Bottle containing 'Cham Sha' (dried silkworm excreta), with lid and contents, from Chinese medicine chest, glass/wood/cork/dried animal products, maker unknown, China, c 1925.
The dried silkworm excreta (pharmaceutical name: Excrementum Bombycis Mori) contained in this bottle were administered therapeutically in traditional Chinese medical practice. They are thought to be a sample of yao or medicinal substances collected to educate missionaries about Chinese medicine. The bottle has a typed English label including a Cantonese-style transliteration of the Chinese name: 'Cham Sha Silkworm excretia for internal and external use very good for eye pains'. The silkworm excreta were often combined with other yao in decoctions to treat conditions including vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps and abdominal pain. It was also applied topically to the overlying skin for injury due to trauma. Plasters were made by gently heating or boiling medicinal drugs in oil, usually sesame, then adding beeswax and applying the mixture to paper or cloth.
This is one of 13 samples of different animal by-products which, together with scales and grinding bowels used in their preparation, are some of the contents of a medicine chest thought to have been collected in China in the first half of the 20th century by an Australian protestant missionary J. Whitsed Dovey (1887-1956). This was a period of increasing modernisation in China as the country came under the influence of Western scientific thought after the collapse of imperial China. The new Nationalist government enthusiastically promoted biomedicine, initially introduced by missionaries to facilitate conversions, and sidelined traditional Chinese medical practice in their plans for medical development. This bottle of dried silkworm excreta may have been collected to reflect exotic therapeutic practices during a time when the future of traditional Chinese medicine might have appeared uncertain.
Numerous remedies based on the parts, organs, secretions or excretions of animals have an important part in the Chinese materia medica. Despite the early development of alchemy by the Taoists there was no attempt to extract and identify the active component in medicinal substances such as developed in Western chemistry and pharmacology. Animal derived medicines are still popular in China but have not been taken up so widely in Western countries amidst concerns about the environmental impact and potential health hazards.
Bensky Dan and Gamble Andrew, 'Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica', Seattle, Washington, 1986, p233
Taylor, Kim, 'Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945-63: A medicine of revolution', New York, 2005, p123
The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum and Library, F.N.L. Poynter, ed, 'Chinese Medicine: 'An Exhibition Illustrating the Traditional System of Medicine of the Chinese People,' London, 1996, p6
This bottle with dried silkworm exceta is one of 13 samples of animal derived medicinal substances forming part of the contents of a Chinese medicine chest held at the Asian Studies Department of the University of Sydney since the late 1950's, and later donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 1994. The chest was among a small collection of Chinese artefacts and medicinal substances related to traditional cultural practices, thought to have been collected in China in the first half of the 20th century by an Australian protestant missionary J. Whitsed Dovey (1887-1956) for missionary education.