Sun Simiao on animal-derived ingredients in medicines

Chinese herbal medicines are well-known for often containing rare animal ingredients like tiger bone. In my opinion, a lot of this probably originated more from social/political pressure to make remedies for the Emperor or nobility from rare ingredients than from any increase in efficacy over plant materials, but regardless of the origin it's a common feature of Chinese herbal formulas, and most practitioners seem to accept it without question.

So I was pleased to stumble on this excerpt from the work of Sun Simiao. Sun was a Tang dynasty physician born around 581; he wrote the classic herbalism treatise Prescriptions for Emergencies Worth a Thousand Gold and is so highly regarded in the history of Chinese medicine that he has been worshiped as the "King of Medicine". He wrote:

From early times famous persons frequently used certain living creatures for the treatment of diseases, in order to thus help others in situations of need. To be sure, it is said: "Little esteem for the beast and high esteem for man," but when love of life is concerned, man and animal are equal. If one's cattle are mistreated, no use can be expected from it; object and sentiments suffer equally. How much more applicable is this to man!

Whoever destroys life in order to save life places life at an even greater distance. This is my good reason for the fact that I do not suggest the use of any living creature as medicament in the present collection of prescriptions.

This does not concern the gadflies and the leeches. They have already perished when they reach the market, and it is therefore permissible to use them. As to the hen's eggs, we have to say the following: before their content has been hatched out, they can be used in very urgent cases. Otherwise, one should not burden oneself with this. To avoid their use is a sign of great wisdom, but this will never be attained. [emphasis added -tms]

A remarkable proto-animal-rights statement from thirteen centuries ago!

Sun Simiao was also a great advocate of dietary therapies; some passing references say he recommended vegetarian foods, though I'm still trying to track down details on this.

(Contrary to the beliefs of some practitioners of modern so-called "Traditional" Chinese Medicine, there is a significant history of vegetarianism in China, mostly from Buddhism but it spread to some schools of Taoism also. So why is it often denigrated in TCM? I suspect the answer lies in the Maoist origins of TCM: certainly a lot of Taoism was filtered right out, and there was also a strong desire to appear modern and Westernized, which would have contributed to the "let's eat meat!" message. However, I emphasize that this idea is still speculation on my part. It is something I'd like to research in my copious free time.)

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