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Audible | Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Art of Herbal Plaster-making

Editor’s Note:  This article is produced in collaboration with the Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies as part of a series of ongoing reports exploring the city’s abundant resources in intangible cultural heritages.

As a saying goes, "The aging of a man begins with his bones. To preserve health, one must first nourish his bones." Nevertheless, it is commonplace that modern people to burn the planks, lie in bed for a long time and adopt poor postures, which over time will lead to cervical spondylosis, scapulohumeral periarthritis, lumbar muscle strain and other symptoms. Combined with more than 100 years of clinical treatment experience, the ancestral Chen-style Herbal Plaster is made both by traditional handwork and modern technology with pure natural medicinal materials. It produces an instant effect on relieving all kinds of body pains, dredging the channels and collaterals while removing body moisture.

The fifth generation of Chen-style Herbal Plaster (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The history of plaster can be dated back over a thousand years ago. Thanks to its development in the Period of Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-589 A.D.) and Tang and Song Dynasties (618-1279), it has become a common folk medicine in Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1912) as one of the frequently used measures for external treatment. Chen-style Herbal Plaster, as a time-honored brand inheriting the century-old art of plaster-making, epitomizes the cultural essence of speculating and analyzing internal changes by observing the external symptoms and of "the unity of man and nature, the balance between yin and yang" advocated by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and reproduces the unique medical value of TCM, that is, adjusting medicines to different symptoms and adopting "external treatment for both internal and external diseases".

The ingredients (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Invented during Xianfeng Period in the Qing Dynasty (1851-1861), the Chen-style Herbal Plaster had been handed down from Chen Zhenrong to Chen Nianshun and to Chen Longtao and now is in its fifth generation. Under the influence of ancestral secret formulae for making ointment and pills, Chen Zhenrong, originator of Chen-style Herbal Plaster, managed to put into use the ointment decocting technology he had learned from ancient books and originally created paste-like Chen-style Herbal Plaster. After clinical trials, it was praised by Chen’s neighbors for its excellent efficacy and thus was named Chen-style Herbal Plaster. During the War of Resistance, Chen Zhenrong moved to Xiaolongkan, Chongqing with his whole family to avoid the chaos of the war. He made a name for himself in the area of Xiaolongkan, and a steady stream of visitors came to seek medical advice. Sometimes, his courtyard was so crowded with visitors that the queue took up half the street.

The making process of Chen-style Herbal Plaster (Photo provided to iChongqing)

From the selection of materials to the completion of production, the manufacturing of Chen-style Herbal Plaster takes more than 10 steps with exquisite and coherent processes. First, medicinal materials are selected and weighed proportionally before being dried and heated to remove moisture. Then they are soaked and ground into powder. Finally, the materials are decocted and spread evenly with locust onto the tawny kraft paper for preservation. After the plaster is cooled, it is folded in half, sealed, and kept in a cool place.

The last process of Chen-style Herbal Plaster (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The traditional art of Chen-style Herbal Plaster-making was listed as one of Chongqing’s intangible cultural heritages in 2019. Handed down from ancestors for a hundred years, decocted in a traditional way, and guided by the basic principle of syndrome differentiation and treatment, the art of Chen-style Herbal Plaster not only inherits the essence of pharmacy but also condenses the wisdom and rich experience by the Chinese nation in the long-term struggle with diseases, displaying the great value in scientific research, medicinal use and in craft protection.

The finished products of Chen-style Herbal Plaster (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Chinese script: Chen Hongyu
Tutored by: Jing Xi

Translation: Wu Liang
Tutored by: Huang Yan  Jiang Jun  Ren Yi

Voice-over: Liang Shengdong
Tutored by: Lei Yu


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