University News

Library obtains rare Chinese text

Contributing Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2011

The University Library has acquired one of only 10 copies worldwide of the first European-printed book on Chinese medicine, entitled “Les Secrets de la Medecine des Chinois.” An addition to the Library’s Special Collections, the book was purchased in connection with Brown’s Year of China celebration.  

“This is a groundbreaking work,” said Holly Snyder, curator of the History of Science collections, because it brings “East and West together.” Published in French in 1671 by Philippe Charvys, the book is a collection of anonymously translated Chinese texts about the theory and practice of acupuncture.

“It is a demonstration of the expansion of what’s considered important medical knowledge in Europe,” Snyder said.

The University purchased the book three weeks ago from Jonathan Hill, a rare book dealer in New York who specializes in science history. The book will become one of the 3 million items in  Special Collections and will be displayed in the History of Science collection at the John Hay Library, available for all students and faculty.

“It’s a very rare book,” Snyder said. “Harvard and Yale don’t have it.” The National Library of Medicine is the nearest location that houses a copy.

Snyder said she noticed a lack of material about Chinese medicine while working with students in Professor of History Harold Cook’s classes. The Library was interested in “plugging that hole with materials that could be utilized by students,” Snyder said.

Though the University already had a substantial Chinese history collection, it did not have materials on Chinese scientific knowledge, except for astronomy. Acquiring this book allows for “geographic distribution to expand into areas that are not very well covered at this point,” said Dominique Coulombe, acting director of John Hay Library.

Snyder said Cook’s students have already expressed interest in using the book to compare Chinese and Greek medicine. “We do anticipate that it will be used for students for whatever quirky and interesting projects that we can’t always anticipate,” she said.

The book is “in really good condition,” said Library Materials Conservator Rachel Lapkin. “It’s great paper. The binding is in one piece, it’s got a lot of flexibility.”

The book is one of several acquisitions the Library has made for its Year of China initiative, including 19th century books on China’s tea industry and Commodore Perry’s travels in China and Japan. It joins similar items already held at the Library, including the Hay’s collection of manuscripts penned by former Secretary of State John Hay on Chinese-American relations and the George S. Champlin stamp collection containing the first-issued Chinese stamps.

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