Wolfgang Michel: Far Eastern Medicine in Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Century Germany. Studies in Languages and Cultures (Faculty of Languages and Cultures, Kyushu University), No. 20 (2004), pp. 67-82.

The published printis available at Kyushu University Institutional Repository (QIR).

Wolfgang Michel

Far Eastern Medicine in 17th and Early 18th Century Germany



The impressive cultural aura of China blocks the view of its neighbouring countries far too easily. Despite their geographic vicinity to the "helikon" of the East, these countries handled the culture they adopted from her with surprising independency. Thus, Japan's role in the early transmission of "Chinese medicine" to Europe has not received sufficient recognition. Furthermore many of these observations were made by Germans and throughout the 17th and early 18th century above all scholars in Germany were most active in trying to understand the new treatment methods.

The first documented Western remarks on acupuncture and moxibustion came from Jesuits living in 16th century Japan and are far older than those sources presented by Lu/Needham. Then in the early 1670s Hermann Buschoff put up a manuscript on the miraculous effects of moxa (<jap. mogusa) in the treatment of gout. His dutch booklet was translated almost immediately into German by a member of the "Leopoldina" and sparked a lively debate about the nature of the East Indian wool. After a young Dutch doctor, W. ten Rhijne, was not able to solve this mistery during his stay in Japan, Andreas Cleyer, a German physician and merchant who lived in Nagasaki for two years as chief of the VOC trading post, was contacted. Partly in collaboration with Georg Meister, who later published the "Orientalisch-Indianische Kunst- und Lustgaertner" (1692), Cleyer collected materials on Japanese materia medica and together with several descriptions of japanese herbs he finally was able to deliver an answer to this question.

Back in Batavia Cleyer was instrumental in the preparation of Engelbert Kaempfer's research program on Japan. Kaempfer's research questions came from interested circles in Germany and their counterparts in the Dutch East India Company. Based on the findings of his predecessors at Dejima he collected further plant specimens, books and other informations about materia medica, acupuncture and moxibustion.

Kaempfer and the readers of his influential publications were not aware of the differences between Chinese and Japanese medicine. Some of the remedies, methods and concepts, that formed early Western notions of Chinese medicine, were actually of purely Japanese origin and unknown in China. As far as the technical aspects are concerned Kaempfer gave the most comprehensive description of his era, but when he turned to the underlying theoretical concepts the language barriers at the trading post Dejima posed an invincible obstacle. Linked to classic Graeco-Roman notions Eastern medicine lost much of its attraction. Nevertheless, for German practitioners like Matthias Gottfried Purmann (1648 - 1721) moxibustion appeared to be quite attractive. Acupuncture on the other hand was refuted not only by Lorenz Heister ( 1683-1758), as Kaempfer's descriptions lead to further misunderstandings. Eventually Eastern medicine became an exotic practice, its needles and moxa were enclosed in the rarity chambers of the curious collector.


inserted by FC2 system