Zhou Hou Bei Ji Fang 肘後備急方

This is Ge Hong's book, Zhou Hou Bei Ji Fang 肘後備急方. The title is usually translated as Handy Therapies for Emergencies.

I reproduce the critical page from my edition of the book, published by Tianjin Science and Technology Press 天津科學技術出版社. Unfortunately I don't think this book has ever been translated into English.

The page starts:

Volume three.
Number 16. Prescriptions for treating various types of nüe with chill and fever.
Prescriptions to treat nüe disease.

Then we get a list of about 20 or so prescriptions. Prescription number two reads, in Elisabeth Hsu's translation:

Another recipe. Take a bunch of qing hao and two sheng of water for soaking it, wring it out to obtain the juice and ingest it in its entirety.

In the first instance, I think there are two points worth making.

First, the recipes are to treat nüe 瘧. In modern Chinese this character simply means malaria, but in Ge Hong's time, it must have been a less precise term. That said, the mention of chill and fever pins it down more precisely as these are typical malaria symptoms we know today.

The second point is more trivial: according to Elisabeth Hsu, two sheng was about 400 mL - about a cup of water - not one litre as is usually stated.

I followed Ge Hong's recipe using a handful of fresh Artemisia annua leaves from a plant I grew in my back garden. Squeezing, or wringing out, the leaves in the water produced a pale green-coloured liquid that had a very subtle herbal flavour (a bit like camphor, but not unpleasant). But it was so weak I can't believe it would have any effect against a serious malaria infection.


  1. There would have been very distinct descriptions of 虐 at the time. A good place to begin checking is the 諸病源候論, and of course the 千金要方. While these sources are a few hundred years later, they may well cite earlier texts closer to Ge's time.

  2. You also need to consider how big a "bunch" 握 is - is it a handful of leaves, or is it a bundle of full-length stems, complete with leaves? Second, does Ge Hong say fresh? What if the water is to reconstitute the dried plants and you squeeze the plant juice into the remaining water? Like decocting, but by hand instead of heat.

    1. I feel quite certain it means the fresh plants, a bunch or a handful, as this is what you get when you collect the plant for immediate use. It should be young plants, including the leaves and the stems. For dried herbals, most likely they would be cut into pieces and another quantity word, e.g. 两 (grams) would be used.

  3. This is indeed the first account I ever read trying to replicate Ge Hong's instructions. Ms. Tu Youyou got inspired and tried a completely different solvent; others feel inspired by Ms. Tu's story of getting inspired. But nobody bothered to give it a try, or do such an experiment, measuring the amount of qinghaosu in such decoction...