acupuncture points, that the spleen sends the best parts of digested food directly to the heart where it is made into blood, and many other maxims passed down as truths. Many things were force-fit into the calendar system (such as 360 bones) and five element system (they had to get tricky to line up 5 elements with 12 meridians, so they paired the organs to get to 10 and then doubled up on the fire element).
This does not mean that traditional Chinese medicine as taught from the Classics isn’t beautiful or doesn’t contain useful insights or therapies. But observation bias and confirmation bias are firmly entrenched, and sometimes do modern people a disservice. Of course, my most current example is the toxic Chinese herbs which cause permanent kidney damage and drastically increased bladder cancer risk due to Aristolochic Acid. Some dedicated proponents of honoring the Classics of Chinese Medicine are determined to keep using these herbs on their patients because they insist that the Divine Farmer (the legendary founder of Chinese herbal medicine from around 3000 BCE) found out which herbs were toxic back then (through eating them all until his face turned black) and we should just stick to his revelations as communicated through the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (from around 250 BCE). They insist that Chinese herbal medicine is safe when practiced according to the old classics, and teach that acupuncturists should do “whatever it takes” to obtain and use these banned, toxic herbs, including growing them here to escape import restrictions. Arnaud Versluys, a Belgian who studied in China and now lives in Oregon, travels to teach his dedication to Canonical Chinese Medicine. He has stated his view on substituting less toxic herbs for banned herbs very clearly:
You cannot substitute it, I’m sorry, but I don’t believe in substitution. You can approximate maybe, and I have, you know, maybe a few ideas of what you could do, but ultimately, but when you practice this medicine from the perspective that these herbs are actually like stars in the sky and cosmic forces that just, you know, drive the movement and the physiology of this planet, then therefore you are able to restore physiology of the human being on a microcosm. Then you really can’t substitute these plants.
I’m sure there are many Chinese painting instructors who would argue that art students should still learn to paint horses in a splayed leg flying gallop. After all, that’s what people expect of them, and it’s been done that way for centuries. I wouldn’t try to argue them out of it, as the paintings are still beautiful and it really doesn’t harm anyone to have a painting with a flying horse.
He dwelt in the forest a long time, but I caught him today! Infatuation for scenery interferes with his direction. Longing for sweeter grass, he wanders away. His mind still is stubborn and unbridled. If I wish him to submit, I must raise my whip.
This sounds like our subconscious mind. The allegory is of the spiritual journey. In the meditative tradition, one of the main early challenges is controlling the “monkey mind” which in this case is the “bull mind.” Before deciding to master meditation, most people believe they have control of their mind. But when you sit still and try to focus on one thing, you soon find that your mind pulls you up mountains and down into caverns.
Does this also have the double-meaning of “bull” as discussed in the third ox-herding picture? Zen, like the Tao, aims to be simple and natural. Then why are there so many supernatural offshoots to Buddhism and Taoism? Does it really help one in the spiritual journey to engage in magical thinking which makes everything more complicated? It seems to me that Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) and Lao Zi (Lao Tzu) were philosophers that wanted to cut through the supernatural BS that was all around them, and get to the root of the matter–what IS. As usual, there was a glimmer of hope around their genius, but then it became enshrined in more supernatural BS and next thing you know they are regarded as Gods and suddenly have a pantheon of support staff which can be invoked for everything from riches to good test scores. I’m not against either of those, but *really* what do you think Buddha or Lao Zi would say if they were here and someone said “Hey, Buddha, I really dig you. Can you bless me with some money, like perhaps a winning lottery ticket? I’m really bummed by old age, sickness, and death, can you fix that for me too, or should I look up Lao Zi for that?”
I thought I was just making something up with that lottery ticket joke. If only…
Gambling The Gambling Buddha is depicted sitting with his lucky peach (a symbol of prosperity, long life and beauty). The Gambling Buddha can be carried when playing games of chance or be placed next to lottery tickets. He can bring luck with investments if placed by your computer. Because he sits with his lucky peach the Gambling Buddha can also be used when you are taking a chance in love relationships. Carry him with you during troubled relationships. Color of carrying bags vary.
Yes, this is the same Buddha that taught “Desire is the root of suffering, end desire to end suffering.” Again, I’m not a Buddhist, though I’m influenced by some Buddhist theories and practices. Not the Gambling Buddha, though.
It’s so easy to get distracted. One minute, you’re sitting down to control your mind after being inspired by Zen philosophy, the next minute you’re dreaming of winning the lottery (and all the good deeds you’d do with the money!) and thinking that perhaps with a Gambling Buddha on your desk you’d have that sort of lucky magic. Do you break out the whip and get back to focusing your mind, or does the bull pull you to Las Vegas?
Yes, there’s plenty of bull to catch. We not only have our own mind, which is full of all sorts of wily tricks and traps, but we have the external world, always trying to get in our mind and distract it with temptations. The bull of your mind is strong. It could carry you anywhere, help you plant a field of goals. Or it could yank your arms out of socket and trample you to smithereens. You’d better break out your whip, as cruel as it sounds. Or just let the bull go and hop on home, if bull-taming isn’t for you.
Here’s Paul Reps’ original page from _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_ (the graphic is a centuries-old woodcut):
I get some street cred for being threatened with a bone saw on the streets of rural China.
My recent post about the Animal Drugs of the Chinese Materia Medica (the Ben Cao Gang Mu of 1597 by Li Shi-Zhen, translated by Bernard Read) has been quite popular, which encouraged me to share these photos I took 14 years ago.
After I graduated from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in 1997 with a Master’s Degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, I borrowed even more money from Sallie Mae to go intern at a Traditional Chinese Medicine teaching hospital in Harbin, China (the Hei Long Jiang Zhong Yi Xue Yuan). Out of about 50 graduating acupuncturists, only 6 of us went on this trip. Most other classmates had never been to China, and I didn’t really understand why they would pass on the opportunity to go before embarking on their career of Chinese medicine. I’m still paying the student loans I took out to finance my degree and this trip, but it was certainly worth it.
The Black Dragon River Chinese Medicine Study Hospital
It was an amazing 5 week internship. After that, I was the only one from my class who stayed in Asia. I was determined to go to Taiwan for year and get a job teaching English. Unfortunately, I had about $50 to live on after I bought the tickets to get there. Somehow, it all worked out. In addition to teaching English to some great Taiwanese students, hiring Chinese tutors, taking Preying Mantis Kung Fu with a highly regarded teacher, learning to ride a motorcycle by travelling through cities and jungles of Southern Taiwan, and having several other memorable adventures, I also made several trips to Hong Kong and one big journey to the Yunnan Province.
I put on my running shoes and focused my zoom lens before taking these pictures.
I had read about the old-style city of Dali in a Lonely Planet guide, and decided on that for my trip after reading about Mt. Wei Bao Shan’s unusual and rarely seen Taoist ruins and murals (I have pictures I’ll share in a future post). From Taiwan it was a flight to Hong Kong, a bus to Shen Zhen, and then the train through Guang Zhou and all the way to Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province (I think that was 3 days). Then an overnight bus ride on bumpy roads (where I woke up looking at the AK-47 of a Chinese soldier searching the bus) to the little town of Dali, fairly close to the Burmese border.
Dali is in rural China with many minority groups represented.
I stayed at an inexpensive guest house. It was fun but full of rats. I’ve never seen so many big rats in my life! One night I did standing meditation near the kitchen. After a few minutes, the rats started to come out of hiding. There were so many, and they were huge…
The gates of Dali, which was a walled city and still is known for traditional Chinese architecture
I tried to plug the holes in my room, but the rats were too skilled for that. I woke up to big rats in my garbage can–they just stared back at me. The Bai minority group made some great cheese sticks, and I must have thrown away the greasy napkin in my bin.
Monkey tea, anyone?
The rats probably explain the big snake the guesthouse owner caught in the courtyard. He invited me to a special dinner–his mom’s recipe of snake soup! I had been vegetarian for over 7 years, but when I went to China I decided I’d be a good guest and eat whatever I was offered, as my language skills weren’t good enough to politely decline. I had already been served (without even the opportunity to decline) shredded camel hump, reindeer nose, and apparently some bear paw soup at a “special” banquet in Harbin which was the result of my tour leader offering to be the godparent of a young Chinese boy with good English skills she had grown fond of. Bear paw soup is quite fatty. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, some of my other classmates at the banquet refused to eat theirs, but as we didn’t want to insult our hosts by sending the expensive dish back to the kitchen cold, I bucked up and ate 3 bowls. It didn’t do anything magical to me (though I eventually did have some very mystifying stools).
The snake soup was OK, but was made even stranger because the snake had been pregnant and so he cooked her eggs in the soup. The snake egg skin was very tough and rubbery.
The Tibetan antelope horns are real and endangered, the tiger claws are fake--made from cow hooves!
I spent about 10 days in Dali, enjoying most of the local culture and scenery. Getting to Wei Bao Shan was a several day side trip. I saw the animal parts dealers on a couple of the main roads–there were many of them, all set up with red blankets on the sidewalk. I think some of them were from Tibetan minority groups.
It wasn't just men selling animal parts for Chinese medicines
These pictures were all taken on 35mm film (this was 1998, I didn’t have a digital camera). I had traveled with my Dad’s trusty old camera, including a long, heavy zoom lens. I thought hard about taking the pictures, and I did indeed put on running shoes before taking them.
Penis et testes and another fake tiger claw (read on for details).
There was a local police station close to my guesthouse. I knew that most of these items were endangered species and illegal to sell in China and elsewhere (they are CITES listed, which is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), so I thought I’d practice my rudimentary Chinese discussing it with the local cops.
It may not look appetizing to you, but apparently the Japanese businessmen spend big bucks on this stuff before hitting the bars and brothels.
When I walked into the police station, I interrupted about 5 cops playing cards. My Chinese vocabulary is limited, but I’m regularly told my pronunciation and tones are pretty good. I looked up some terms in my dictionary before going in. The conversation went something like this:
“Hi, there are some men selling things like tiger bones down the street. Isn’t that illegal?”
“Uh,” says the blushing cop, “it would be illegal except the things are not real.”
“Ah,” I say, “So they can lie and cheat, and it’s OK?”
“The Japanese businessmen like it,” they say. If you understand the rivalry between Chinese and Japanese (largely because of the racist, imperialist Japanese invasion in World War II) you’ll perhaps understand why this excuse was good enough for the cops. They probably got some kickbacks as well.
“OK, thank you for talking with me.” I left them to their card game. There was a large pot plant (over 6 feet tall) growing right outside of the police station. Cannabis grew all over the area (also Datura, another psychoative plant). I took a picture of the one outside the station when I thought no one was watching me. The next day it was in the trash can. When I find that picture I’ll upload it in another post.
I can't quite make out the text on the ad, I'm sure it says everything is genuine and top quality.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a special Wildlife Crimes Forensic Laboratory which happens to be just over the hill from me in Ashland, Oregon. Several years ago I called and made an appointment to visit them (my wife says they no longer allow any visitors, so this was a very special opportunity). I explained that I had some good pictures of street wildlife vendors from China and would like to give them copies if they were interested. Their lead mammal expert was very interested (and very friendly), and we had a great talk with her and a tour of their high-security facility.
An amazing and slightly smelly place.
She looked at my pictures and pointed out several things that were indeed CITES listed endangered species, such as the Sun Bear skull, the Tibetan antelope horns, and some other rarities. Some things weren’t endangered, like the monkey. But the fascinating thing was that the tiger claws and tiger penises were definitely fakes. She even showed me a diagram they had on hand about how cow hooves get carved and dyed to look like tiger claws, but they definitely aren’t quite right. Also, bull penises get dried and then carefully hand-carved to have little barbs to make them look like a cat penis.
Bull nuts probably work as well as tiger nuts, so I guess it's for the best that the human nuts get deceived. The problem is that not everything is made from cows.
Some of the dealers had piles of ants. Years ago I stocked and sold some ant extract. I had a few happy customers. My only concern about the ant extract was that it not have a bunch of insecticide residues in it. I suppose that if someone wanted the purest ants, they should dig up their own. The FDA just notified the public that a Chinese product called African Ant has undeclared drug ingredients (like Viagra). To me this means that the makers of the ant products don’t believe enough in the aphrodisiac properties of ants to just do the best job they can making black ant or red ant powders or pills.
I added the FDA Tainted Products RSS feed to my daily list: feed://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/ContactFDA/StayInformed/RSSFeeds/TDS/rss.xml
Some of the canvas bags at the back have ants in them.
I’ll be writing more about animal drugs in Chinese Medicine, as well as share other pictures and memories from my time in Asia.
The writings of Bernard E. Read on Chinese materia medica were the first in any Western languages to introduce the full range of resources in a form assimilable to modern medical research. Reissue of these books–along with Read’s main source on drug plants, the pioneering treatise of F. Porter Smith–is timely.
Among the rare books on traditional Chinese herbal medicine, Bernard Read’s works on the early Chinese Materia Medica, including Animal Drugs, Snake and Dragon Drugs, and Famine Foods, provide a fascinating look into some of the largely forgotten thoughts and practices of Classical Chinese Medicine. These books are rare–the few copies on the market usually have an asking price well over $100 (I’ve chosen to make this available as a PDF download at the end of this post). Originally published in 1931 while Read was teaching at the Department of Pharmacology at the Beijing Union Medical College, this Pharmacopoeia is mostly a translation of the 1597 AD Ben Cao Gang Mu (Pen Ts’ao Kang Mu) by famous Chinese doctor Li Shi Zhen (Li Shi-Chen). The original Chinese Herbal Materia Medica was called the Ben Cao (or Shen Nung Ben Cao after the mythological Divine Farmer Shen Nung), which literally means “Roots and Grasses.” Li Shi Zhen’s Ming Dynasty work, often referred to as the Gang Mu, is “regarded as the most complete and comprehensive medical book ever written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine” according to the WikiOracle. This massive 53 volume work has 1892 individual herbs and 11,096 formulas. The work is valued for its historical importance not just to medicine, but for its references to geography, geology, Chinese history, and astronomy.
While there are many substances in the Ben Cao Gang Mu still used today, many are fortunately more historical curiosities of a mythological and superstitious nature (the fourth section is devoted to “Monkeys and Supernatural Beings” as medicines). As I recently wrote regarding the Classical Chinese Medical belief that pregnant women looking at rabbits risked having a baby with harelip, I don’t use the term superstitious lightly. The current trend to “restore Classical Chinese Medicine” as a “science in its own right” by people with a stated “distrust for laboratory science” combines with the low educational level I’ve observed among licensed acupuncturists to cause a need for this discussion. Additionally, the continued poaching of endangered species for traditional Chinese medicines shows the continued belief in the theories recorded in the Ben Cao Gang Mu.
One could hope that in 2012 there would be a widespread recognition of the historical roles of sympathetic magic theories, placebo effects, and superstitions in the history of Chinese Medicine. However, it would be misplaced hope, as there are millions of dollars spent on placebo remedies, endangered species parts, and exaggerated claims based on magical thinking every year.
Sympathetic magic isn’t about sharing someone’s feelings, it’s based on what Sir James Frazer called the “Law of Similarity” in his masterpiece _The Golden Bough_. This principle was found all over the world from the earliest time, and is found regularly in early medicine as “The Doctrine of Signatures” where a kidney bean is good for kidney diseases because of it’s similar shape, etc. Classical Chinese Medicine has a strong system of “correlative cosmology,” largely built around the Five Elements. This places a large importance on color, thus meat from a yellow dog is good for the stomach (attributed to the Earth element which is yellow) while meat from a black dog is better for the kidneys (Water and Black/Blue in TCM theory). Also important is direction, so we will see in the Ben Cao Gang Mu how products from animals walking south (the Fire element) are better for heart disorders, etc..
One of the most common approaches is that eating an organ from an animal will help the same organ in a human. This idea is apparent in the popular line of Standard Process Whole Food Supplements. In some cases, such as thyroid deficiency, it makes sense and has led to proven treatments. However, taken to an extreme it would suggest that those who eat a lot of hot dogs would have very little disease of any organs.
My position is that scientific research is an amazing and appropriate tool for deciding what substances are suitable for medical use. This applies equally to Western Medicines and Chinese Medicines, and one can only hope that corporate greed will be controlled by good science as we continue to move into the 21st century. I’m well aware of the corruption with governmental collusion of Western pharmaceutical companies, and am also aware that mainstream medicine maims and kills far more people than herbal medicine. Before claiming the high ground, however, practitioners of Chinese medicine need to vastly increase their educational level with regards to medical ethics, historical facts, and the scientific method. The scientific method is nothing to be scared of if your claims are truthful, and it’s often not even cost or time-prohibitive to use, as my post on muscle testing demonstrates.
While eating pig thyroid for hypothyroidism and walnuts to help your brain were are supported by chemical research (but originated on sympathetic magical principles), part of what I will share are the substances nobody today would prescribe as useful medicines. It is common to cherry-pick useful examples to promote traditional herbal medicine, and plenty of other people are doing that in their effort to sell products and seminars.
Xander's been chewing this deer antler for awhile, but his ears are still flopped over.
Bernard Read’s book on Animal Drugs is divided into five sections:
Monkeys and Supernatural Beings
Man as Medicine
Over time I’ll do a more thorough review of this work. For today, I’ll bait you into following this series with one example from each section.
From Domestic Animals, we have:
The Meat of Animals Killed by Thunder
From the cow, horse, sheep, chicken, dog or pig.
Ordinarily people are warned not to eat such meat, otherwise it will cause the “big wind” diseases, madness, leprosy, edema etc.
It is given cooked to children frightened by the dark, and for adults who, as a result of fright, are supersensitive.
I wonder if there was a premium on such meat, or if farmers with kids scared of the dark would leave a sheep on the top of a hill during a thunderstorm hoping to be able to use this remedy.
From Wild Animals:
Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!
Most of the entries in this section detail multiple parts from an animal, such as bones, flesh, skin, tail, brain, and feces, all with specific indications. The wolf will be our example today:
Wolf. Canis Lupus…
The name is said to come from its fine intelligence. It can divine the path of its victims… It is as large as a dark colored dog. When it howls, all its body orifices especially the anus reverberates.
It is universal in China. In the north people like to eat it. It has a pointed head with a sharp nose. White cheeks, ribs joined together, tall in front and broad behind and short. It eats chickens, ducks, rats etc. It is variegated yellow black, also some are dark grey. It can regulate its voice, by imitating the cry of a child it can fool people. The people in wild hamlets fear its howl in winter. The bowels are straight, so that when it howls the anus expels gas. Its dung was used on the beacon fires, because its smoke rises straight up and can be seen from a distance. It constantly looks behind. It is very greedy and destructive. When old its neck droops and the tail lags and it finds it hard to travel either backwards or forwards. Its fortune follows the planet Venus.
An animal called the Pei (probably the jeroba) is said to be a short solf with a canny knowledge of the whereabouts of food, so the big wolf carries it on his back. Hence the term “fellows in crime.”…
Tendons of the wolf.
Unusually large. Used as protection against robbers. When burnt the fumes cause cramp in the feet (i.e. the robbers are then easily caught).
Flesh of the wolf.
Saline, heating, nonpoisonous. Stronger flavour than dog or fox meat.
A tonic to the viscera, thickening the wall of the bowels and stomach, stimulating the bone marrow, relieving cold in the abdomen, etc.
According to the “Chou Li”, the wolf was sacrificed in winter, the fat being first removed. Hence the prescriptions ordered for use, fat that had been obtained in the twelfth moon, purified and stored. Strengthening and vitalizing. Emollient to the skin, healing to all kinds of purulent ulcers.
Teeth of the wolf.
Worn as a talisman. Powdered it is given with water for dog bide. Ashed it is given for beef poisoning.
Epiglottis of the wolf.
Sundried and powdered. Half a drachm mixed in food will cure hiccough.
Worn as a talisman.
Tied on a horse’s chest it keeps the animal from fright.
Ashed and applied with oil to swollen glands. The ash is given with water to remove bones stuck in the throat.
Bones in feces of the wolf.
The ash in water will cure a baby’s crying in the night. As a cure for alcoholism. Roasted it is given with mulberry flowers and cicada skin for tetanus. If the patient’s mouth be dry this remedy will not cure.
As you can see, there are some sensible but unadvisable uses, such as wolf fat for dry skin, and some clearly magical ideas, such as using tendons to protect against robbers (throughout the early Taoist alchemical and medical literature, there are references to talismans for protecting against robbers and wild animals). Many times when bones are used, they are ashed first. This type of mineral ash would certainly have some effects (neutralizing acids, supplementing calcium, etc), though it is unlikely that there is a major difference between wolf and dog, tiger and cat, etc. Still, tiger bones are sought after today in preference to cat bones. Fortunately, cow or cat bones and genitals are often sold as tiger parts.
Rodentia are, from what I observed in China, not close to endangered. The large rats I had in my guestroom and observed all around the kitchen where I stayed in Dali, China (in the rural Yun Nan province) could have each fed a family of four. and left plenty of bones to ash. Only the hedgehog was listed in the Shen Nung Ben Cao, the squirrel, rat, and mouse were added later, along with the marmot, pine marten, and mongoose. While there are some interesting tidbits such as the use of squirrel tail hair for pens, the recipe of cooking mutton with bamboo rat to tenderize the sheep meat, the warning against common mouse bites giving a fatally venomous sting (and the advice to cure overeating of mice with, of course, eating a cat), I’m going to go with the hedgehog for today’s post, as this was the earliest inclusion and one of my wife’s favorite critters.
The Hedgehog. Erinaceus dealbatus, Sw.
Shen-nung, 2nd group [this refers to Shen Nung's 3 categories--superior (safe tonic herbs), middle (useful herbs for certain conditions), and inferior (toxic herbs for short-term specific use). KO]…
The head and feet are like a rat. The use of this animal for regurgitation and various stomach troubles is the reason for construction of its name and character. In the time of the Pieh-Lu it was found in the hills and cultivated plaines of Hupeh. There was no special season for its collection. It has short legs, like a pig, and a tail a little over an inch long. It is a browny white colour. Quills like a porcupine. It can roll itself up like the Euryale ferox fruit or a burried chestnut, and it unrolls to urinate. The quills are short and have a forked top. Another species of animal is mentioned which has different quills just like jujube thornes. Kuang Yun spoke of a red tailed animal called Chi Chii. Inferior kinds have feet like a rat. Another kind with a forked tail is called Shan Chi Shu.
The skin and spines together make a good clothes brush.
It is a repulsive clumsy animal, as large as a badger, and as small as a musk melon. It so dislikes the magpie’s call that it rolls over on its back and allows the bird to peck it in order that it may close over and hold the bird fast in its clutches as tightly as a clam. Magpie dung is poisonous to the hedgehog. Tigers are said to be scared by hedgehogs. Implying a relationship with an animal quite different than a hedgehog, Li Shi-Chen thinks it must mean a kind of flying squirrel termed P’iao Shu, which resides in the branches of trees.
Hot hedgehog fat added to iron with a little mercury makes the iron as soft as pewter.
The skin of the hedgehog. (Snout, PS.) (Skin of snout of head is prepared, RB)…
Cut up and roasted black.
Bitter, bland, nonpoisonous.
For all kinds of bleeding piles [Hemorrhoids-KO] given both internally and externally mixed with moxa it is burnt, the fumes of 3 treatments will produce a lasting cure. The ash with oil is applied to worm infested piles, prolapse of the rectum. The ash is applied on cotton to a bleeding nose and to polypi. The ash is given internally for nausea and vomiting, hydrophobia, and dysentery. It is smeared on the breast to quieten a frightened baby. The ash is supposed to have unusual value as a styptic both externally and internally. Given for rupture and colic. Whole hedgehog skins have an extensive sale in the North China drug markets, price 80 cents a catty.
Sweet, bland, nonpoisonous.
Give for nausea and lack of appetite. It is good for piles.
For flatulence and bloody diarrhoea. Dropped in the ear for deafness. Applied externally for alopecia, scabies, and eczema. It is anthelmintic. As a dressing for wounds from a tiger…
Heart and liver of the hedgehog.
The ash is given for swollen glands, and for fistula.
Dropped in the eye to stop lachrymation. Applied to piles. Applied to eyes for difficulties following smallpox.
The hedghog is considered one of the five great fairies, and some people do not like them to be killed, viz. the fox, rat, polecat, snake, and hedgehog.
Thankfully for the hedgehogs, not many people have wounds from tigers or worm-infested piles today. If they do, I suspect there are other treatments even a dedicated acupuncturist would choose.
It’s almost good enough to simply have a section called Chinese Materia Medica: The Monkeys and Supernatural Beings. Choosing just one entry to showcase is difficult. A few of the choices are Organutan (“It can talk and can fortell the future.”), Wild women (“Whenever they meet men they carry them off on their backs for sexual intercourse. The stronger men kill them and cut up the bodies to obtain from the kidney a translucent seal, 1 inch square like dark jade, bearing seal characters.”), and the Gibbon, which “are all born black but the old males turn yellow, when the genitalia rot off and they become females and are pregnant.”
As alluring as those choices are, let’s look at the Fei Fei:
Fei Fei. The Moupin Langur. Rhinopithecus roxellanae… A baboon…
Ch’en Ts’ang-Ch’i states that the Fei-Fei comes from the southwest border tribes. the Erh Ya says it is like a man with long hair floating about as it walks. It eats men.
The Shan-Hai-Ching says the Hsiao Yang has a human like face, with long lips and black hairy body. When it sees people it grins; and when it grinds it draws its upper lip over its eyes.
Kuo-P’u says that it is found also at Chiaochow (Kwangtung) and Nan K’ang-Chun (Kiangsi). It is over ten feet high. In the Sung dynasty the Liao tribe sent a pair as a gift to the throne. The Emperor enquired from the natives and it was said that this animal had a face like a man, a reddish pink colour, like a macaque, it had a tail and could talk like a man with the sound of a bird, and had knowledge of the times of life and death, terribly strong. The feet are turned backward and it has no knees. It just leans against things when it wishes to sleep. The hunters catch them by putting thick bamboos in their sleeves. The baboons catch them, and as they grin the hunter with freed arms nails the baboon’s lip to the forehead. This eventually kills the animals. The fur is so long ti can be made up into false hair for human use. The blood is a good shoe dye and embroidery dye. If men drink the blood it will cause them to see devils.
Li Shih-Chen says that it comes from West Szechuan, and the Chekiang mountains. People like to eat the paws. The Sha-Hsien hills of Fukien are also said to have them.
They are said to be like the men of K’unlun, hairy all over. They close their eyes and open their mouths when they see people. They are great smilers. They reside in the hills and live on crabs which they get by turning up the rocks…
Man as Medicine. Oh boy, this is a touchy subject! Here is a list of the human substances in Read’s book:
Fallen hair from the head.
Human ear wax.
Human knee dirt.
Human finger and toe nails.
Human meconium [first feces from a newborn].
Human urinary sediments.
Human stone in bladder.
Human menstrual blood.
Human anima (ghost).
Human moustache and whiskers.
Human pubic hair.
Human cranium (skull).
Human old liquified placenta.
Human umbilical cord.
Human mummy confection.
Man and Climate.
As tempting as it is to write about all of these (and I may in time, especially with encouraging feedback in the comments!), I think “Human Mummy Confection” is the best sounding “herb” to explore today.
Mu Nai Yi. Human Mummy Confection
According to T’ao Chiu-Ch’eng in the Ch’o Keng Lu, it says in Arabia there are men 70 to 80 years old who are willing to give their bodies to save others. The subject does not eat food, he only bathes and partakes of honey. After a month he only excretes honey (the urine and feces are entirely honey) and death follows. His fellow men place him in a stone coffin full of honey in which he macerates. The date is put upon the coffin giving the year and month. After a hundred years the seals are removed. A confection is formed which is used for the treatment of broken and wounded limbs. A small amount taken internally will immediately cure the complaint. It is scarce in Arabia where ti is called mellified man.
Mr. T’ao has recorded it in this way but Li Shih-Chen the author of this Pen Ts’ao does not know whether it is true so he is recording it for others to verify.
(The Burmese priests have the custom of preserving their chief abbots in coffins full of honey.)
You see, even Li Shi Zhen is skeptical of some of these items!
After significant contemplation, I’ve chosen to make this rare text available as a PDF file. It is out of print, and the 1982 Taiwanese reprint I made the PDF from was likely a bootleg without permission. I think this is in the public domain. If anyone “owns” this work and doesn’t want it available to students of Chinese medicine, just let me know and I’ll take it down. It took me considerable effort to turn this into a PDF, so I’m selling it as a $3 download.
Chinese Materia Medica: Animal Drugs by Bernard Read
This ebook is a 50 megabyte PDF file (black and white). It is out-of-print, but an important and interesting historical reference for students of Chinese herbs and the history of medicine. This is for a downloadable copy, you will be redirected to the download link after checkout.
The third ox-herding picture from the series of ten traditional woodcuts shows the visual discovery of the bull. Spring is arriving now in my world, too! Below is the original piece from Paul Reps’ _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_. I learned that Reps is considered one of the first American Haiku poets. He lived from 1895 to 1990. My wife says he looks like a nice man in this picture:
What a difference a smile and bright eyes make! He considered Maui, Hawaii home, but spent much time in Asia.
Thinking more about the double-meaning of “bull,” it seems that the foundation of Buddhism is to perceive the BS of “normal life.” I’m not a Buddhist and think that the Four Noble Truths should be regarded as the “Four Hypothesis.” Since, to quote John Lilly, “In the province of the mind, what is believed to be true either is true or becomes true,” the belief “life is suffering” can be a hazardous program to run. Life contains many things, including carrots. One Taoist contribution to Zen is to enjoy the pleasures of life without getting depressed due their impermanence.
When I was a child, my mother would threaten to withdraw her permission for me to go a slumber party or play with a new toy if I didn’t complete my chores. It seemed to me that no matter how caught up I was she would find some reason to use such threats. I remember deciding that I wouldn’t desire slumber parties as Mom’s controlling way of using them as leverage caused too much anguish. That’s understandable, but childish. I’ve seen some “fundamentalist” Buddhists apply that immature philosophy to their whole lives, hoping that they will “get off the wheel of birth and death” if they can just stop desiring to have fun. It can be a circular loop–desiring to stop desiring, craving to end craving, aversion to aversion. We aren’t that far yet in this third ox-herding picture, we have just begun to see the bull. One of my favorite Zen Koans is about a fellow hanging from a fraying rope on a cliff with tigers below and mice above (chewing the rope) who delights in the flavor of a strawberry he picks from the cliff face.
The commentary seems to reference initial success at meditation–the senses merge, the gate is entered. Unity is experienced. What artist can capture the experience of Samadhi? Probably not a simple cartoonist like me!
Paul Reps’ translation of the comment for this second of the traditional Zen Buddhist Oxherding Pictures (the Ten Bulls), from _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_ (page 138):
Understanding the teaching, I see the footprints of the bull. Then I learn that, just as many utensils are made from one metal, so too are myriad entities made of the fabric of self. Unless I discriminate, how will I perceive the true from the untrue? Not yet having entered the gate, nevertheless I have discerned the path.
Because my mind works largely on puns, I have been contemplating the double-meaning of ‘bull’ in this search for truth. As we’ll see through this series, there are some interesting twists and insights given in the carefully chosen words.
“Unless I discriminate, how will I perceive the true from the untrue?”
Yes, that is indeed a huge part of my path. Seeing the bull for what it is, I must declare it untrue so I can know what is true. The truth isn’t easy to discern, and along this path, there is plenty of bullsh*t to step in. But being able to see the bullsh*t for what it is indicates that you are on the right path to finding and mastering the bull. It’s better to be able to follow the path without stepping in the BS, but temporarily dirty paws shouldn’t stop us from pursuing the truth. As we grow in experience and discrimination, and employ our twitching noses appropriately, we will be able to avoid BS and do a better job tracking down the truth.