Bolatu's Pharmacy Theriac in Early Modern China

In: Early Science and Medicine


In early modern China, natural history and medicine were shifting along with the boundaries of the empire. Naturalists struggled to cope with a pharmacy's worth of new and unfamiliar substances, texts, and terms, as plants, animals, and the drugs made from them travelled into China across land and sea. One crucial aspect of this phenomenon was the early modern exchange between Islamic and Chinese medicine. The history of theriac illustrates the importance of the recipe for the naturalization of foreign objects in early modern Chinese medicine. Theriac was a widely sought-after and hotly debated product in early modern European pharmacology, and arrived into the Chinese medical canon via Arabic and Persian texts. The dialogue between language and material objects was critical to the Silk Road drug trade, and transliteration was ultimately a crucial technology used to translate drugs and texts about them in the early modern world.

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