Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

An Examination on the Historical Distribution and Transformation of Cinnabar Localities through Chinese Materia Medica Works

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

An Examination on the Historical Distribution and Transformation of Cinnabar Localities through Chinese Materia Medica Works

Article excerpt


The distribution and transformation of cinnabar localities in the history of China as reflected in Chinese materia medica works has been a dynamic process. In the Pre-Qin Period and Qin-Han Dynasties, mining clustered around the few cinnabar localities that were scattered. During Wei, Jin, and the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the number of cinnabar localities gradually increased, and there was a shift of production center. In Tang-Song Dynasties, localities containing cinnabar were more explicitly identified and significantly expanded in size; the tendency toward a shift of production center became more obvious. During Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, the size of cinnabar localities continued to expand a little. The increasing expansion of the localities and the gradual shift of production center was the result of the interplay of many factors including the medicinal attributes and functions of cinnabar, society's demand for cinnabar, mining technologies, the attributes of cinnabar as a natural resource and its religious and cultural functions. An in-depth examination and understanding of the pattem of distribution and transformation of cinnabar localities through Chinese materia medica works would offer better guidance for present-day mining of cinnabar and selection of authentic herbal medicine.

Key words: Chinese materia medica works; Cinnabar Localities; Historical distribution; Transformation


Cinnabar, also known as Zhusha or Chensha in Chinese, is a kind of herbal medicine with a long history and multiple functions. Documentation of its medicinal use dates back to as early as the Warring States Period in the Prescriptions for Fifty-two Diseases: "for skin diseases, use cinnabar and finless eel blood. Chicken blood would also work" (Yan, 2005, p.73). Records of cinnabar localities were recurrent in generations of Chinese materia medica works such as Shennong's Classic of Materia Medica, Supplemental Records of Celebrated Physicians, Master Lei's Discourse on Drug Processing, Classified Materia Medica, A Comprehensive Collection of Materia Medica, Collected Essentials of Species of Materia Medica, Materia Medica for Decoctions, Compendium of Materia Medica, Clarifications on Materia Medica Works, and Annotations on Materia Medica Works. Viewed from a vertical historical perspective, cinnabar localities have undergone constant transformations with the passage of time. Although academia has remained sensitive to relevant research, explorations of the characteristics of the distribution and transformation of cinnabar localities as well as factors that have impacted this process from the perspective of Chinese materia medica are relatively lacking. Hence such an exploration is offered here in hopes of some contribution to academia.


1.1 The Pre-Qin Period and Qin-Han Dynasties

During the pre-Qin Period and Qin-Han Dynasties, cinnabar localities overall were characterized by scarcity of mining sites and clustering of mining efforts. Since the publication of Shennong's Classic of Materia Medica, standardized herbalism gradually came into existence; "bencao" (Chinese herbal medicine) became the synonym of research on Chinese materia medica. Thus, although in the pre-Qin Period, no book actually had "bencao" in the name, there were quite a few records of Chinese herbal medicine, including a good amount of description of localities containing cinnabar. The most representative example was the Legends of Mountains and Seas, which documented a few cinnabar localities: three in the "Legends of the Southern Mountains", seven in the "Legends of the Western Mountains", one in the "Legends of the Northern Mountains", three in the "Legends of the Middle Mountains", and four in the "Legends Overseas" (Yuan, 1980, pp.8-167). These historical descriptions, coupled with research on present-day toponym, suggest that cinnabar localities known to humans at that time were distributed in a dotted manner, spanning the entire territory of China from the west to the east, including present-day Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Shanxi, Guizhou, Ningxia, Qinghai and more (Xu, 1991, pp. …

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