This paper examines the relationship between text and illustration in Chinese pharmacopeia in the bencao tradition by focusing on depictions of animals. It explores to what extent such illustrations served a practical—read medical or pharmaceutical—purpose. The first part of the paper discusses the contexts in which animal species have been depicted in traditional China leading up to the emergence of bencao literature. The second part analyses the use of illustrations in Bencao Gangmu. The author questions whether such illustrations were aimed to reflect zoological, botanical, or pharmaceutical information not already present in the text and argues that, instead, their composition is best understood within the context of Ming visual culture, the print economy, and naturalist collectanea produced at the time.
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