THE MONKEY AND THE INKPOT

THE MONKEY AND THE INKPOT

Carla Nappi
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 250
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0gjm
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  • Book Info
    THE MONKEY AND THE INKPOT
    Book Description:

    This is the story of a Chinese doctor, his book, and the creatures that danced within its pages. The Monkey and the Inkpot introduces natural history in sixteenth-century China through the iconic Bencao gangmu (Systematic materia medica) of Li Shizhen (1518 - 1593). In the first book-length study in English of Li's text, Carla Nappi reveals a "cabinet of curiosities" of gems, beasts, and oddities whose author was devoted to using natural history to guide the application of natural and artificial objects as medical drugs.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05435-6
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. EX-VOTO (AN OFFERING)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. NOTE ON CONVERSIONS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. PROLOGUE: A CURIOUS INSTINCT, A TASTE FOR INK
    (pp. 1-11)

    Stop for a moment, look up from this book, and close your eyes.

    Try to remember, if you can, the very first time you were taken to a natural history museum. Maybe it was a tiny, local museum. Perhaps it was one of those enormous ones with an imposing elephant standing guard or a giant squid tentacling overhead. Recall touching glass cases full of puffer fish, staring up at a giant sloth, and wondering what bugs or beasts you might discover around the next corner.

    Now imagine (you can open your eyes) that your museum also contained the creatures you...

  7. 1 CONCEPTION: BIRTH OF A NATURALIST
    (pp. 12-32)

    It was 1593, and Li Shizhen’s body lay cold on the bed. His cottage was a mess. “Poverty Place,” as Li had poetically dubbed the home of his twilight years, was full of ink and knives, books and animal skins, poems and pepper seeds. Li had prided himself on his lifelong pursuit of broad learning of things(bowu),and the books and objects filling his modest riverside home were a testament to his determination to know as much as possible about the world around him. They also revealed the obsessive personality of a man bent on inking his own name...

  8. 2 GENERATION: ANATOMY OF A NATURALIST
    (pp. 33-49)

    Li Shizhen sat in the tavern with a cup of poison in his hand. Local wisdom was an important ingredient in any collection of medicinal recipes, and it was important to Dr. Li to test folk knowledge when possible before including it in the collection ofmateria medicahe was compiling. The ceramic cup he held was filled with a local delicacy: a thick liquor made with datura blossoms(mantuoluo hua),the fragrant flowers that reportedly rained down from the sky when the Buddha spoke.¹ Li was about to use one of the most versatile tools of an early modern...

  9. INTERLUDE Here Be Dragons: A Reader’s Guide to the Bencao gangmu
    (pp. 50-68)

    Li Shizhen intended hisBencao gangmuto be a definitive work that would modernize medical literature by melding previous scholarship on drugs, classical works, and natural history into one enormous monument to the power ofru(classicist) scholarship.¹ Li’s use of the termruxueto qualify his project indicated encyclopedic study that extended beyond the confines of traditional literature on medicinal drugs to include classical texts more broadly conceived. The resulting compendium contained fifty-twojuan(chapters) and almost two million characters, enormous in scope for a work ofmateria medica.² Of the 1,892 drugs included, 374 appeared for the first...

  10. 3 TRANSFORMATION: ELEMENTS OF CHANGE
    (pp. 69-82)

    Once upon a time, in the state of Fulin, there was a massive quicksilver sea forty to fiftyliacross. Local people had an ingenious means of fetching the mercury from this vast reservoir. First, they dug several dozen pits at a distance of tenlifrom the shore. Then they dispatched strong riders mounted on fine horses after covering both with a layer of gold foil. When the riders approached the sea, their gold plating shimmered in the sun, causing the quicksilver to roil and advance on the riders as if it wanted to wrap itself around their glittering...

  11. 4 TRANSFORMATION: SPROUTS OF CHANGE
    (pp. 83-95)

    If the early chapters of theBencaointroduced the elements of transformation in the natural world, those seedlings sprouted in the next several chapters. Plants, trees, clothes, and tools fill most of the pages of Li’s work: plants, which make up twenty-sixjuanof theBencao,altogether include over one thousand drug entries.¹ Some of these sprouts of change had enjoyed a textual life that stretched back to the very earliest classical works. As stones were the bones of the earth, plants were the sprouts of civilization and provided the architecture of various fivefold systems of correspondence in nutrition and...

  12. 5 TRANSFORMATION: BODIES OF CHANGE
    (pp. 96-110)

    Early modern Chinese natural history was infested with vermin. Specifically, it was rife withchong,a term roughly equivalent in modern Chinese to “insect” but that historically could mean something more like “creature” or “animal” broadly conceived.¹ TheShanhaijing[Classic of mountains and seas], the current text of which dates to the third century, includeschongthat look like tigers, and early modern lexicographers and naturalists occasionally used the termchongwith various modifiers (featheredchong,furrychong,for example) to indicate the major categories of animate creatures in the universe.²

    A scholar sitting at his desk to write about...

  13. 6 TRANSFORMATION: CREATURES OF CHANGE
    (pp. 111-135)

    Sir Richard Lee (d. 1608), English ambassador to Russia from 1600 to 1601, sent a letter to the Royal Society describing his experience abroad. According to his Russian informants, a novelty grew in nearby Tartaria: “There did some yeres growe out of the ground certaine livinge creatures in the shape of lambes, bearing wooll vppon them, very like to the lambes of England, in this manner; viz., a stalke like the stalke of an hartichocke did growe vp out of the ground, and vppon the toppe thereof a budd, which by degrees did growe into the shape of a lambe,...

  14. CONCLUSION ROT AND REBIRTH: THE AFTERLIFE AND REINCARNATION OF ANATURALIST
    (pp. 136-150)

    The Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, England, houses a room dense with offprints, photographs snipped from magazines, and mimeographed and typewritten letters kept by Joseph Needham, the polymathic pioneer of the history of Chinese science and medicine who conceived and penned much of theScience and Civilisation in Chinaseries. Inside one of the many boxes in this room is a tiny comic book written in simple Chinese, easily read even by a child. The pages are filled with images of what has by now become a standard narrative of the life of the Prince of Pharmacologists, the Shakespeare of...

  15. APPENDIX A. Li Shizhen, Lidai zhujia bencao [Bencao works through the ages]
    (pp. 151-154)
  16. APPENDIX B. Contents of the Bencao gangmu [Systematic materia medica]
    (pp. 155-158)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 159-206)
  18. GLOSSARY OF CHINESE CHARACTERS
    (pp. 207-228)
  19. Index
    (pp. 229-234)