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Table of Contents
RESEARCH ARTICLE
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 220-224

Medical culture about Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum and its maritime silk road


Research Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine Literature and Culture, Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Jinan, Shandong, China

Date of Submission18-May-2020
Date of Decision18-Jun-2020
Date of Acceptance18-Oct-2020
Date of Web Publication28-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Zhenguo Wang
Research Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine Literature and Culture, Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Jinan, Shandong
China
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_20_20

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  Abstract 


Initially, Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) was exotic, but it has been playing an important role in the development of traditional Chinese culture and medicine. This article explores the reason for differences in the quality of ancient and modern Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) by analyzing the essential factors including the prosperity and decline of Maritime Silk Road, the relocation of the producing area, and the process of aroma forming. Based on the development and application of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) in Chinese literature and art, traditional Chinese medicine, and folk life over the past 2000-odd years, this article puts contends that Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum), which is endowed with the connotation of Chinese culture and health, should assume its new role as the traditional Chinese medical and cultural carrier on the New Silk Road.

Keywords: Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum), Maritime Silk Road, medical culture, Su Dongpo (苏东坡), Qian Jin Fang (《千金方》 Thousand Golden Prescription)


How to cite this article:
Tian J, Wang Z. Medical culture about Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum and its maritime silk road. Chin Med Cult 2020;3:220-4

How to cite this URL:
Tian J, Wang Z. Medical culture about Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum and its maritime silk road. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 15];3:220-4. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2020/3/4/220/305175



Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is also known respectively as Chen Shui Xiang (沉水香), Shui Chen (水沉), and Mi Xiang(蜜香) in Chinese. At first, Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) was introduced into China as a spice presented by the countries in the South China Sea regions and was an important item of Maritime Silk Road trade. In the 2000 years of the development of Chinese traditional incense culture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) culture, Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) has gradually developed into a special cultural carrier, appearing in almost all aspects of traditional Chinese culture and economy including religious belief, folk life, literature and art, TCM, and trade.


  Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum, Scholars, and Traditional Chinese Medicine Physicians Top


As the ancient Chinese poem says, “The Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is smoking in a censer carved with lions;” and one of the four entertainments that the ancient Chinese scholars loved to do was burning incense, along with drinking tea, painting, and flower arranging. Among the four famous incenses in ancient China namely Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum), sandalwood, ambergris, and musk, one of the best known is Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum). Those refined scholars gathered to chant poetry and paint pictures, play chess, or sip tea, just like what was portrayed in the poem, “In a moon night, the sound of playing chess echoes in the deep yard; The Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is burning in the Boshan censer.” A smoke of incense in the corner of the tea table is rising in spirals. Su Dongpo (苏东坡) and Huang Tingjian, two famed poets in the Song dynasty, often enjoyed this unique incense together and wrote poems about Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum). Wang Zhongxiu (王仲修), a litterateur in the earlier Song dynasty (960–1127), wrote a poem on palace life, which read to the effect that “There are six screens placing in the hall of the Palace, and the Emperor wants to write a poem on it; But he calls the scholar to do it, and the scholar who writes a fabulous poem receives several branches of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum).” From all the above-mentioned descriptions, we can get brief a glimpse of the relationship between Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) and scholars. Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) ignited the literary pursuits for poetry of the scholars, and in turn, the spread of their verses added a bit of chic to the agalwood – a mysterious treasure from the South China Sea. Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) originating from foreign lands is increasingly rooted in the soil of Chinese civilization, and it has become an indispensable carrier in traditional Chinese culture [Figure 1].
Figure 1: The calligraphy of the formula for making Yingxiang written by Huang Tingjian (黄庭坚) of Northern Song dynasty (collected by Taipei Palace Museum of China)

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The development of TCM has always been advancing side by side with the development of social culture. TCM embraces the world in an open and inclusive manner. Whenever something new appears, TCM can always find its positive impact on human health in time and incorporate it into medical care, just like Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum). In the vicissitude of TCM, Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) has always partook in the Silk Road as a noble, which not only connected the cultural and trade exchanges between the Chinese nation and the countries in the South China Sea, but also gave the new connotation of Chinese Materia Medica. When Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) was first introduced into the ancient China from the South China Sea as a tribute and trade commodity, it was first mentioned in Jiao Zhou Yi Wu Zhi (《交州异物志》 Exotic Matters Records of Jiaozhou) by Yang Fu (杨孚) in the Eastern Han Dynasty: “Mi Xiang (Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) can be called Chen Xiang which is made by cutting its root first, and rotting its bark, and putting the hard and black center and joint section in the water.”[1] In the Han Dynasty, the nobles had the custom of perfuming clothes and bedding. With the introduction of Buddhism into China, Taoism gradually flourished as its variation. The function of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) to connect the heaven and earth and communicate with gods was especially appreciated, making it an important incense for religious activities [Figure 2].
Figure 2: The Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) from South China Sea

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In such a social background, Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) naturally attracted TCM practitioners. As Ming Yi Bi Lu (《名医别录》 Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians) records: “Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) and Xun Lu Xiang (熏陆香 Pistacia lentiscus), Ji She Xiang (鸡舌香 caryophyllus), Huoxiang (藿香 Agastache rugosus), Zhan Tang Xiang (詹糖香 Lindera thunbergii Makino), and Feng Xiang (枫香 Liquidambar formosana Hance) are all slightly warm in nature. They can remove toxin and treat the swollen parts of the body due to the pathogenic wind-water, and get rid of the pathogenic Qi. “[2] Tao Hongjing (陶弘景), a TCM physician of the Liang dynasty with a Taoist background, mentioned in the Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu (《本草经集注》 Collected Notes to Canon of Materia Medica) under the item of Gan Cao (甘草 Radix liquiritiae) that “this type of herb is the staple of all kinds of Materia Medica, and those less commonly used in classical prescriptions are such herbs as Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) (此草最为众药之主, 经方少不用者, 犹如香中有沉香也).”[3] It can be seen that it has the function of “harmonizing all kinds of incense,” and it was widely used by the people at that time.


  Identify the Different Quality of Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum Top


However, from the noble class who used incense to “stick Chenxiang onto the pillars of the pavilion and draw the golden wisps on the lintels” to the incense used in religious ceremonies that “the new peak was seen for a while, but burn the incense to provide fragrance;” from the prescription for aromatherapy treatment in the Qian Jin Fang (《千金方》 Thousand Golden Prescriptions) to the medical prescriptions written by the doctors to spread for thousands of years; from the collection of one or two pieces of Shuichen valued thousands of golds, to the fragrance of Shu Shui (熟水), Xiang Cha (香茶) and Xiang Zhuan (香篆) in the Song dynasty, to the pieces of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) sold by the pharmacy today, all of them actually describe different “Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum)”. It can even be said that each piece of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is distinct and unique [Figure 3].
Figure 3: The Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) from India, Brunei, and Guangdong Province and Guanxi Province of China (from left to right)

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The same Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) with different names is mainly influenced by many dynamic factors, such as the origin, basic tree species, and the length of aroma-forming time. Its quality and import volume fluctuate with the rise and decline of the Maritime Silk Road, resulting in the different descriptions of it in historical documents. According to textual research, Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) in ancient documents is mainly composed of Daphne odora (made in China) and Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) (imported), while the Chinese Pharmacopoeia (2015) stipulates that Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is the resin containing wood of Aquilariasinensis (Lour.) Gilg, which is a plant of Daphne odora.

The origin of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) was first recorded in the Nanfang Caomu Zhuang (《南方草木状》 Introduction to Vegetations in Southern Area) by Ji Han in the Western Jin dynasty: “there are Mixiang trees in Jiaozhi,” which is now situated in the north of Vietnam. The Ben Cao Tu Jing (《本草图经》 Illustrated Classics of Materia Medica) in the Song dynasty records “only Hainan countries and Jiaozhou, Guangzhou and Yazhou plant it now.” It can be seen that the supply of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) in the Song dynasty has developed into two kinds of imported and domestic planting, and the basic tree species have also changed. In the Ming dynasty, Li Shizhen (李时珍)'s Ben Cao Gang Mu (《本草纲目》 Compendium of Materia Medica) depicted: “Ye Tingyu said, those originating from the Boni (勃泥), Zhancheng (占城), and Zhenla (真腊) are called Fanchen (番沉), which is also called Bochen (舶沉), or Yao Chen (药沉 medicated Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) and is used frequently by physicians. Among them, the Zhenla is the top one. Cai Tao said, Zhancheng is not as good as Zhenla, and Zhenla is not as good as Lidong (黎峒) from Hainan. Meanwhile, Dongdong (东峒) from Limu Moutain (黎母山), Wan'an, is the best in all the lands, also named as 'Hainan Chen'(海南沉), which values ten thousand qian (钱). Those from Gaozhou, Huazhou in the north of the sea are all the Zhanxiang. Fan Chengda, the man of letters, said, Wan'an is in the east of the island, bathing itself in the sun rise, thus it's more fragrant than others and the local people find it difficult to get it. Bo Chenxiang is strong in smell, and the smoke will be scorched. Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum from Jiaozhi to the north of the sea are all gathered in Qinzhou, known as Qin Xiang (钦香), whose smell is extremely intense. The people in the southern area don't attach great importance to it, but they use it as medicine”[4][Figure 4].
Figure 4: The Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) recorded in the Ben Cao Gang Mu (《本草纲目》 Compendium of Materia Medica) (the Jinling version)

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Due to the influence of the policy of banning the sea trade from the end of the Ming dynasty to the beginning of the Qing dynasty, the trade of the Silk Road through the South China Sea was almost stagnant, and the supply of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) was transformed into the artificial cultivation of Lingnan areas and Qiongzhou, Yazhou. According to the Dong Guan Xian Zhi (《东莞县志》 County Annals of Dongguan) in the Republic of China, “Grow it for four or five years, before you cut and dry it. You will find that the straight one is the Aquilaria sinensis… and in the third or fourth year, the first incense was chiseled. The first chiseling is called opening the door of incense, with several lines shaped like teeth of horses. After chiseling, cover it with yellow sand soil to let it grow again. The rich could open the door of incense after more than ten years; the poor could open the door of incense after seven or eight years. They can be chiseled every year after opening them.”[5] At this time, planting incense has become an important local tax project. According to the research, most of the imported Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is agarwood, and most of the base tree species planted in China are Aquilaria sinensis. The difference between tree species and region will inevitably lead to the difference in the quality of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum).

It requires certain external conditions in the process of aroma forming. After being stimulated by trauma or infection of rhodopsin, the tree will secrete resin to help heal and produce tissues with strong aroma, that is, Edgeworthia chrysantha. According to Illustrated Classics of Materia Medica in the Song dynasty, “if you want to take it, you should first cut off its old wood roots. After several years, its skin is dry and rotten, and its wood core and branches which are not rotten are edgeworthia chrysantha.”[6] It can be seen that Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) used in ancient times was the part of the wood that rotted after a long time, and the residual resin and wood were closely integrated. Because of the high resin content and high density, Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum can sink into water. There is a big difference between the stipulation of “wood containing resin” in Chinese Pharmacopoeia (2015) and the ancient literature [Figure 5] and [Figure 6].
Figure 5: Imported Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) (main component: resin)

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Figure 6: Decocting pieces of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum)

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The difference in the quality of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is mainly due to the proportion of resin and wood and the length of time of aroma formation. In principle, the one with more resin content and longer time of aroma formation is the most valuable. Because of this, every piece of Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum is different. In the Ben Cao Shi Yi (《本草拾遗》 On Supplement to the Compendium of Materia Medica), by Chen Zangqi (陈藏器) of the Tang dynasty, the record goes like this: “Its branches are not rotten and the most compact one is Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum); the floating one is fried incense, the chicken-bone-shaped one is Ji Gu Xiang (鸡骨香), and the horse-hoof-shaped one is Ma Ti Xiang (马蹄香). The Ma Ti and Ji Gu are fried incense, and can be smoked to deodorize, without other uses.”[7] It is clear that those which cannot sink into water can only be used for “fumigation and deodorization.” The Compendium of Materia Medica, written by Li Shizhen (李时珍) in the Ming dynasty, divides Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) into three grades according to the proportion of water and the incense: “Chen (沉), Zhan (栈), and Huangshu (黄熟).” Among them, there are four kinds due to ways of aroma forming: “Shujie (熟结), which is the condensation and self-decay and the cream comes out; “Shengjie (生结), which is the cream coagulate by the cutting of the sword and ax; Tuoluo (脱落), which is the condensation due to the decay in water; Chonglou (虫漏), which is the condensation due to the crack of the beetles. The best one is Shengjie, and the substandard one is Shujie and Tuoluo…Zhanxiang, which is half floating and half sinking, namely the incense half connected with wood could be fried incense…but it is not good as Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) for medicine. “ And it describes in detail that the Huangshu Xiang “is the light incense, whose common name is Su Xiang (速香). There are two categories: One is Shengsu (生速), which can be obtained by cutting; the other one is Shusu (熟速), which is decayed. These two can't be used as a medicine, but it can burn.”[4] In Tian Xiang Zhuan (《天香传》Tianxiang Biography), it is said that “the precious incense like Zhanxiang is priced at the same price as gold,” while “sellers in Yuhang City has ten thousand jin (斤) of Huangshu Xiang, so it's rare to have one hundred jin of real Zhanxiang; one hundred jin of real Zhanxiang can only produce ten jin of the superior Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum), so it's really costly.”[6] It can be seen that the fine Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is very rare.


  Live with Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) Top


The lower quality of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) includes, such as fried incense and cooked incense including Mati and Jigu (floating in water), and they are mostly used by market vendors to make fragrant powder, and smoke clothes to deodorize. The medium quality of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) can be used for burning, i.e., Zhan Xiang (栈香) (half floating and half sinking in the water, and half connected with the wood). As for the high quality of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum), there will be no burning smell until it is burnt out, and the slightly worse one will emit burning gas when it is burnt out. The “Baochai will burn when turned over” and “Yuding will be more fragrant when turned over” practice among the Song poetry and they reflect the quality of incense burning in the upper class. Medium Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) can also be used to make fragrant tea. For example, Xu Yin in the Tang dynasty wrote Shang Shu Hui La Mian Cha (《尚书惠蜡面茶》Shangshu Giving Lamian Tea), which mentioned “gold trough the ground powder of Chenxiang, and the ice bowl contains a wisp of incense smoke.” Or it can be used to make perfume. For instance, Gao Guanguo (高观国) in the Song Dynasty wrote a poem named Shuang Tian Xiao Jiao (《霜天晓角》 Morning Horn and Frosty Sky), which reads, “The smoke from the stove is still smoky. Evaporate and precipitate the flower dew. There is no need for Baochai to turn over the incense. Under the window, there is light green.” As for the physicians' prescription, Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) “can nourish all Qi, from heaven to spring. It can be used as the guidance in the prescription, and the most appropriate”[8] is the Shuichen. According to the Chinese Pharmacopoeia (2015), the functions and indications of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) are “to promote Qi to relieve pain, warm the middle-Jiao to stop vomiting, and receive Qi to relieve asthma.” It is indicated for chest and abdominal distention and pain, vomiting and hiccup due to stomach-cold, Qi reverse, and asthma due to kidney deficiency. It is the specific thinking and application of TCM use of its heavy weight and its clear smell, which can correspond to the heaven and clear the human spirit [Figure 7].
Figure 7: Gilt bronze censer of the Han dynasty (collected by Shanghai Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine)

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  Take the Mission and Set Sail Again Top


“The birds' songs in the flowers disturb my dream, the painted windows open in the morning, and Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) is burning and warming the cold days,” as the poem reads, Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) has crossed the boundary of time and space, and has been given new cultural and health connotation throughout the long history of Chinese civilization. These pieces of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) with different quality, floating, or sinking in the water blooms infinite vitality in the hands of intelligent Chinese people.

From the ancient times to the present, when the wheels of the years are rattle into another prosperous era, the Silk Road is thriving once again. In September and October 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the cooperation initiatives of building a “New Silk Road Economic Belt” and a “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” respectively. In March 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Commerce jointly issued the Vision and Actions for Jointly Building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. However, this time, China serving as the starting point, the products of Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum), with the label of Chinese civilization, bearing the Chinese people's blessing for a good and healthy life, set sail again and headed for the friendly neighbors along the way. Chen Xiang (沉香 Lignum Aquilariae Resinatum) has become a new ambassador for the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative to enhance people-to-people and cultural exchanges and mutual learning among the peoples of countries along the Belt and Road route and to share a harmonious, peaceful, and prosperous life.

Translator: Jianhua Tang (唐建华)

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Liu WY. The Compilation of the Lost Texts of the Local Chronicles of Han and Tang Dynasties. Beijing: Beijing Library Press; 1997. p. 14-5.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Tao HJ, Shang ZJ. Miscellaneous Records of Famous Physicians. Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House; 1986. p. 64.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Tao HJ, Shang ZJ, Shang YS. Collective Commentaries on Classics of Materia Medica. Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House; 1994. p. 206, 256.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Li SZ. Compendium of Materia Medica (The Revised Version, Vol. 3). Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House; 1979. p. 1938-9.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Ye JM, Chen BT. The Annal of Dongguan County (stereotype edition). Taiwan (China): Chengwen Publishing; 1927. p. 398-402.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Su S, Shang ZJ. Illustrated Classic of Materia Medica. Hefei: Anhui Science & Technology Publishing House; 1994. p. 342-3.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Chen CQ, Shang ZJ. The Compilation and Annotation of Supplement to Materia Medica. Hefei: Anhui Science & Technology Publishing House; 2003. p. 375.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Wang HG, Cui SZ, You RJ. Materia Medica for Decoctions. Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House; 1987. p. 136.  Back to cited text no. 8
    


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