25 May China Seminar: Bian He

Title: “Not a Local Product Here”: Materia Medica and the Spatial Politics of Material Resources (wuliao) in Ming China

Speaker: Bian He (Princeton University / MPIWG)

Time and location: Friday 25 May, 15.00-17.00 WIJKPL2/001

Abstract: Pharmaceutical ingredients constituted a major category of local products (tuchan) in Chinese historiography. The institution of local tribute (tugong) in turn mediated the relationship between the central regime and local administrations, deriving its legitimacy from the correct identification of noteworthy products with their places of origin. It has been widely assumed that during the Ming dynasty the imperial state’s collection of materia medica, along with other tribute items, became converted into a surtax paid with silver, yet few has looked into the particular process of this change with a wide geographical coverage. Nor were the political, economic, and cultural consequences of this change fully explored. In this talk, I seek to address these questions with my work on the documentation of materia medica as “material resources (wuliao)” in Ming local gazetteers, and present some preliminary results drawn from the digital research platform on Local Gazetteers at MPIWG Berlin. Overall, I hope to demonstrate the distinct regional character of fiscal reform starting from the fifteenth century, and discuss the dynamic relationship between policy, commerce, and culture as seen through the example of pharmacy.

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