Li Shizhen 李時珍

My final stop on this tour of references in the 1979 Chinese Medical Journal paper is Li Shizhen 李時珍, author of the famous Ben Cao Gang Mu. He lived in Qizhou 蘄州, about 60 miles from Wuhan. I visited the town last year to see the Li Shizhen museum.

Qizhou is very much China B, to use China-watcher Nicholas Bequelin's terminology. The old town was razed to the ground by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution - and what replaced it isn't pretty. The streets aren't paved and there's rubbish everywhere.

There's a run-down looking Li Shizhen hospital built in a pastiche Ming dynasty style. When new, it must have been quite something. But when I visited it was deserted and very grubby. It was a travesty of what a hospital should be - all the more ironic given the Li Shizhen connection. Next door there was an overgrown football stadium that hosted a forlorn medicinal herb market.

On a dismal December day it was extraordinarily depressing even for a casual day-tripper like me.

There obviously had been some investment once, but it had dried up. These days I doubt China's metropolitan central government is going to lift a finger to help. But I think the companies making money out of artemisinin should be able to chip in a dollar or two to help the town of Qizhou.

There is always beauty, no matter how bleak. Around the town there are reed-lined lakes. Men and women wade around in the water grubbing for lotus roots that they boil with pork to make a wholesome stew. Their feet must be frozen in the icy water and their hands swollen and chapped, but I tasted some of the stew in what seemed to be the town's only functioning restaurant and it tasted good.

I digress: there is large museum dedicated to the town's most famous son, Li Shizhen. It was built on the outskirts in the 1980s.

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