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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 4.2 (2021): 1–78;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Wheel that Crossed the Borders: Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Religions)

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‘Method from Persia’: Study on the Origins of the ‘Three Myrobalan Decoction’

Ming CHEN 陳明
Peking University

Abstract: sanlejiang 三勒漿 (three myrobalan decoction) is a kind of fruit drink that originated in India and was introduced into China via Persia in the Tang dynasty. It was made up of three kinds of fruit (sanguo 三果), respectively halila, balia and amola in Persian and haritaki, vibhitaka, and amalaka in Sanskrit. It was a fashionable drink of the upper classes in the Tang dynasty. During the Song dynasty, two kinds of soup from the south associated with it, germinalia chebula and phyllanthus emblica, were also well-known in the north. In the Yuan dynasty, the drink was made popular again for a short time by Xu Guozhen 許國禎 (active 1280s). With the Ming and Qing dynasties, it disappeared as a drink in daily life, but the related knowledge was passed on from generation to generation through the written Word, as people tried to preserve the historical memory of the Tang dynasty. The three kinds of fruit had an important position in the diet and medicine of ancient India, with corresponding mythological descriptions. In Persian and Arabic medical literature as well as in Huihui prescriptions 回藥方, sanlejiang is frequently recorded as a medicine or beverage, indicating that it was popular in Persia and the Arab areas. This was different in many respects from its transmission on Chinese soil because of the differences in the relations among Persian, Chinese and Indian cultures. As a cultural transit area, Persia not only offered a second chance for this Indian beverage to be transmitted to foreign parts, but also left the Chinese with a good impression of things Persian. For this reason, the transmission and absorption of dietary customs among China, India and Persia reflect the differences, preference and interaction among the three areas.

Keywords: sanlejiang 三勒漿, Xu Guozhen 許國禎 (active 1280s), Huihui prescriptions 回藥方, Persia


About the Author: Ming Chen 陳明 is currently a Professor and Head of the Department of South Asian Studies at Peking University. Since he was awarded a doctoral degree by Peking University in 1999, with a dissertation on Indian Medical Science, he has focused on the history of cultural communication between China and Central & South Asia in the Medieval Period, mainly but not exclusively in terms of medicine. His academic interests have also been extended to a study on Buddhist literature in Sanskrit-Chinese, and the influence of ancient South Asian literature on China. He has published six books all in Chinese: (1) On the Sanskrit Medical Book Siddhasāra (2002, 2014); (2) Medical Manuscripts Discovered in Dunhuang and Western Regions: Foreign Medicine in Medieval China (2005); (3) A Study on Sanskrit Medical Text of Jīvaka-pustaka from Dunhuang (2005); (4) Foreign Medicine and Culture in Medieval China (2013); (5) Texts and Languages: A Comparative Study on Some Manuscripts Unearthed from the Silk Road and Early Chinese Buddhist Canon (2013); (6) Indian Buddhist Mythology: Its Writing and Transmission (2016). Now he is also interested in comparative study of Buddhist literature and vocabulary in Sanskrit and Chinese, and the transmission of tales and related images in pre-modern Eurasia. He has two funded projects: A collection of illustrated texts of ancient Eastern literature and related studies, and Studies on exchanges of culture and literature between China and South Asia in pre-modern period.


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