2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

A Study of the Colored Illustrations of Bencao

by Artists in Ming Dynasty

Jinsheng Zheng

The China Institute for the History of Medicine and Medical Literature

Chinese Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Among the five types of colored pictures of Bencao drawn by the artists and their copies, 10,709 illustrations can be found today, with those in Bencao Pinhui Jingyao dated the earliest. 700 of the 1,367 illustrations were copied and colored from the black-and-white illustrations of Zhenglei Bencao, with another 667 newly added or revised. The pictures from nature are of high academic value but also have some flaws; for instance, the illustrations were based on the texts or imagination. Thereafter, all of the four Bencao illustrations with colors are drawn, added or omitted on the basis of the Bencao Pinhui Jingyao, while Jinshi Kunchong Caomuzhuan and Bencao Tupu are copies. Shiwu Bencao includes 492 illustrations and 279 newly added illustrations, which include over one hundred appendix illustrations of the Liquid Category and the breeds/strains of the Edible Category. Buyi Leigong Paozhi Bianlan includes 1,153 illustrations, including newly added illustrations of the group of Human Drugs and 224 illustrations of Processing Drugs, which unprecedentedly show many techniques and instruments used in the processing of medicines in ancient times.  Due to their lack of medical knowledge, the artists ignored the scientific nature of Bencao illustration. As a result, they fabricated many pictures that lack the academic value of Bencao and added many appendix pictures based on the ancient Bencao illustrations (including people’s activities). Therefore, although the colored illustrations drawn by the artists in Ming Dynasty are of very high artistic value, They fail to convey the academic value of Bencao learning.


Keywords: Bencao (Herbal foundation), Illustrations of Bencao, Bencao Pinhui Jingyao, Shiwu Bencao, Buyi Leigong Paozhi Bianlan, Jinshi Kunchong Caomuzhuang, Bencao Tupu