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Li Shizhen

Li Shizhen(1518-1593),whose style name was Dongbi, also called Binhushanren (Person of the Mountain by the Lake) in his late years, was from Jizhou (now Jichun County of Hubei Province) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). His grandfather was a doctor, and his father Li Yanwen (called "Yuechi") was also a famous doctor in the local place. As a child, Li Shizhen began to read some medical classics systematically, and sometimes went together with his father, treating diseases and copying prescriptions. But at that time doctors' social position was low, so Li Yanwen did not hope Li Shizhen to take medicine as his occupation, and asked him to take imperial examinations. For that purpose, he took Li Shizhen to Gu Riyan, a successful candidate in the imperial examination. Gu Riyan had a large collection of books, so Li Shizhen had the chance to read many rare classics.

At the age of 14, Li Shizhen passed the examination for the title of "xiucai" (examinee who passed the imperial examinations at the county level). At the age of 17, 20 and 23,he went to Wuchang to take the imperial exam at the provincial level,but failed each time. Thence,he gave up the imperial examination, and determined to follow his father to learn medicine. He lucubrated at medical knowledge,spared no pains to take in the predecessors' experiences in medical treatment,and were good at giving play to his own creativity. Coupled with his high sympathy for patients, he did not only show good curative leechcraft but also high medical ethics in his practice. He won high prestige in just a few years. Especially,his curing of a weird disease of children called "worm addiction" in the Royal Family of Chu made his reputation rise rapidly, and he was employed by the royal family as "fengcizheng"(an official title), in charge of affairs in the "liangyisuo" (Office of Good Doctors). Later, he was recommended to the "Hospital of Imperial Physicians" in Beijing to work as the "yuanpan" (chief doctor). However,he was not interested in it, and resigned on the pretext of illness after working only for a little more than one year.

In his medical practice, Li Shizhen found many mistakes, repetitions or omissions in medical books available, feeling it was a great problem that affected the health and life of patients. So he made up his mind to compile a new comprehensive book specializing in medicines again. From the age of 34, he started this project. In addition to summing-up of predecessors' experiences and accomplishments, he learned extensively from medical farmers, woodmen, hunters, fishermen and other laboring people, and often went to deep mountains and fields to observe and collect all kinds of samples of plants, animals, minerals and so on. He cultivated medical herbs himself and tried them on his own body so as to get the right knowledge of the herbs. After 27 years of efforts, with reference to more than 800 kinds of literature and based on Jingshi Zhenglei Beiji Bencao (a book on materia medica) by Tang Shenwei in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), he completed his monumental work in pharmacy, Compendium of Materia Medica, in the sixth year (1578) of the Wanli reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) at the age of 60, after he did a great deal of collation and supplementation, added many of his own findings and views, and carried out three important revisions.

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