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Alluring Stimulant: A History of Five-Stone Powder in Medieval China

Event title and speaker name; speaker headshot; picture of minerals clustered by type
Thursday, April 07, 2022
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Yan Liu (Assistant Professor of History, SUNY Buffalo)
APSI Speaker Series

During China's formative era of pharmacy (200-800 CE), poisons were deployed as healing agents to not just treat intractable illnesses but also invigorate life. Focusing on an arsenic drug named Five-Stone Powder (Wushi San), this talk demonstrates its remarkable appeal in medieval Chinese society due to its perceived power to enhance the body and illuminate the mind. Mismanaged, however, the powder could trigger devastating effects on the body, even death. By examining this popular yet controversial drug and the debates surrounding it among physicians and scholars, this talk highlights the role of bodily sensations in administering the stimulant and more broadly, the dynamic and processual characteristic of drug therapy in Chinese healing culture.

About the speaker:
Yan Liu is an assistant professor in History at SUNY, Buffalo. He obtained his PhD in History of Science at Harvard University in 2015, and was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto from 2015-16. He specializes in the history of medicine in premodern China, with a focus on material culture of medicine, religious healing, the history of senses and emotions, and the global circulation of medical knowledge. His first book, Healing with Poisons: Potent Medicines in Medieval China, was published by the University of Washington Press in 2021 (open access available). His second book project explores the circulation of aromatics (saffron, camphor, etc.) and olfactory knowledge along the Silk Road from the 7th to 13th century.

This is a hybrid event; online attendees should register for Zoom meeting access (