Great Medical Book. Born in 1518, Li Shizhen began editing a major work in 1552 and did not complete it until 1578; it was first printed in 1593 and color plates were added in 1596. Known as the Compendium of Materia Medica,this vast work described almost two thousand animal, vegetable, and mineral drugs and provided more than eight thou-sand prescriptions. As a great pathological and therapeutic work and a masterpiece of Ming era (1368-1644) medicine, this book provided discussions on botany, dietetics, acupuncture, gynecology, hygiene, smallpox inoculation, distillation, and the use of mercury, iodine, chaulmoogra oil, ephedrine, and other items. It also mentioned syphilis, which appeared in China in the sixteenth century and was treated throughout Eurasia. In addition, there were chapters on chemical and industrial technology, geography, history, cosmology, philosophy, and philology.
Significance. This book represented a culmination of the greatest scientific achievements of the Ming dynasty and was one of the few great scientific works written in the sixteenth century outside of the West. It was translated into all the major languages of east Asia and the West.