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Spring 2014
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Brown acquires a 350-year-old guide to pulses.

Last November, the Brown University Library acquired a rare edition of a groundbreaking medical text, Les Secrets de la Médecine des Chinois (Grenoble, 1671), the first European book on Chinese medicine. Comprising extracts from Chinese medical treatises translated into French by an unnamed Jesuit missionary, this work includes the first accounts in the West of the Chinese theory of pulses, concepts that were fundamental to Chinese medical practice and of much interest to European physicians.

The small, slender volume smells like the back of your grandfather’s closet, all must and old leather, and its  pages crackle when you turn them. It is divided into books, which in turn are divided into chapters. Check your own health using this rule, from Chapter I of the first book: “The regular and tempered pulse of a  well-disposed person is one which, in the space of a single regular, unforced breath, beats four times; more than five and he is rushed; only three and he is slow.” Or this, from Chapter II of the second book: “A broad pulse indicates heat in the lungs, dry hair, dry throat, and a sticky, viscous pituitary.”

The person who compiled the text is unknown, but locates himself in Canton in 1668, having been forced from Peking (current day Beijing) along with other Christians. Brown is now one of only seven institutions worldwide to hold a copy of this text.

By Sarah Baldwin-Beneich and Amy Atticks, library communications and stewardship specialist, Brown University Library.
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