Fuzi : Song dynasty travelogue, Part II (trans. Heiner Fruehauf)

Here is the remainder of the Song dynasty travelogue about Fuzi, translated by Heiner Fruehauf. I hope you have enjoyed this exclusive translation.  You might want to pop over to the Classical Pearls Facebook page to discuss this article, and Fuzi in general.  I’ll see you there, or in the comments on this post.

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The quality of the harvested root is entirely dependent on the care that has been taken in the process of cultivating the crop. Rich people always get the highest quality product, while poor people can rarely afford the highest grade. Sometimes the crop is harvested during the 7th month, yielding a product referred to as “Early Water” (Zaoshui), the roots of which are too small to fit snugly inside a closed fist—these represent a type of Fuzi that is not quite mature yet.

Overall, the cultivation of Fuzi brings with it the fear of inferior quality, and is hard to bring to maturity. Sometimes the seedling looks good, but then the sprouts don’t prosper; or the sprouts prosper, but the root does not fill out; or it ferments and rots underground before the harvest; or it splits open and becomes deformed; or some creature erodes it. Therefore it is customary for the planters to make a sacrifice to the Heavenly Spirits before the harvest, or make gestures to the plant spirits.

The harvested product is processed by first fermenting it, using containers of wine that are placed in a sealed room. There, the roots are steeped for several months until they start to ferment and increase in size. Afterward, the roots are removed from their brine and exposed to the sun and wind until they are completely dry. When the roots first emerge from the wine, the largest pieces are as big as a man’s fist. After drying, they will shrink to a smaller size, producing a dried root around which an adult’s hand can close. It is rare to yield a root that reaches a weight of 1 liang (40g).

Altogether, there are 7 types of Fuzi products—all of them start from the same mother root, yet their final form is different. (Separation of the following passages into a bulleted list is my addition to make it easier to read.  Eric.)

  • The transformation of the original seedling is called Wutou (Crow’s Head);
  • In general, offsprings that sprout out side-ways from the Wutou are called Fuzi (Attached Offspring)
  • If an even pair grows out to the left and right, it is called Lizi (Tripod Root);
  • If one grows out that is particularly long, it is called Tianxiong (Heavenly Male)
  • If one grows with a sharp point it is called Tianzhui (Heavenly Awl)
  • If one grows out of the top of the root it is called Cezi (Sidelings)
  • And those that grow all over the place are called Loulanzi (Offsprings from a Leaky Basket).
  • All are linked to the main root like a child is connected to its mother, but since the name Fuzi has come to be valued the most among them, all of these are now called Fuzi while the other names have fallen into disuse.

If one plants a seedling that yields 6-7 offsprings, the harvested roots will be small. If one yields 2-3 offsprings, they will be larger. If one plants 1 that grows 1 offspring, it will be especially large—this is the norm. As for the shape of Fuzi, the ones that have few corners and can sit squat on an even surface are considered to be of the highest grade. So-called rat breast shaped roots with many corners are of 2nd  best quality, and those that are uneven in shape, exhibit crumples or were injured during the cultivation process are of the lowest grade.

As for color, the plants that have white flowers are considered to be best, those with rust color are 2nd, while those with blue-green flowers are deemed to be of lower quality. Tianxiong, Wutou, and Tianzhui all are considered superior when they are full in size, producing a root size that does not fit into a closed hand anymore. The Loulan and Cezi variety, in contrast, are generally considered not worth counting and are given to the beggars.

Overall there are only few people in Shu (Sichuan) that consume Fuzi regularly. Only the people of Shaanpu (today’s Shaanxi Province), Min (today’s Fujian Province), and Zhe (today’s Zhejiang Province) have made Fuzi consumption a regular habit. The traders in Shaanpu focus on bringing the lower grade to market, the ones in Min and Zhe tend to trade the medium grade, and the highest grade is generally sold to public officials (mandarins). The nobility has money and loves the extra-ordinary, and thus is generally satisfied with only the larger kind of roots. Some local fellow with a basic understanding of medicine once said: “The small roots should indeed be avoided, but every piece that weighs more than ½ liang (20g) is good, it is not necessary to seek out those rare ones that measure a full liang”–that just about sums it up.

The Shen Nong bencao jing once remarked: “Fuzi grows in the mountain valleys of Qianwei (today’s Leshan in Sichuan), as well as left of the Yangzi (the southern banks of the lower reaches of the Yangzi River), South of the Mountains (the regions south of Mt. Hu and Mt. Zhongnan), Mt. Song, and the region of Qi and Lu (today’s Shandong Province).” My research shows that there isn’t any Fuzi that grows in these areas. This is clearly a mistake.

The classic further states: “If you harvest the crop in the spring you will get Wutou; in the winter, you will get Fuzi”—a major mistake, in my opinion. The text goes on: “Fuzi that exhibits eight corners is of the best quality; the corners are called Cezi.” This is an even bigger mistake, and completely different from what I learned in the course of my research. This is truly a case of “to believe only what is written in books is worse than having no books at all”!  All the data above stems from my original field work.

Eric’s note: The last paragraph is, of course, quite interesting.  I think the intensity of his comments is probably misguided, but he was clearly very excited about what he discovered.  It may be that the SNBCJ, like many texts of its time, was referring to more symbolic information as opposed to very specific growing/harvesting instructions.  It may also be that between the Han and Song dynasties things simply changed with regards to Fuzi.  This is why I’ve become more and more interested in combining understanding of the Han (and earlier) texts and later (but still early) commentaries like this one.  It’s a big job, but rewarding.

I know that this kind of article is a little hard to comment about – what to say?  I would like simply to hear from you if this translation, so kindly provided by Dr. Fruehauf, was useful to you.  What did you learn?  What more would you like to know?  Add your thoughts in the comments or head over to the Facebook group to discuss. Thanks everybody!

About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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