The story appears on

Page B1

November 30, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Health and Environment

The marvels of ancient medicine

THOUSANDS of years of traditional Chinese medicine history are on display at the Shanghai Museum of TCM. Zhang Qian learns some of the stories behind the ancient cures.

Pointing at a herb around 60-70cm high, Yao Yanli, a volunteer guide at the Shanghai Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine, explains to the visitors that it is a herb widely used for external use named xu chang qing.

Laughter erupts among the crowds, and Yao realizes there must be a tourist sharing the same name.

"It was the name of a real person before it was used to identify the herb," continues Xu, "and the man was a talented TCM doctor who saved an emperor's life."

The legend goes that Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) Emperor Li Shiming was bitten by a poisonous snake while hunting. Regardless of all the precious herbs at his disposal, nothing worked. A notice was then posted offering a reward for anyone who could cure the emperor.

A talented TCM doctor called Xu Changqing offered his help. He used she li cao (literally snake dysentery herb) and the emperor was cured in three days.

Li was delighted and asked what herb Xu had used. Xu hesitated as the emperor had declared a ban on any mention of she (snake). Prime Minister Wei Zheng came to help and said that the herb probably didn't have a name yet. Xu agreed immediately and invited the emperor to name the herb.

The emperor said that since Xu cured him, he would like to name the herb after Xu, so as to spread the story.

As as a result, the name xu chang qing was widely spread, while its original name she li cao gradually faded.

"Thousands of years of TCM history has left not only a profound medical reference but also a rich culture," says Yao. "Almost every collection in the museum has a story."

First founded in 1938, the TCM History Museum, part of the present Shanghai Museum of TCM, is the earliest professional TCM museum in China, according to Wang Lili, director of display at Shanghai Museum of TCM.

It was reopened in 2004 as the Shanghai Museum of TCM, composed of the original TCM History Museum, TCM Herb Specimen Museum and the TCM University History Museum. The new museum is located on the campus of the Shanghai University of TCM in Pudong's Zhangjiang area, covering more than 6,000 square meters.

The museum has collected more than 15,000 TCM relics from Neolithic to modern ages, over 6,000 medical books and 3,000 medical journals dating from ancient times to today.

It presents the development of traditional medicine in China by sculptures, relics and multimedia displays.

Upon entering, visitors step on an embossed "copper blanket." The embossment features part of a statement from "Huang Di Nei Jing" ("The Medical Classic of Yellow Emperor") indicating that the human body keeps a dynamic balance; if the balance is broken, ailments occurs - a fundamental theory of TCM.

A sculpture of a three-dimensional Taiji (literally "great ridgepole"), a Chinese cosmological term for the "supreme ultimate" state of undifferentiated absolute and infinite potentiality, pattern stands at the center of the exhibition hall.

The twin fish yin (cold) and yang (hot) float in the universe while five stones of different color symbolizing metal, wood, water, fire and earth play the base role.

That is how TCM observes the world and the human body, according to Yao. The five elements correspond with the five organs - lungs, liver, kidney, heart and spleen. The yellow stone representing the spleen plays a core role in health maintenance as the root of acquired constitution.

Six giant embossed slates make up a circled wall which explains the framework of TCM development from remote ages to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). All the important elements in TCM history such as the legend of Shennong tasting hundreds of herbs in remote ages, "Huang Di Nei Jing" in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-467 BC), Zhang Zhongjing and his "Shang Han Za Bing Lun" ("Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Disease") in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), the birth of the official medical school Tai Yi Shu (imperial medical bureau) in the Tang Dynasty, the completion of "Ben Cao Gang Mu" ("Compendium of Materia Medica") by Li Shizhen in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the study on epidemic febrile in the Qing Dynasty.

There are also interactive media points that help visitors learn more about the stories behind the embossments.

Tai Yi Shu first appeared during the Tang Dynasty and helped accelerate the development and spread of TCM. It was quite similar to modern medical schools where professional medical experts teach students how to diagnose conditions, distinguish herbs and apply therapies such as acupuncture.

A set of waxworks at the back of the museum re-enacts a scene where students are taking acupuncture exams. And a life-size copper statue is a replica of the actual exam tool used in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

"It is a very delicate tool," says Yao. "To some extent, it visualizes the process of de qi (getting the energy) in acupuncture therapy."

The life-size statue is hollow, with its bun of hair serving as a cover that can be opened and tiny holes are located at each acupuncture point.

The museum displays a copper acupuncture statue as its most precious collection. It is a 46cm-high female statue for educational use. It was built in 1744 during the Qing Dynasty as a reward for medical officials by Emperor Qianlong. Though there were more than 10 similar statues at the time, only one is left in China now.

Other relics include various versions of "Ben Cao Gang Mu" in different languages, delicate medical kit from the Qing Dynasty and fine surgical knives used by TCM doctors in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 420-589).

The ancient Chinese also spent much effort in making fine pill boxes such as gourds, China bottles and some easy-to-carry tiny boxes. According to Yao, there is a delicate copper pill box for soldiers consisting of four tiny boxes that can be folded together for portability.

Natural materials can all be used as medicine in TCM, including herbs, minerals and fungus. Six cabinets of fresh herb specimens including gourd, lu gen (reed rhizome) and bai ji (bletilla tuber) are on display to illustrate TCM ingredients to visitors.

Though most of the herbs used in TCM medicine are of the dried variety, fresh herbs are more widely used for external use on conditions such as snake bites.

More than 3,000 kinds of TCM medicines are collected in the museum of Herb Specimen, covering a wide category of both frequently used and rare species.

"It will be quite interesting for visitors to discover what the herbs really are by themselves," says Yao.

Open: Tuesdays-Sundays, 9am-4pm

Admission: 15 yuan

Address: 1200 Cailun Rd, Pudong

Tel: 5132-2710

A pharmacy from days gone by

Joyce Zhang

A MUSEUM exhibiting the history and culture of TCM medicine opened to the public in early November.

The museum is named after Tong Han Chun Tang, the famous 228-year-old TCM pharmacy. And the pharmacy branch in the City God's Temple is now partly replaced by the new museum.

Herbs, sculptures, medicine-processing tools, specimens and multimedia are used to demonstrate the precious processing technique, medicines and the history of both TCM and the old pharmacy.

The architectural style of the old Tong Han Chun Tang pharmacy displays the layout of traditional TCM pharmacies of the time - with a frontyard store and a backyard factory. The first two rooms are used for receiving customers, the third used as an office and the fourth and fifth used as medicine workhouses.

Outstanding medicine-processing techniques gained the old pharmacy much reputation. Black donkey-hide gelatin and Ren Shen Zai Zao Wan (ginseng recreating bolus) for health reinforcement, Tai Yi Bao Zhen Wan for wound healing and eye drops for pinkeye help present the mature processing technique of TCM patent drugs at the time.

Visitors can also see the pharmacy's various precious herb collections such as rhinoceros horn, wild giant gyrophora and wild ginseng.

To preserve the specimens, the museum opens only on Sunday and Friday and a maximum of 50 visitors are allowed at one time.

Open: Sundays and Fridays, 9am-5pm

Address: 3/F, 20 Yuyuanxin Rd

Tel: 6355-6607 (appointment required)


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend