The T’ang dynasty (C. 618-960 CE) was a golden age in Chinese civilization. Governmental stability led to enormous economic expansion, facilitated by an extensive system of peaceful trade routes. This era saw the spread of Buddhism and later, Confucianism, in which the every realm of culture flourished. There were also many breakthroughs in the field of medicine during this time. During the T’ang dynasty, the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) spread via the Silk Road, which connected China with the rest of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
TCM and the Quest for Eternal Life
A prime motivation for developing medicine during this era was the search for a way to extend the lifespan. The T’ang emperors, seventeen of whom are reputed to have experienced untimely deaths as a result of using alchemical formulas for longevity, funded this quest.
Practitioners prescribed foods such as pine seeds, chamomile, and the li-shi mushroom to prolong the lifespan. Despite a failure to produce the elixir of everlasting life, Chinese herbal medicine advanced brilliantly during this period.
The Yaoxing Lun: Materia Medica of Medicinal Properties
In 657 C.E., Emperor Gaozong commissioned the revision of the standard textbook on medicine and pharmacology, the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic. This updated version, the Yaoxing Lun (Materia Medica of Medicinal Properties) is a comprehensive reference work on Chinese medicine and pharmacology. It contains entries on 850 medicinals, alongside numerous detailed illustrations.
After the decline of the T’ang dynasty, the Yaoxing Lun was lost for almost a thousand years, until archaeologists discovered a copy at the Dunhuang Grottoes in 1900. Since that finding, TCM practitioners all over the world have used this text as a basic reference manual.
Click to Read Page Two: Sun Simiao, Chinese Scholar