Dong’e Ejiao Trib­ute Dis­played in the Palace

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhang Ruiqing, pol­ished by Mark Zuiderveld

Dong'e Ejiao, a medicine made from don­key- hide in Shan­dong Prov­ince and for­merly an im­pe­rial trib­ute, is cur­rently on ex­hibit at the Palace Mu­seum.

The Expo of Se­lected Im­pe­rial Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine Cul­ture, an ex­hi­bi­tion jointly hosted by the Palace Mu­seum and China As­so­ci­a­tion of Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine, is now go­ing on in Yong­shou Gong (Palace of Eter­nal Longevity) in the Palace Mu­seum. It marks the re­turn of eight rep­re­sen­ta­tive tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicines for im­pe­rial use to the Forbidden City, in­clud­ing Dong'e Ejiao (don­key­hide gela­tine pro­duced in Dong'e County of Shan­dong Prov­ince) and Hong­mao Med­i­cated Wine. This is more a dec­la­ra­tion of the in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itages' re­turn to the his­tor­i­cal stage than an ex­hi­bi­tion of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture.

Ejiao, a Fate Changer for Cixi

Im­pe­rial medicine is a com­bi­na­tion of wis­dom of nu­mer­ous tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine elites, de­servedly the peak of medicine in Chi­nese his­tory, and plays an im­por­tant part in the trea­sure house of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicines. Ejiao, one of the im­pe­rial medicines, found its way into the im­pe­rial palace as early as the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty (AD 386–534). Ac­cord­ing to Shui Jing Zhu (Com­men­tary on the Wa­ter­ways Clas­sic) by ge­og­ra­pher Li Daoyuan, gela­tine boiled yearly as im­pe­rial trib­ute was named ejiao by Ben­cao­gangmu (Com­pen­dium of Ma­te­ria Med­ica). Later, in each of the fol­low­ing dy­nas­ties in­clud­ing the Sui (AD 581–618), Tang (AD 581–618), Song (AD 960–1279), Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644– 1911), it was paid as a trib­ute to the im­pe­rial palace from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. In the Qing Dy­nasty in par­tic­u­lar, it caught the eyes of the na­tion and helped one woman—em­press Dowa­ger Cixi (Re­gency: 1861–1908)—es­tab­lish a leg­endary cause.

It is said that Em­peror Xian­feng (reign: 1851–1862) had no son at an old age. Though Con­cu­bine Yi, later Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi, was preg­nant, she was in dan­ger of hav­ing a miscarriage out of a threat­ened abor­tion (vagi­nal bleed­ing) de­spite treatment by im­pe­rial physi­cians. At that time, an of­fi­cial from Shan­dong Prov­ince named Chen Zong­gui con­trib­uted ejiao pro­duced in Dong'e County to the em­peror, af­ter the use of which Cixi re­cov­ered and gave birth to a baby boy who, as Em­peror Xian­feng's first son, later be­came the new leader of the coun­try— Em­peror Tongzhi (reign: 1862–1874). Em­peror Xian­feng was so pleased that he of­fi­cially named ejiao pro­duced in Dong'e, Shan­dong, as “Dong'e Ejiao for Trib­ute”.

Dong'e Ejiao for Trib­ute was favoured by royal fam­i­lies and aris­to­crats for its fragility, ex­cel­lent in­gre­di­ents, pro­cess­ing and ef­fect. In the tenth year of Em­peror Tongzhi's reign (1862–1874), the em­peror dis­patched of­fi­cials to Dong'e to su­per­vise the pro­duc­tion of ejiao for im­pe­rial use. Af­ter­wards, the trib­ute ejiao for nine dy­nas­ties was al­ways on Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi's list of ne­ces­si­ties for pre­serv­ing health and beauty.

From Palace to In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage

As a medicine for nour­ish­ing yin (blood and body flu­ids) and moist­en­ing with a sweet

flavour and mild ef­fect, ejiao can com­pen­sate for loss of body flu­ids in hot sum­mers. It serves as an ef­fec­tive cure help­ing one to spend a scorch­ing sum­mer as it not only nour­ishes the blood, re­in­forces en­ergy, but also calms nerves. Hot sum­mers usu­ally hurt one's yin and eas­ily causes dry­ness in the lungs, while ejiao is a per­fect so­lu­tion to these prob­lems, ideal for treat­ing health in sum­mer­time. For the weak in need of health care, ejiao is the best choice.

With Dong'e Ejiao come wis­dom and ef­fort of nu­mer­ous skill mak­ers ac­cu­mu­lated over thou­sands of years. Pro­duc­tion meth­ods of ejiao have been passed down from masters to ap­pren­tices since long ago, and to de­velop them fur­ther, they must be pre­served and handed down. It is a se­ri­ous topic re­gard­ing the restora­tion of ejiao as an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage item. Luck­ily, ejiao is recorded in such clas­sics as Com­men­tary on the Wa­ter­ways Clas­sic and Com­pen­dium of Ma­te­ria Med­ica. It was used mostly as trib­ute to the im­pe­rial palace in dif­fer­ent dy­nas­ties, also recorded in his­tory books like Dong'e Xianzhi (An­nals of Dong'e), Tong­dian (lit: “Com­pre­hen­sive In­sti­tu­tions”, a Chi­nese in­sti­tu­tional his­tory and en­cy­clopaedic text) and Song­shi: Dili Zhi (Mono­graph on Ge­og­ra­phy of the His­tory of Song Dy­nasty). More­over, clues of folk ejiao pro­duc­tion tech­niques are also trace­able.

So far, pro­duc­tion tech­niques of Dong'e Ejiao have been listed among the first group of na­tional in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage, and Qin Yufeng, as the eighth-gen­er­a­tion in­her­i­tor of the tech­nique, has been recog­nised as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in­her­i­tor of na­tional in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage. Un­der the prin­ci­ple of “bold de­vel­op­ment and pru­dent cre­ation”, Dong'e Ejiao is be­ing man­u­fac­tured with a state-level se­cret for­mula, tra­di­tional tech­niques and mod­ern tech­nolo­gies.

Trib­ute for Nine Dy­nas­ties

Dif­fer­ent from or­di­nary ejiao prod­ucts, the Dong'e Ejiao at this ex­hi­bi­tion was once served as trib­ute in nine dy­nas­ties. This ex­hi­bi­tion wit­nesses its first re­turn af­ter an­cient im­pe­rial ejiao mak­ing meth­ods, lost for around a cen­tury, and were re­stored in 2007. Ejiao's pro­duc­tion for nine dy­nas­ties adopts an an­cient and re­fined process, com­plies with the fol­low­ing phi­los­o­phy: bal­ance be­tween yin and yang (or­gans and vi­tal­ity), reg­u­la­tion be­tween wa­ter and fire, and har­mony be­tween man and na­ture, as well as ab­sorb­ing the fruit of an­cient Chi­nese alchemy's re­search on tools, timing and will power. In fact, the trib­ute ejiao for nine dy­nas­ties pre­sented at this ex­hi­bi­tion is the very best prod­uct made with the tra­di­tional method by Qin Yufeng—the only in­her­i­tor of ejiao pro­duc­tion meth­ods and one of six vet­eran work­ers in gela­tine boil­ing.

In­gre­di­ents for ejiao for nine dy­nas­ties are don­key hides and unique wa­ter of Dong'e. The pro­cess­ing of ejiao is very de­mand­ing: A don­key is skinned on the Win­ter Sol­stice, and wa­ter is drawn be­tween 11:00 p.m. and 01:00 a.m. the next morn­ing. Af­ter 99 pro­cesses in­clud­ing boil­ing the don­key hides in a golden pot put over mul­berry wood fire and stirred with sil­ver-made spat­u­las, the trea­sur­able ejiao is fi­nally done. The whole process takes about nine days and nights. So far a sys­tem­atic and unique set of tra­di­tional ejiao pro­duc­tion tech­niques took form, ow­ing to hun­dreds of years of prac­tice. Thanks to these an­cient tech­niques, the trib­ute ejiao for nine dy­nas­ties can be con­sid­ered a del­i­cate work of art as it looks trans­par­ent like am­ber, black and glossy like paint, and is hard and crisp, with a smooth and glossy cross sec­tion. Each piece of such ejiao rep­re­sents tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture. It is the brand-new pres­ence of such an “art work” that marks the pre­cious trea­sure's reap­pear­ance once ex­clu­sively for im­pe­rial use.

Pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion of Im­pe­rial Medicine

From pro­found tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture car­ried in the tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine—the trib­ute ejiao for nine dy­nas­ties, it is clearly seen that Chi­nese ideas cen­tre on con­nect­ing hu­man health and na­ture over the past sev­eral thou­sand years. Tra­di­tional ejiao pro­duc­tion is very strict with its in­gre­di­ents and pro­cess­ing, a re­flec­tion of Chi­nese tra­di­tional health-pre­serv­ing cul­ture and a car­rier of ejiao mak­ers' crafts­man­ship.

As a con­cen­trated essence of Chi­nese health-pre­serv­ing cul­ture, the trib­ute ejiao for nine dy­nas­ties has be­come an “en­voy of cul­tural ex­change and spread” that sym­bol­ises health and tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture. As a medicine once for im­pe­rial use only, to­day ejiao's halo has been re­moved, be­ing in­her­ited and de­vel­oped as an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage item in the med­i­cal field. In a new era, it con­tin­ues serv­ing pa­tients and com­mon­ers alike.

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