Another Tradition of Chinese Medical Knowledge Dissemination: The Characteristics and Significance of the 'Zhiguai({greek word presented}) Medical Cases' of the Song Period

Haebyoul Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


During the explanation of the origin of 'prescription ({greek word presented}),' an interesting phenomena in the accumulation and diffusion of medical knowledge in the Song Period is that many prescriptions contain narratives with bizarre elements, such as those given by God through dreams, received from 'strange people ({greek word presented}),' or from animals appearing in these dreams. This study features an anecdote called 'zhiguai ({greek word presented}) Medical Cases,' which contains bizarre elements in the dissemination process of prescription, narrative of the treatment experience, and specific content of prescription, called a 'zhiguai prescription.' In previous research, such prescriptions were often called a 'God-delivered prescription ({greek word presented}).' However, a 'zhiguai prescription' appears adequate because it includes a number of factors beyond the 'God-delivered prescription.' This study examines the background of the intensive emergence of massive zhiguai medical cases in the Song Period, reviews the characteristics and significance of the zhiguai prescriptions in the context of postwar medical history, and finally investigates the influence of the bizarre narrative by tracing the dissemination of related prescriptions. This study found that the zhiguai prescription experiences were different from the so-called 'academic' that was formed in the Song Period, and it was 'another' method of medical knowledge dissemination based on their narratives. The emergence of many zhiguai medical cases in the Song Period, especially in the Southern Song period, is related to the activities of the literati official ({greek word presented}). The literati officials of the Song Period frequently witnessed strange or anomalous phenomena in their daily life. They relied on them to relieve the powerlessness of reality and left records. In addition, unlike the authors of the zhiguai genre of the previous era, they maintained an attitude faithful to the facts when recording them. The massive appearance of the zhiguai medical cases in the Song Period was the result of the combination of the intention of the literati official who valued medicine their medical knowledge to spread the awareness, their reliance on the strange or anomalous phenomena, and their attitude that emphasized a realistic narrative. The significance of the zhiguai prescription of the Song Period can be found in the supplementation and diffusion of existing medical knowledge. In previous research, these were collectively described as 'public experienced methods'; however, various characteristics were found by analyzing the nineteen cases of zhiguai medical cases in Yijianzhi ({greek word presented}) by comparing them with the related contents of the herbal medicine and prescription books of the time. In the use of herbal medicines for specific diseases, there are cases that are unusual or meaningful when compared with existing herbal medicine or prescription books, and thus, this became a decisive basis for the expansion of herbal knowledge in the later period. Moreover, new treatment methods that were not often seen in medical books at the time were introduced, and they have been continuously transmitted to the medical and herbal medicine books since then. Additionally, this study also found cases that were focused on promoting medical knowledge that was not wellknown, and the knowledge that must be known, although they were recorded in the existing medical and herbal medicine books. The record of the zhiguai medical cases evidently had its meanings in supplementing and disseminating existing medical knowledge. Prescriptions in the record of the zhiguai medical cases of the Song Period were subsequently recorded in various medical and herbal medicine books, and they handed down until the Ming and Qing period. Later, when a zhiguai prescription was described in a medical book, its bizarre narrative was not omitted, leaving a trace in the name of the prescription. It can be seen that this bizarre narrative served as a decisive opportunity for the prescription to be transmitted later, considering that existing medical books mentioned the related narratives in Yijianzhi ({greek word presented}) as the source for these subsequent transmissions. When discussing the characteristics of the Song Period in Chinese medical history, many studies state that a strong academic medical trend was centered on the pulse and internal medicine, referring to the development of printing technology, the literati official's interest in medicine, and the compilation of medical books. The contents and dissemination of the zhiguai medical cases of the Southern Song confirm 'another' tradition of medical knowledge transmission that relied on the bizarre phenomena and its narratives in Chinese medical history. Its transmission to the Ming and Qing period signifies the continuation of this tradition into later times. The fact that the zhiguai medical cases were later recorded in medical books in the Ming and Qing period clearly shows the dynamism of how knowledge of the 'case' affects the knowledge expansion of medicine, thereby revealing the power of 'another' tradition called the 'zhiguai' narratives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-92
Number of pages58
JournalKorean Journal of Medical History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
†?his? work?was?supported?by?the??inistry?o???du?ation?o??the?Republi??o???orea?and?the? NationalResearhF oundationooreaNRF00S1ACA0097? epartmentoistorywha? [email protected]

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Korean Society for the History of Medicine. All rights reserved.


  • Literati Officials
  • Prescriptions
  • Song Period
  • Yijianzhi ({greek word presented})
  • Zhiguai ({greek word presented}) Medical Cases


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