Thesis ID: CBB001560778

The Monkey of the Inkpot: Natural History and Its Transformations in Early Modern China (2006)


Nappi, Carla Suzan (Author)

Princeton University
Naquin, Susan

Publication Date: 2006
Edition Details: Advisor: Naquin, Susan
Physical Details: 284 pp.
Language: English

This dissertation investigates natural history in early modern China, seen primarily through the lens of the Bencao gangmu (1596), a massive work of materia medica and natural history written by Ming scholar Li Shizhen (1518-1593) in the last decades of the sixteenth century. The Bencao functioned as a stage on which many great debates over the natural world in China were enacted, and this thesis is devoted primarily to exploring and understanding the epistemological mechanics of those arguments. Fact-making in the Bencao and other natural history texts relied on a combination of innovative citation practices, example-making, and negotiation between sensory and textual evidence that together created an epistemological environment wherein scholars created notions of "reasonableness" and of "absurdity." I argue that a deep commitment to the centrality of transformation and change in the universe shaped Li Shizhen's epistemology and informed all aspects of the Bencao gangmu . Li invoked varied sets of authoritative sources and focused his comments on different themes when treating different categories of natural objects, from the primacy of foundational notions of change in discussing members of the Five Phases, to the importance of poetry as a source of authority when discussing plants, to the role of analogy in debating the morality of using human body parts in food and medicine. This dissertation explores the thematic and epistemic nuances of each major category treated in the Bencao gangmu in turn, situating the debates therein within a broader context of late Ming texts on plants, animals, and stones. The discussions within the Bencao gangmu resonated through a history of reinterpretations of the work, from appendation to the text using local gazetteers as a result of Qing expansion of imperial territory, to a twentieth century refashioning of Li Shizhen as scientist, comic-book figure, artistic muse, and medical icon.


Description On a work of materia medica and natural history written by Ming scholar Li Shizhen (1518-1593). Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 67/07 (2007). UMI pub. no. 3227345.

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Authors & Contributors
Nappi, Carla Suzan
Sun, Chengsheng
Shi, Yunli
Wang, Miao
Nui, Yahua
Chu, Pingyi
Ziran Kexueshi Yanjiu (Studies in the History of Natural Sciences)
Lishi yuyan yanjiuso jikan (Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica)
Tsinghua xuebao
Nei Menggu Shifan Daxue Xuebao (Ziran Kexue Ban)
Medical History
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Harvard University Press
Harvard University
East Asia, civilization and culture
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Materia medica
Transmission of ideas
Li, Shizhen
Ricci, Matteo
Vesalius, Andreas
Clavius, Christopher
Ming dynasty (China, 1368-1644)
17th century
Qing dynasty (China, 1644-1912)
16th century
Song Dynasty (China, 960-1279)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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