Friday, April 28, 2017

X for Zhang Xiaoniangzi: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Song Dynasty. Artist - Qian Xuan
Zhang Xiaoniangzi is a famous female surgeon revered in
Chinese history. She lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Not much else is officially known about her other than her fame as a physician and surgeon and that her medical skill had not been passed down by any of her ancestors.

Legend tells a different story of
Zhang as a young girl who was visited one day by an aging doctor. He was thirsty and asked for a glass of water. Zhang gave him tea instead and a meal. The old doctor was so impressed with Zhang’s “intelligent, virtuous and hardworking nature” that he gave her a recipe for procedures (?) and ointment making, and a book on prescriptions for curing carbuncles and abscesses. Word spread to the people of Zhang's new ability to cure carbuncles and abscesses. As her medical knowledge grew she eventually became a skilled female surgeon. Marrying at some point, she shared her medical expertise with her husband, who then gained fame in his own right as a doctor and surgeon. 

Most of Zhang's work and life as a physician are lost to
historians, but we do know the era was a period of change in China. The population alone doubled between the 10th and 11th Centuries. Compared to the rest of the world, China was “one of the most prosperous and advanced economies in the medieval world.” There were some important firsts during the Song Dynasty, such as the Chinese government’s use of paper money, printing, and the compass. There were advances in science . . . in botany, zoology, geology, mineralogy, mechanics, horology, astronomy, pharmaceutical medicine, archeology, mathematics, etc. For more on the Song Dynasty, check out the video below.

Song Dynasty. Tea making. Painting - artist unknown.
There were two books on pharmaceutical medicine available during the Song Dynasty that Zhang and her husband may have used. Both were edited in the 11th Century but were much old than the Song Dynasty. There are versions still read today!
  • Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses by Zhang Zhongjing (1st complied, 150-219 AD) – on diagnosing and treating infectious disease caused by the cold, based on a patient’s yin and yang symptoms.
  • Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Casket (1st written 150-219 AD) by Zhang Zhongjing – for internal diseases


Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing


  1. A wonderful "Z" post Sharon, congrats on finishing the challenge well done.


    1. Yikes....just realized my letter is wrong. This is my 'X' post! Eeh...too much a-zing and other things going on this month. First I had oral surgery ...and then came an email from a publisher wanting to publish my novel! More on that later but it's been quite a month.

  2. I might get a little nervous if my doc has a book with "prescriptions" and "casket" in the title on his/her bookshelf

  3. Wow, that's some last name. I wonder how you pronounce it. Congrats on your A to Z Challenge. Only 2 more days to go. Have a nice weekend.

    1. I have no idea. Letters are often silent in Chinese, but knowing this sent me searching for a Chinese scientist for my X post. I got lucky!

  4. great post with lots of info... i will check out the other letters as well soon...

  5. Hi Sharon - fascinating to read about her .. and to find that the two books are still available today ... that Song dynasty wasn't that long ago ... cheers Hilary

    1. I found that fascinating too. Chinese medicine has brought a lot to the field, much of which we are still learning about. Alternative medicine is slowly gaining recognition.

  6. Sharon,

    I like how you've featured unique women in history. It's surprising to learn about these women of medicine dating so far back in time. I always thought these positions were held strictly by men. Thank you for visiting; I'm playing catch-up today!

    Art Sketching Through the Alphabet “X”

  7. They were wonderful examples for the women who followed. Thanks, Cathy!


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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.