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Event details

ANU China Seminar Series

Making Chinese medicines: Reaping materia medica in different regions of China

Lena Springer

4:00pm - 5:30pm
16 Nov 2017
Seminar Room A, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU

Lena Springer


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The production of pharmaceutical drugs in China has a long history of supply from very different regions. The set of a few hundred common ingredients provided in any Chinese drugstore relies on “raw” materials harvested and collected far away. It serves only those who prescribe Chinese pharmaceutical recipes and their local patients. However, the complete set of materia medica in China includes many more ingredients and is a product of the extraction of an enormous variety of medicinal plants, animals, and minerals from their native environments.

Based on ethnographic investigations in different regions of China, this paper will provide examples of some of these drugs. It will trace how suppliers manage to exchange them across vast distances and against a background of complex ethnic relations. Finally, it will highlight the role played by indigenous fieldwork documents in the continuing struggle to provide reference works for the regulation and inventory of useful medicinal materials. It will therefore introduce Chinese naturalists as we encounter them in the historical archive.

About the Speaker

Lena Springer is a research associate at the Institute for the Theory, History, and Ethics of Chinese Life Sciences of Charité Medical University Berlin. She was a Jing Brand Fellow at the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge, and remains affiliated with the University of Westminster’s EASTmedicine research group in London. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU. She works on the transmission of medical heritage in different regions of China, focussing on re-written materia medica archives and on fieldwork on pharmaceutical material culture. She is currently probing the English translation, scientific identification, and broad accessibility of a database of handwritten Chinese pharmaceutical recipes.

After the Seminar

All attendees are invited to join us in the CIW Tea House for informal discussion with the guest speaker after the seminar. With the consent of speakers, seminars are recorded and made publicly available through the Seminar Series’ website to build an archive of research on the Sinophone world.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.

Updated:  16 February 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director, China in the World /Page Contact:  China in the World