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Book/Printed Material Ben cao pin hui jing yao 本草品彙精要

About this Item


  • Ben cao pin hui jing yao

Other Title

  • 本草品彙精要

Translated Title

  • Collection of the Essential Medical Herbs of Materia Medica


  • Ben cao pin hui jing yao (Collection of the essential medical herbs of materia medica) was compiled and illustrated by imperial order of Emperor Xiaozong (ruled 1487-1505) of the Ming dynasty. The manuscript was completed in the 18th and last year of his reign, called Hongzhi (1505). It was the only officially published work on materia medica. After Emperor Xiaozong died, the manuscript was kept in the imperial court and not printed for more than four centuries. However, a number of expertly copied manuscripts with color illustrations did appear. Stories about the compiler, the physician Liu Wentai, also circulated. It was said that Liu was an executive medical official at the Imperial Academy of Medicine during the time of Xianzong (1465-87) but was demoted to the rank of administrative medical assistant for "providing inappropriate dosage, causing damage to the emperor" and was further demoted to court physician. It was Liu who led the compilation efforts and the work was presented to the court with his signature. Many other compilers contributed, most of whom were physicians at the academy and a few scholars from the Secretariat. Eight renowned artists, including Wang Shichang, undertook the illustrations. The contents are drawn from Zheng lei ben cao (Classified materia medica from historical classics for emergency), Qin shan zheng yao (Principles of correct diet), Shao xing ben cao (Shao xing materia medica), and other works, thus the word "essentials" in the title. The work, in 42 juan, lists 1,815 herbal medicines, grouped in 10 categories (jade, grass, trees, humans, animals, birds, insects and fishes, fruits, grains, and vegetables). There are 1,367 color illustrations of medicines. The compilation follows that of Zheng lei ben cao but also uses the stylistic rules of Huang ji jing shi (Book of the supreme principles governing the world) written by Neo-Confucian philosopher Shao Yong (1011-77) of the Northern Song. The drugs are divided into two grades, using the conventional 24 rules for descriptions and discarding the traditional way of inserting layers of annotations. The contents cover the authentication, production, composition, and pharmacodynamics of medical ingredients, and related topics, such as folk culture, ideas of health, and geographic environments. The medical knowledge of the compilers and engravers was limited and the work was compiled and illustrated quickly, over a period of one and a half years. Thus the clarity of textual research and information on additional medical drugs is less than praiseworthy. In some cases illustrations and texts do not match. For example, the image of a kiwi is labeled as a peach. These defects affected the book's scholarly value, even though it was the largest encyclopedia with color illustrations and used images from Zheng lei ben cao. Its highest achievement is the 668 new illustrations. In addition, 144 revised illustrations provide further details of everyday objects familiar to the painters, such as vegetables, fish, shellfish, birds, animals, insects, and popular medicines. The painters at the academy also could paint from life, especially exotic animals, such as lions, elks, and peacocks. These splendidly realistic images with colorful brushstrokes are the essence of this work.


  • Liu, Wentai, active 1505 Compiler

Created / Published

  • [Place of publication not identified] : [Publisher not identified], 1505.


  • -  China
  • -  1505
  • -  Animals
  • -  Drugs
  • -  Fruit
  • -  Herbal remedies
  • -  Herbs
  • -  Materia medica
  • -  Medicine, Chinese


  • -  Title devised, in English, by Library staff.
  • -  Original resource extent: 42 juan.
  • -  Original resource at: National Library of China.
  • -  Content in Chinese.
  • -  Description based on data extracted from World Digital Library, which may be extracted from partner institutions.
  • -  Title revised per Asian Division.--cc28 2023-01-06


  • 1 online resource.

Source Collection

  • Chinese Books, Manuscripts, Maps, and Prints

Digital Id

Library of Congress Control Number

  • 2021667445

Online Format

  • compressed data
  • pdf
  • image

Additional Metadata Formats

IIIF Presentation Manifest

Rights & Access

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Credit Line: [Original Source citation], World Digital Library

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Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

Liu, Wentai, Active 1505 Compiler. Ben Cao Pin Hui Jing Yao. [Place of publication not identified: Publisher not identified, 1505] Pdf.

APA citation style:

Liu, W. (1505) Ben Cao Pin Hui Jing Yao. [Place of publication not identified: Publisher not identified] [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

Liu, Wentai, Active 1505 Compiler. Ben Cao Pin Hui Jing Yao. [Place of publication not identified: Publisher not identified, 1505] Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.