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Oriental literature on plants

Although we can obtain evidence of the past from archaeology, DNA analysis, and linguistic analysis, it is mostly from the written record that information is absorbed and passed on.

Only a few Western students are fortunate enough to be fluent in oriental languages and characters. This means that most of the information on the history of the orient is obtained from European sources, and is therefore interpreted from a Eurocentric perspective.

However, even in the last few decades globalization has promoted familiarization and with the growth of the Chinese, and other Asian economies, the one-time Western perception of distant oriental mystique has become more quotidian as Asian culture has opened up to the world.

This article provides an overview of oriental literature on plants.

Chinese writing & literature

The earliest decipherable written text occurs as inscriptions on bronze vessels and oracle (divination) bones of the Longshan culture in the late Shang period c. 2500-2000 BCE.

Often our knowledge of history is only as good as the literature that records it; Metailie lists Chinese and Japanese literature as follows:

Pre-1800 pp. 670-681
Post-1800 pp. 682-695
Western literature on Eastern plants pp. 696-711

Philosophy and literature developed during the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE) which was strained by both external and internal pressures in the 8th century BCE fragmenting into smaller states in the Spring and Autumn period and reaching full expression in the Warring States period. Between eras of kings and warlords, various dynasties have ruled parts or all of China extending on occasion to Xinjiang and Tibet.

In 221 BCE Qin Shi Huang united warring kingdoms calling himself ’emperor’ (huangdi) of the Qin dynasty, marking the beginning of imperial China. Successive dynasties then developed academic bureaucratic systems to administer wide-ranging territories. The last Qing dynasty (1644-1912) was supplanted by the Republic of China in 1912 and, on the mainland, by the People’s Republic of China in 1949, resulting in two de facto states claiming to be the legitimate government of all China.

From 206 BC until 1912 CE administration was by elite Scholar-gentlemen selected by stringent examination and well-versed in calligraphy and philosophy. Overall periods of unity and disunity alternated with periods dominated by steppe peoples who were eventually assimilated into the Han population.

The classics of Chinese literature date to the Han dynasty.

Chinese technology and commercial acumen was far in advance of that in the West until the early modern period. It is noted for the invention of gunpowder, the compass, printed money, large and sophisticated sailing ships, and the printing press.

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