New Study in Chinese Medicine and Culture Reveals History and Modern-Day Relevance of Plague

Researchers dig deep into the concept of Shu Yi (plague), tracing back the idea of zoonosis to China and establishing its relevance to present day

TIANJIN, China, July 12, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Plague, known as Shu Yi in China, is an infectious zoonotic disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis that is transmitted by rodents and marmots. The term Shu Yi was believed to be coined by Chinese scholars in the late 19th century after the arrival of western medicine and considered a modern medical concept. There has been much research on the history of this epidemic and its impact on Chinese demography and society. However not much is known about the concept of Shu Yi and how it came to being.

In a study published in Chinese Medicine and Culture, Prof. XinZhong Yu and Prof. Yu Tian from Nankai University, China, sought to investigate the conceptual history of Shu Yi. Through an exhaustive search of scientific and historical literature, the researchers traced its origins, prevalence, popularization, and relevance into modern-day life. “Our study reveals that the term Shu Yi had in fact started the study of zoonotic diseases in China and has resulted in a new paradigm of naming human epidemics after animals with co-morbidities,” says Prof. Yu, the corresponding author of the study.

The researchers also noted that contrary to popular belief, the concept of Shu Yi was in fact a part of the folklore that was carried down by messengers and media. It was then formalized by scholars and doctors and found its place in the literature.

Prof. Tian observes, “In modern times, with cities expanding into previously wild areas, animal diseases and human health are finding a close link. Hence, we need to cultivate harmony and proper planning, in order to ensure a healthy coexistence.

The researchers conclude that among modern health systems, the most effective and holistic is the ‘One Health’ approach, which integrates humans, animals, food, urban planning, and environment, both from medical as well as management perspectives.


Authors: XinZhong Yu and Yu Tian
Title of original paper: The Establishment of the Concept of Shu Yi and Its Significance in the History of Knowledge
Journal: Chinese Medicine and Culture

Faculty of History, Key Research of Social History of China, Nankai University, China

About Chinese Medicine and Culture
Chinese Medicine and Culture focuses on the study of Chinese Medicine with the aim of promoting communication and dialogue between researchers who work in the natural sciences and humanities of Chinese Medicine. The journal aims to build an interactive platform for interdisciplinary, frontier, and textural research on Chinese Medicine and comprehensively reflect research in the fields of medical science research, cultural exchange, and historical heritage conservation.


Jiayu Gong

SOURCE Chinese Medicine and Culture