MORE than ten years have elapsed since I published a little essay 1 intended to show the mode adopted by the Chinese in treating of Natural science, especially Botany, and what degree of advantage European Botanists may derive from the study of Chinese botanical works. The present paper now brought before the public, although treating of the same subject and reproducing occasionally the matter of my former essay, will prove to be virtually a work new in substance, entirely recast, into which also a considerable amount of new information has been introduced.
In resuming my past labours after a long interval I cannot but repeat what I confessed in the preface of my former paper, that I am neither a Sinologue nor Botanist, my knowledge of Chinese as well as of Botany being quite limited. It may well then be asked whether the author has the acquirements to fulfil the difficult task he has taken in hand, and what value may he assigned to a work dealing with matters for the elucidation of which the author declares himself not sufficiently trained by appropriate fundamental studies. I therefore owe to the reader some explanation as to the extent of my competence.
1 On the Study and Value of Chinese Botanical Works, with Notes on the History of Plants and Geographical Botany from Chinese sources, by E. Bretschneider. Illustrated with 8 Chinese wood-cuts. This article appeared originally in the "Chinese Recorder" of 1870 and 1871, published in Foochow. The editor of this periodical, at that time seems to have had little experience in proofreading ; at any rate my paper (although presented in a very clear manuscript) came to light with such a profusion of misprints and other inaccuracies, that it would have been ridiculous to append to it a complete list of errata. I therefore would feel quite disposed to disavow this my first scientific essay ; all the more since at the time I wrote it I had not yet sufficiently mastered the subject, and many of my former statements require modification.
Nobody will, I think, object to my asserting that, for western people, Chinese is of all languages the most difficult; and (I should also say) the most ambiguous. 2 When I first arrived at Peking, 15 years ago, I felt a desire to make myself acquainted with the language in order to be able to utilize the vast literary treasures of the Chinese for the benefit of European science. I soon however became aware of the great difficulties to be encountered, and the long space of time which would be required to learn the language thoroughly. I therefore adapted my studies more exclusively to the branches of Chinese literature I intended to investigate, namely Natural History and Historical Geography. Here in Peking students of Chinese, even with a moderate stock of knowledge, do not generally find any difficulty in producing correct translations; and every information in this connection can easily be obtained from Chinese teachers or books. There are, I imagine, very few, if any, sinologues in China who translate independently and without availing themselves of the assistance of native scholars.
As to the botanical part of my researches, my own knowledge in this department generally is of secondary consideration only. During my long sojourn in China I have always been busy collecting plants, and in so doing I have paid especial attention to those employed by the Chinese for economic and medicinal purposes, ascertaining when possible their native names from books as well as from converse with the natives. My collections I have
2 I hardly think that any sinologue, who has pursued his studies in China and read ancient Chinese authors (even with the assistance of a good native scholar), would in every case agree with the great sinologue Stan. Julien, who in his Syntaxe de la Langue Chinoise, I. p. 1, states that for an instructed sinologue the Chinese language is as clear and intelligible as any other. Unfortunately we have frequently to complain of the vagueness and want of precision of the Chinese style, the authors generally being more anxious to imitate what they call the classical style than to convey in their writings a clear idea of what they mean to say.
20 BOTANICON SINICUM.
been in the habit of sending for determination to several of the most eminent botanists of our time, whose names will be frequently met with in this paper, and who have always afforded me liberal assistance in elucidating many dubious questions relating to interesting Chinese plants. This may suffice for the present to enable the reader to form an opinion as to the reliability of the statements put forward in these pages. It may be added that, having access to the splendid libraries of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission and of the Russian Legation in Peking, where all Chinese works of importance and many rare European books relating to China are to be found, I was enabled to avail myself of many sources of information which it would be difficult to obtain elsewhere, either in China or in Europe. These favourable conditions encouraged me to enter upon the vast, yet almost unworked field of investigation of Chinese Botany from Chinese sources. It is the first attempt of the kind, and is published with a view to laying a foundation for future inquiries. My notes have been written for sinologues as well as for botanists, and I must beg the latter not to be alarmed at the frequent occurrence of Chinese hieroglyphics in the text. No knowledge whatever of Chinese is required to understand the quotations met with in these pages. 3
M. Alph. De Candolle was the first to point to the importance of Chinese records for elucidating certain dubious botanical questions. His admirable work on Geographical Botany -- a most interesting science first created by that eminent botanist -- concludes in the following terms : --
"L'ancienneté, en Chine et au Japon, de quelques unes des races de plantes cultivées est curieuse, du même que la separation du peuple chinois d'avec le peuple de l'lnde, à une époque reculée, séparation qui se prouve par des cultures différentes et par des noms de plantes usuelles, absolument different. J'ai senti à plusieurs reprises dans mes recherches combien l'étude des encyclopédies chinoises et japonaises pourrnit rendre plus de services à I'histoire des espèces ctiltivées, laquelle à son tour est importante pour I'histoire des nations”
3 I may notice here that an eminent botanist in Europe has distinguished himself also as a sinologue. Steph Lad. Endlicher, born in 1804, died in 1849 as Director of the Botanical Garden, Vienna, known by his numerous botanical writings (his ''Genera Plantarura" is still a standard work), published in 1845 a Chinese Grammar and also an Atlas of China. He does not however seem to have directed his attention to Chinese botanical works.
BOTANTCON SINICUM. 21
Indeed a considerable amount of information, interesting to botanists and throwing light especially on the history of cultivated plants, is found in Chinese literature, but is generally difficult to discover, and often involved in a mass of other matter, appreciated only by Chinese readers. We know from their ancient records the plants cultivated in China at an early period, when it had no intercourse with the other nations of Asia. We meet also with positive statements of ancient authors regarding other economic plants now abundantly grown all over the Empire, but introduced from other Asiatic countries, especially Western Asia, after these regions had become known.
After the discovery of America a great many American plants were introduced by the Spaniards and Portuguese into the Philippines and the Indian Archipelago. Their cultivation spread rapidly over the neighbouring regions of the old continent, and they found their way also to China, most of these plants have become perfectly naturalized in Asia and, had the proof of their introduction from America not been preserved in ancient western records, they would certainly be considered natives of Asia. There are some other plants now generally cultivated in America as well as in Asia regarding which even M. De Candolle, notwithstanding his diligent researches, is unable to state, whether they are indigenous in America only, or whether they have been cultivated from time immemorial in Asia also. For the decision of these questions the ancient Chinese records again prove to be of great weight.
An important aid towards defining the geographical distribution of plants in China is found in the geographical works of the Chinese, and such information is all the more precious, as our botanical knowledge regarding the interior of the Empire is still almost a blank. In another place we shall speak more in detail of this branch of native literature.
There are numerous Chinese works dealing especially with Botany, Agriculture, and other kindred sciences relating to Practical Botany. They are replete with information regarding the uses of plants for food, clothing, manufacturing purposes, etc.
In introducing my work I may take the opportunity of explaining in a few words the plan of arrangement. I have divided it into a general and a particular part. The first, which forms the substance of the present paper, begins with a review of the History of Botany, Agriculture and Materia medica of the Chinese and other Eastern Asiatic nations, entering into some details concerning the most prominent treatises and authors in these departments. In the same chapter I shall attempt to show the method employed by the Chinese in describing plants and in investigating Botany and Materia medica.
Another chapter is devoted to the important question of identifying Chinese names of plants with scientific botanical names. I shall record the attempts made" by European scholars to ascertain the botanical names of the plants described in Chinese books.
The first part will conclude with an alphabetical list of Chinese works, and another of Chinese authors quoted in native botanical treatises (the greater portion never before noticed in European books on Chinese literature). The time of publication will of course always be given, as this is a matter of primary importance for our investigations.
In the second part I shall endeavour to present a history of Chinese domestic, ornamental, medicinal, and other plants used for economic purposes, as far as these have come to the knowledge of botanists. My information has been derived from native authors as well as from European scientific works.