The Tang Dynasty’s Cash Pharmacopoeia: What Is Money?

Is money a subject of traditional Chinese medicine? Not at all.(Image:  Lawrence OP  via  flickr  /  CC BY 2.0 )
Is money a subject of traditional Chinese medicine? Not at all.(Image: Lawrence OP via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

Is money a subject of traditional Chinese medicine? Not at all. Yet, during the Kaiyuan era of the Tang Dynasty, Zhang Yue, a high official in the imperial household — famous for his style of writing — wrote an essay called The Cash Pharmacopoeia (Qian Bencao). The exquisite piece of writing was fashioned after The Classic of Herbal Medicine (Shennong Bencaojing), which researchers have attributed to the mythical Chinese sovereign Shennong, who was said to have lived around 2800 B.C.

Zhang Yue: The sage of literature

In the first year of the Tang Dynasty, during the reign of Yongchang (A.D. 689), 22-year-old Zhang Yue sat his imperial exam. The article he wrote was later honored as being the best in the world. He was respected for his literary works for the next 30 years and became known as a sage of literature. He even became a court official and was made a prime minister three times.

He opened the roll and saw a shining piece of gold weighing more than five taels. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Zhang Yue, a high official in the imperial household — famous for his style of writing — wrote an essay called The Cash Pharmacopoeia (Qian Bencao). (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The Cash Pharmacopeia diagnoses people’s hearts

Zhang Yue wrote his Cash Pharmacopoeia in his later years when he’d already been a part of high-class society for more than 40 years. The book was short and concise.

He describes money as a poison that causes a fever, yet preserves a youthful appearance; a sweet medicine that is good for treating hunger, cold, and distress, and immediately efficacious. Zhang Yue wrote:

He continues:

The notorious 'little red envelopes' people give each other for Chinese New Year. (Image: kyle tsui ; Flickr; CC2.0)

Money is popular — it can be used to appease the gods up above or burnt to appease the ghosts down below. (Image: kyle tsui ; Flickr; CC2.0)

He went on to write:

Zhang Yue likened money to traditional Chinese medicine. He discussed man’s relationship with money in detail, summarizing its precise method of use.

Translated: Chua BC and edited by Emiko Kingswell

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