Boym’s “De Indiciis Morborum ex Linguae Coloribus et Affectionibus”: The Earliest Chinese Tongue Diagnosis Manual Published in Europe, Identification of Original Chinese Text, Peculiarities of Printed Edition and Its Impact on European Medicine

Abstract

Upon his untimely death, Michal Boym (1612–1659) left behind an enormous written legacy; covering a diverse range of interests in fields such as Chinese linguistics, cartography, botany, zoology, philosophy and medicine. This article attempts to examine Boym’s De indiciis morborum ex linguae coloribus & affectionibus (The signs of disease on the tongue, colors and affections), a translation of a previously unidentified Chinese text. The text specifically deals with the subject of tongue diagnosis, in relation to contagious diseases that were still raging in the17th century China. Arriving to China at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Boym was able to personally witness the early development of tongue examination as an independent specialty; he recognized its significance and tried to incorporate it into his ultimately unfinished Chinese medical corpus. Boym’s work eventually facilitated the assimilation of tongue observation in European medicine during the 19th century.

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Correspondence to Yuan Liang.

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The authors have no conflicts of interests to declare.

Author Contributions

Ioannis S designed the study, conducted the literature research, translated the necessary texts from Chinese and Latin, performed the textual comparisons, investigated the historical aspects of the topic, identified the origin of Boym’s book and wrote the main text of the article. Maria H contributed in confirming the translations, and assisted in the compiling and presenting the final version of this article. Mei H was consulted in relation to the terminological aspects of this study, providing key advice and timely information. Liang Y was consulted about confirming the academic findings, verifying the accuracy of the diagnostic information and providing important suggestions across several edits.

Supported by the National Natural Science Foundation (No. 81603516) and Basic Research Fund of China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences (No. YZ-1705)

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Ioannis, S., Maria, H., Hong, M. et al. Boym’s “De Indiciis Morborum ex Linguae Coloribus et Affectionibus”: The Earliest Chinese Tongue Diagnosis Manual Published in Europe, Identification of Original Chinese Text, Peculiarities of Printed Edition and Its Impact on European Medicine. Chin. J. Integr. Med. (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11655-019-3227-z

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Keywords

  • Michal Boym
  • tongue diagnosis
  • Chinese medicine
  • Jesuit mission