Well, I never said that the Chinese understood what thyroid hormones were, just that they utilized them (by using thyroid glands of animals) to treat goiter. I did not glean this from Needham; I read this in Robert Temple's Genius of China, page 135.
Sorry! I should have introduced my sentence with "As we both know..." I just wanted to observe that we should be careful with some of Needham's interpretations, because they are based on a modern scientific point of view, but not always on modern scientific experiments that would support Needham's suppositions.
As for Temple, most of his claims come directly from Needham. Temple is some kind of "Needham for dummies" (here again, don't get me wrong
). He takes conclusions from Needham, removes a lot of the evidence Needham had presented to support them, and erases all the caveats Needham had prudently inserted around his claims. As with the case of, guess what... smallpox inoculation.
As for inoculation, the 10th century reference also came from Temple's book, pages 135-137. He says that when the eldest son of Prime Minister Wang Dan died of smallpox, the latter sought a cure to save the rest of his family. Temple says a Daoist hermit summoned from Mount Emei introduced the technique of inoculation. However dubious this may be, he says that smallpox inoculation did not become widely known in China until the late Ming, specifically 1567 to 1672  (Longqing Emperor's reign). He cites the author Yu Tianchi and Yu Chang, the latter's book being Miscellaneous Ideas in Medicine (1643). He also includes an account of Zhang Yan in 1741, the Transplanting the Smallpox.
these claims come from an article that Needham and Lu Gwei-djen wrote in 1980, updated in 1987, and updated again for SCC
VI:6 (Medicine), which Nathan Sivin edited and published in 2000. SCC VI:6
is the reference you need, because Temple’s claims are based on the 1980 article. I will explain below what Needham said about Yu Tianchi. Yu Chang's 喻昌 book is called Yuyi cao
寓意草. It is a collection of medical case records. A scholar called Charlotte Furth has recently translated the title as Notes on my Judgment
. Zhang Yan's book from 1741 is called Zhongdou xinshu
種痘新書, which means "New book on smallpox inoculation." Temple's translation of both titles is wrong.
The 2000 article in SCC VI:6 is titled “The origins of immunology.” Here’s some of what it says on smallpox inoculation (to save time, let me Romanize directly into pinyin):
The earliest reference (apart from the Taoist tradition which we discuss separately below, p. 154) seems to be in the book of Wan Quan& #33836;全 on smallpox and measles, Dou zhen xin fa, first published in +1549 and reprinted half a dozen times in the Qing dynasty.
I already discussed Wan Quan’s (1499-1582) Douzhen xinfa
in a previous post. Needham says this about Wan:
Speaking of treatments, he casually mentions that smallpox inoculation is liable to bring on menstruation unexpectedly in women. His book gives no information on the technique. His remark suggests that inoculation was common in his time, even though no one else was writing about it.
Still on p. 134, Needham translates a passage from Yu Tianchi’s 俞天池 Shadou jijie
痧痘集解 (Collected commentaries on smallpox, 1727), which he claims was based on Weng Zhongren’s 翁仲仁 Douzhen jinjing lu
Smallpox inoculation arose in the Longqing 隆慶reign-period [+1567 to +1572], especially at Taiping 太平 district in Ningguo 寧國 prefecture [modern Anhui]. We do not know the names of the inoculators, but they got it from an eccentric and extraordinary man who had himself derived it from alchemical adepts (dan jia 丹家). Since then it has spread all over the country....
This account and Wan Quan's book are the evidence for Needham’s claim about the existence of inoculation in 16th-century China. I believe he is right.
To recount the 10th-century story, though, Needham adopts an interesting narrative strategy. On p. 154, he starts like this:
The moment has come to examine the persistent conviction that for some five centuries before the earliest extant writings on inoculation for smallpox, it had been practiced under conditions of restriction and secrecy.
This "persistent conviction" is of course Needham’s...
The figure around whom the tradition revolved was Wang Dan 王旦 (+957 to +1017), prime minister in the reigns of two Sung emperors....
For the rest of this paragraph, Needham explains who Wang was.
His connection with smallpox inoculation came about because his first born son had died of the disease....
Needham then recounts how Wang consulted people to help him after his first son had died.
And now the killer line:
Such is the account as Zhu Yiliang 朱奕梁 gave it in his Zhongdou xinfa 種痘心法 (1808).
So Needham has just told us this whole story about Wang Dan, only to let us know that the story was actually told in the 19th century! Even if Needham says that "other books on inoculation include the same account, with numerous variations" (p. 154), he mentions no source earlier than the 18th century. However, he observes that all his sources "affirm that the remarkable inoculator came from Mt. Emei" (pp. 154-55), hence Temple's claim to that effect.
After disproving a dubious claim that smallpox inoculation was mentioned in an early-seventh-century medical treatise, Needham says this on p. 155:
We have not attempted to survey generally the Chinese literature on smallpox through the centuries. It would be valuable to study closely all the medical books which discuss smallpox between the +7th and the +16th centuries, to uncover further evidence of inoculation that may be lurking there.
This is all we have! I would be prudent before believing claims made more than 700 hundred years after the events they purported to describe. Needham was clearly tempted to believe in a connection with his heroes "the Taoists" (remember the "alchemical adept" mentioned in Yu Tianchi’s explanation of the spread of inoculation in the Longqing period?), and he might even be right, but I don't think he managed to prove his point.
And thanks for the sources on India.
Made me laugh.
So let's assume for the moment that smallpox inoculation was known nowhere in the world in the 10th century. What would be the next earliest indication of its use? I think it is still 16th-century China. My suggestion would then be to make the 16th century your main claim (because it is clearly ascertained by documents from the time), and to mention Needham's speculation that the technique already existed in the late 10th century in esoteric circles.
Oh, and I added leprosy to the article on Chinese discoveries already:
Very nice entry, short, clear, and packed with relevant information. A few very small modifications. First, is there a way to replace one of these "described/description" with other words?
Leprosy, first description of its symptoms: The Feng zhen shi 封診式 (Models for sealing and investigating), written between 266 and 246 BC in the State of Qin during the Warring States Period (403–221 BC), is the earliest known text which describes the symptoms of leprosy, termed under the generic phrase li 癘 (for skin disorders). This text described the destruction of the nasal septum in those suffering from leprosy (an observation that would not be made outside of China until the writings of Avicenna in the 11th century), and according to Katrina McLeod and Robin Yates it also described "swelling of the eyebrows, loss of hair, absorption of nasal cartilege, affliction of knees and elbows, difficult and hoarse respiration, as well as anaesthesia." Leprosy was not described in the West until the writings of the Roman authors Aulus Cornelius Celsus (25 BC – 37 AD) and Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD).
In "termed under the generic phrase li 癘 (for skin disorders)"
, I would replace "phrase" (which usually refers to a string of words) by "character" or simply "word." Or I would change your whole phrase into "under the generic term li
癘 (for skin disorders)."
And finally, cartilege
should be "cartila
ge" (unlike sortilege)