Chinese Medical Manuscripts

The Unschuld Collection at the Berlin State Library

In 2012, the Berlin State Library had the opportunity to purchase 823 volumes, i.e. the larger part of an exceptional collection of Chinese medical manuscripts gathered over the period of more than four decades by the renowned historian of Chinese medicine and pharmacology Paul U. Unschuld. When in 2015 Unschuld and Zheng Jingsheng published their catalogue of and introduction to the collection in three volumes, a detailed guide to explore this treasure trove became available for researchers. For an even better accessibility of the collection the basic metadata and keywords of all catalogued titles were incorporated into the East Asia Department’s online catalogue where they are directly searchable by their shelfmark (Slg. Unschuld*).

More than 400 titles have already been digitized and can be explored in the Digital Collections of the Berlin State Library. User requests and CrossAsia DoD further expand the digital surrogate of the collection. In 2016, another 121 medical manuscripts and 33 volumes with veterinarian content were added to the Unschuld collection. These titles are also searchable in the online catalogue; a detailed supplement catalogue will appear with Brill.

To consult the titles in their original paper form and titles not digitized yet, they can be ordered to the East Asia/Orient reading room via the online catalogue preferably a day in advance. To enter the library and order titles one needs to hold a library card of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – PK.

977 titles
569 titles digitized (05.2023)

Slg. Unschuld 8001 – 8823
Slg. Unschuld 8840 – 8960
Slg. Unschuld 8963 – 8994

East Asia OPAC (Slg. Unschuld*)
Digital Collection (“Slg. Unschuld”)

Printed Catalogue and Introductory Essay
Unschuld, Paul U. & ZHENG Jinsheng (eds.),
Chinese traditional healing: the Berlin collections of manuscript volumes from the 16th through the early 20th century. Leiden: Brill 2012 (3 vols.)
OLS Bb OA chin 50-1/3 Online Version

The Collection

Paul U. Unschuld

Prof. Paul U. Unschuld (source: Horst-Görtz-Institut)

Ulrike Unschuld

Dr. Ulrike Unschuld (source: private)

Collection history

Paul U. Unschuld held a chair in the Department for History of Medicine at LMU Munich from 1986 to 2006. As professor emeritus, he established the Horst-Görtz-Institute for theory, history and ethics of Chinese life sciences. Starting from his very first visits to the People’s Republic of China, Unschuld and his wife Dr. Ulrike Unschuld collected the often overlooked medical manuscripts, recipes collection and scribbled notes written by the hand of practitioners that were not sold in the bibliophile environment of rare book shops, but rather on roadside flea markets.

Until most recently, hardly any Chinese library collected this type of texts. They flourished outside of the elite print market and were written for personal use. Unschuld’s collection is exceptional in allowing insights into the actual practice of Chinese medical healers, doctors, apothecaries, and into the health care of common people.


About one third of the manuscript titles consist of excerpts from printed books. They are rarely full copies of any published text but select and assemble what was considered most useful for everyday practice. The dominance of recipes is one aspect of the collection that Unschuld and Zheng identify as proof that most of the titles were used privately by lay people. Zheng and Unschuld have counted 54,490 recipes in the 881 titles described in their catalogue. Other prominent topics are the treatment of children and women, diagnosis, invocations and spells, acupuncture, and materia medica books.

Numerous titles are written in clumsy characters on cheap, coarse straw paper with only a rudimentary binding using paper spills; others have elaborate colored drawings and are written in a neat hand on quality paper. Whereas the bulk of texts date to the 19th and 20th century, the collection also hosts manuscripts from the 16th century (for example 小兒推拿秘訹, Slg. Unschuld 8567) and some unique texts that never got printed (for example 秘傳喉科, Slg. Unschuld 8101).

Selected Topics

Chinese Medical Manuscripts 祝由書 (Slg. Unschuld 8650)

祝由書 (Slg. Unschuld 8650)

Healing with Magic & Dispelling Demons

Human rationality often is not able to grasp the reasons for an outbreak (and overcoming) of a disease and seem to not follow any fixed rational. This is reflected in the Unschuld collection by a considerable number of texts dedicated to spells, invocations, and magical charms. Many also depict the demons which are thought to each cause a specific sickness. According to the introductory essay in the Unschuld and Zheng catalogue, 47 texts in the collection fall into this category.

Chinese Medical Manuscripts 針灸擇要 (Slg. Unschuld 8566)

針灸擇要 (Slg. Unschuld 8566)

Anatomy & Acupuncture

The inner landscape of the human body and the position and shape of its organs were an integral part of Chinese medical knowledge. Differing from Western medicine, Chinese healers mainly tried to govern this complex system of interdependencies with prescriptions, massages, spells and acupuncture. The Unschuld collection contains 39 texts on acupuncture, cauterization and similar techniques; images of anatomy most often appear in treatises of basic theory (19 titles).

Chinese Medical Manuscripts 小兒各種驚圖 (Slg. Unschuld 8439)

(Slg. Unschuld 8439)

Women & Children

The Unschuld collection contains medical manuscripts concerning a great variety of medical disciplines: medicine related to women (52 texts), to children (85 texts), to the eyes (28 texts), to wounds (10) etc. As these numbers suggest, the care and securing of offspring was an important medical issue, and a big business for apothecaries and healers.

Chinese Medical Manuscripts 各科藥方 (Slg. Unschuld 8334)

各科藥方 (Slg. Unschuld 8334)


Prescriptions, recipes, concoctions, powders, pastes, pills – pharmaceutical help against ailments is a major area of medical activity of common Chinese people. This focus is also apparent in the Unschuld collection: 302 of the 881 texts in the collection are recipe collections or at least contain recipes; counting all recipes together they constitute a pool of 52,490 recipes.

Chinese horse medicine

纂圖元亨療馬集 6 卷 (存2卷)
(Slg. Unschuld 8963)

Veterinary medicine

In 2016 a set of 34 manuscript titles related to veterinary medicine were acquired by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. The greater part of the titles focus on horses and many show a more or less close relationship to the Yuan Heng Liao ma ji 元亨療馬集 (as for example the title depicted above). Other titles in this segment of the Unschuld or Unschuld/Ramey collection assemble recipes and provide diagnostic guidance. The Digital collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin contains two editions of the Yuan Heng Liao ma ji, one published by the Sanyi tang 三義堂 in 1889 (shelfmark Slg. Unschuld 8961), one published in the early 19th century as a so-called fangke ben 仿刻本 of a 1736 print (shelfmark 445883-1/6).

Various book cover

Paper, bindings, formats

Most of the titles in this collection are written on paper of a lower quality, mostly made from bamboo pulp, some from durable rice straw (藥性歌括, Slg. Unschuld 8214) – maybe even made by the writer himself. The paper sheets are often bound together by simple paper spills threaded through two or three holes. Whereas the codex is the most common format in this collection, there are also leporellos particularly suitable for display to attract customers or small size books that can easily be carried around. The Unschuld collection moreover contains a text in seven scrolls (醫方卷子之一至之七, Slg. Unschuld 8255-8261).

Further Sources

Further medical texts

Beside the Unschuld collection of Chinese medical manuscripts the East Asia Department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin hosts numerous additional texts related to the history of Chinese medicine, both as original print in its old Libri sinici collection and in facsimile reproduction published in the section for medical texts (子部 : 醫家類) of large reprint collections such as in the Wenyuange Siku quanshu 文淵閣四庫全書 (Shanghai: 2003; shelfmark 5 A 141803) and Xuxiu Siku quanshu 續修四庫全書 : (Shanghai: 1995-2002; shelfmark 5 B 30000) or specialized collections such as the Zhongguo gu yiji zhengli congshu 中国古医籍整理丛书 (Beijing 2015; individual shelfmarks).

In two large scale digitization projects of the East Asia Department, i.e. SSG 6,25 Digital and the Berlin-Krakow Project, a number of important medical works have been digitized. They can be accessed from the East Asia online catalogue (search for „SSG 6,25 Digital“ or „Verlagerte Bestände digital Ostasiatica“). Some outstanding examples from the collection are

Liu Wentai 劉文泰, Bencao pinhui jingyao ji  本草品彙精要 42 卷, 1505
::: Libri sin. Hirth Ms. 2

Ri, Jichin 李时珍, Bencao gangmu 本草綱目 52 巻, [京都] : 野田弥次右衛門寛永 14 [=1637]
::: Libri sin. 102/107 (from which the image above is taken)

Gong, Tingxian 龔廷賢, Wanbing huichun 萬病回春集 8卷 (early 17th c. print)
::: Libri sin. 83/84

Tang, Shenwei 唐慎微, Daguan bencao 大觀本草 30卷, 1579
::: Libri sin. 64/65

Wang, Kentang 王肯堂 (ed), Yitong zhengmai 醫統正脈 (contains 44 titles in 6 collections), 1601
::: Libri sin. 66/73 (search for „醫統正脈“)

From the above selection the Wanbing huichun is already listed as no. 17 in the earliest catalogue of Chinese titles owned by the then Kurfürstliche Bibliothek (Electoral library) (Hoei-van-pim-chun); the medical collection Yitong zhengmai shows several annotations in Christian Mentzels (1622-1701) handwriting. Thus, both titles belong to the earliest titles in possession of the now Staatsibliothek zu Berlin that was founded in 1661.


The East Asia Department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – PK today hosts not only the most comprehensive collection of printed materials in East Asian script, through its CrossAsia service portal ( it also provides subscribed users affiliated to German academic institutions working on Asia with access to about 140 licensed databases.

Several of these databases contain traditional texts about the various facets of Chinese medicine and can be accessed by authenticated users via their home computers. Most of the databases allow full text searches and thereby help researchers to master the extensive traditional literature of interest to topics such as Chinese medicine, concepts of health, illness, the body and many more. The most comprehensive collection of relevant titles can be found in

Apabi Ancient Books of Traditional Chinese Medicine 中医古籍库
::: The collection assembles the scanned images of 255 titles in over 1600 volumes, among them some rare prints and manuscripts. Bibliographical data and chapter headings are searchable, but not full text is provided.

Scripta sinica 漢籍全文資料庫 (select 子部 : 醫家 from navigation tree)
::: The transcribed titles selected for this database by the Institute of History and Philology of the Taiwanese Academia Sinica are based on modern philological standard editions, thus punctuation is provided.

Jiben guji ku 中國基本古籍庫 (select 哲科庫 : 醫學類 in „category search“)
::: About 280 titles are grouped under the label „medicine“ in this database of 10.000 titles. Titles are provided in image and full text and searches in the text („Keyword search“) can be confined to a category, such as „medicine“ (醫學類).

Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Xuxiu Siku quanshu 續修四庫書 (select 子部 : 醫家 from navigation tree)
::: The digitized version of these two famous, large collections provide the full text and scanned images of about 3500 and 5400 traditional Chinese titles. Whereas the first is a project of the 18th century under the aegis of the Qianlong emperor and compiled, transcribed (and censored) the original titles, the latter was published by the Shanghai guji chubanshe between 1995 and 2002 on the basis of national bibliographical project of the 1920ies and reproduces published  texts in facsimile. The section on medicine of the Siku quanshu contains 98 titles, the Xuxiu Siku quanshu another 261 titles.

A description in German of the Unschuld and Unschuld/Ramey collection was published on the CrossAsia Blog in June 2016.