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Shennong Emperor's Classic of Materia Medica

Also called Shennong Bencao, Bencao Jing or Ben Jing, Shennong Bencao Jing (Shennong Emperor's Classic of Materia Medica) is a great classic of pharmacology. At first, it was included in Qi Lu (Seven Records) of the Liang Dynasty (502-557); there were some quotations of it in the literature of the Six Dynasties (3rd century-6th century). Shennong Bencao Jing was not a product of one person in a single period, and Shennong was only a borrowed name for it. In the Warring States Period (476-221BC) and the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC) and the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220AD), many medicament scientists collected data on pharmacy, and hence produced the book.

Shennong Bencao Jing is in 4 volumes: the first volume is the preface and the other three volumes are the body. The "Preface" is actually the pandect of pharmacology,talking about the classification of three kinds of medicines, namely, the upper, the middle and the lower levels, which is the earliest classification of medicines in China's history of pharmacy. Moreover, it talks about many aspects of medicines: ingredients with mutual reinforcement and assistance, the harmony of the seven emotions, the properties of drugs and their origins, the identification between the real and the false, the different types of medicament forms, the compatibility and incompatibility in clinical application of drugs, the doses, the time for taking medicine, the conditioning relationship among medicines, and so on. The text part collects 365 kinds of medicines, therein, 252 are plant ones, 67 are animal ones and 46 are mineral ones. More than 170 kinds of diseases are discussed, including diseases of internal medicine, surgery, gynecology, pediatrics and so on.

The book is the earliest extant classic on pharmacology in China. Most of the medicines recorded in it are still in use now, and their efficacy has been proved by long-term clinical practice and modern scientific research. The pharmacological theory and application principles suggested in the book are mostly correct and have a very high scientific value. The book laid a foundation for the pharmacological theory of ancient China, exerted far-reaching influence on the development of pharmacology of later generations, and even now it is still an important reference book for the study of Chinese medicines.

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