11 May

Although  the  nations  surrounding China  were heavily  influenced  by Chinese  medical  philosophy,   the  direction  of  exchange  is sometimes obscure.  Shared  medical  traditions have  different  creation  myths  in each state  within  the Chinese cultural  sphere.  For  example, in Korea, the  invention  of moxa  and  stone  acupuncture needles was attributed to Tan Gun, the legendary founder of that nation. Many medicinal substances were exported  from Korea  to China,  before Korea  exported Chinese medicine to Japan.  Due to Korea’s geographical  situation,  the history   of   medicine   in   the   peninsula   was   intimately    linked   to developments  in China,  Japan,  and  other  Asian countries.  During  the Three Kingdoms period (37 B.C.E.–935 A.D.), scholars adapted the Chinese writing system to the Korean  language. The date for the introduction of Buddhism  into  Korea  is usually  given as 372, when a Chinese  monk brought   Buddhist  scriptures  and  images.  Having  adopted   Buddhism from China,  Korean  monks  and  scholars  traveled  to China  and  India in search of further  enlightenment.  Buddhism  also figures prominently in  early  interactions between  Korea  and  Japan.   Surviving  historical records  suggest  that  disease  germs  as  well as religious  artifacts  were involved in these transactions.

Korean  physicians were very much influenced by Chinese medical philosophy,  and used Chinese medical terms in describing disease, but they also reinterpreted Chinese  texts in terms  of local conditions  and added information obtained  from Indian  sources. Scholarly discussions of  disease  generally  followed  the  principles  set  forth  in  the  Chinese medical literature, but the study of Korea’s traditional folk remedies stim- ulated the development  of an independent  line of medical scholarship that  recognized the importance  of local conditions.  Such texts include the Emergency Remedies of Folk Medicine (1236), a medical encyclopedia entitled the Compilation of Native Korean Prescriptions (1433), and the Exemplar of Korean Medicine (1610).

Emergency Remedies of Folk Medicine mainly deals with the use of local  drugs,  but  it  also  describes  symptoms  of  various  diseases  and methods  of cure in terms of classical Chinese medicine. Medical  emer- gencies  described   in  the  text  include  food   poisoning,   the  bites  of poisonous  insects and wild animals, stroke, nightmares,  drowning,  falls, alcoholism,  epilepsy, fainting,  hemorrhages, internal  bleeding,  and  so forth.  The  text  also  described  the  symptoms  of  malaria,  the  ‘‘three- day  fever’’  that   was  much   feared   throughout  the  region,   and   its treatment with various  local medicines.

Chinese records suggest very early opportunities for the spread of smallpox  and  other  diseases  through   direct  and  indirect  trade  with India, Rome, and Arabia.  The Exemplar of Korean Medicine states that smallpox was introduced  into northern China from Central  Asia by the Huns about  the time that the Han Dynasty replaced the Chou Dynasty. Smallpox was probably  brought  to Korea  from China by the end of the sixth century  and then transmitted from Korea  to Japan.

Another   kind  of  argument   about   China’s  relationship  with  the Western  world  is exemplified  by  Gavin  Menzies’s  controversial   claim that  Ming Dynasty  explorers,  led by Admiral  Zheng He, discovered the Americas in 1421. In 1405, Zheng launched  a great fleet of ships on the first  of seven expeditions.  Between 1405 and  1433, Zheng  allegedly led the  fleet  to  places  as  distant  as  Sumatra,   India,  Sri  Lanka,   Somalia, Kenya,  and  the Americas.  Most  scholars  believe that  Chinese explorers and travelers did bring back stories of an exotic world outside the sphere of Chinese influence, but  China’s rulers apparently concluded  that  what the  outside  world  had  to  offer  was  insignificant.  Menzies,  author   of 1421: The Year China Discovered America, gained considerable  notoriety for his theory that Admiral Zheng discovered America before Columbus. He has also argued that  DNA  evidence confirms his thesis. According  to Menzies,  some  Chinese  sailors  and  concubines  who  accompanied   the Ming Dynasty admiral remained in the Americas, established settlements, and interbred  with indigenous  peoples.

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