Transnational Travels of the Caterpillar Fungus in the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries

The Transformation of Natural Knowledge in a Global Context

in Asian Medicine
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The caterpillar fungus is representative of Chinese medicinal substances that are of Tibetan origin. From the early eighteenth century, due to people’s curiosity about exotic natural objects and their pursuit of new effective medicinal substances, the caterpillar fungus began to spread to Chinese society and even the rest of the world. Through intricate transnational networks of people, societies, and institutions, its specimens first arrived in France and Japan in the 1720s, Britain in about 1831, Russia in 1851, and America in 1891. The caterpillar fungus initiated European research on fungal parasitism in animals, and created new positions in the European natural order. European taxonomic identifications of the caterpillar fungus interacted with the European materia medica enterprise. Meanwhile, new European perceptions about its natural properties came to dominate Sino-Tibetan understandings of its properties and the nature of its cross-species transformation; but some Chinese medical knowledge about the caterpillar fungus was actively gathered in Europe due to its value as a medicinal substance. The tensions and negotiations surrounding the caterpillar fungus before the end of the nineteenth century can be seen as a prelude to the reconstruction of Chinese materia medica in the first half of the twentiethcentury.

Transnational Travels of the Caterpillar Fungus in the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries

The Transformation of Natural Knowledge in a Global Context

in Asian Medicine



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