Globalisation Interrupted? The Case of Opium in the Circulation of Medical Knowledge in Ming Dynasty China

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
José Antonio Cantón Álvarez Universidad de Granada

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The spread of Western medical practices to China, initiated during the Mongol dynasty, is often considered an example of “medical globalisation,” but few studies have looked at the actual level of adoption of Western medicine in the period after the Yuan dynasty. This essay analyses eighteen Ming dynasty medical sources in order to assess the role of opium, a Western drug, in post-Yuan medical practice. This essay concludes that opium was not widely used in the first centuries of the Ming dynasty, and, when finally adopted in the sixteenth century, its use was disconnected from the Yuan dynasty medical tradition. These findings make us question the continuity and even the existence of the “Mongol medical globalisation,” as well as the validity of the use of synchronic methodology for the study of centuries-long processes such as globalisation.

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