Some reflections on the History of Botanical Knowledge in China

Georges Métailié


Ancient systems of knowledge must be initially approached in their own historical, cultural, and social context before any comparison to modern science may be attempted. In this sense, it can be spoken of a "botanical knowledge" in China, although in the available sources there is not a term corresponding neither to the modern meanings of "botany", nor to a specific knowledge of plants. There are not also texts that may be rated as theoretical botanic manuals or flora, but there is a large number of books on materia medica, horticulture, etc. These reveal the existence of botanical knowledge , although it does not seem to have been theorised in any way until the second half of the nineteenth century. The paper approach corresponds to the historical side of the field known as "ethnobotany". In this regard, the "traditional Chinese Botany" should be analysed from an anthropological point of view rather than a teleological approach. This thesis is grounded through the analysis of several examples.

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