Please wait a minute...
1Traditional Medicine Research  2020, Vol. 5 Issue (3): 136-144    DOI: 10.12032/TMR20200222166
Special Issue on Infectious Diseases and Public Health     
Overview of the plague in the late Ming Dynasty and its prevention and control measures
Qiu-Hua Li1, Yue-Hai Ma1, Ning Wang1, Ying Hu2, Zhao-Zhe Liu3,*()
1The Second Hospital of Liaoning University of Chinese Medicine, Shenyang 110034, China
2Shengjing Hospital of China Medicine University, Shenyang 110004, China
3Northern Theater Command General Hospital, Shenyang 110016, China
Download: HTML     PDF(1277KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      


The purpose of this paper is to review the medical system and measures of prevention and control instituted for the plague that occurred during the late Ming Dynasty (1551-1644 C.E.), with the aim of providing guidance for the prevention and control of plague in the present day.


Early records of plague in Chinese medicine can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.E). In the late Eastern Han Dynasty (184-220 C.E.), natural disasters and wars led to a wide breakout of plague. Deeply touched by the suffering of people under the plague, the famous doctor Zhang Zhongjing (150-219 C.E.) recorded many classical ancient prescriptions in his medical monograph Shanghanlun (Treatise on Exogenous Febrile Disease) (219 C.E.). Subsequently, as a result of imperial corruption, natural disasters, and frequent wars, the plague that occurred during the late Ming Dynasty was the second greatest plague in Chinese history after the outbreak of plague at the end of the Han Dynasty. During the many struggles that occurred during the plague, a group of great medical experts emerged and devised a series of prevention and control measures, which have the potential to play a key role in the prevention and control of plague today.


The plague of the late Ming Dynasty (1551-1644 C.E.) was long lasting, affected a wide range of the population, and had serious consequences. The purpose of this study is to review the medical system in place at the time and the measures instituted to prevent and control the plague during the late Ming Dynasty. Information on the history of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 C.E.), local chronicles, and related research literature were consulted and analyzed in terms of duration, geographical area, and other dimensions of the epidemic. Because of the abnormal climate, wide range of natural disasters, and the impact of war, the epidemic spread over a wide area during the late Ming Dynasty. The government’s epidemic prevention measures were affected by war and other factors, resulting in poor control of the outbreak. However, in terms of the medical system in place during the Ming Dynasty, some of the thinking and methods of prevention and control of the plague were historical and progressive. Some outstanding physicians such as Wu Youke (1582-1652 C.E.) appeared during this period. His theory of plague prevention and control had a profound influence on the formation and development of pestilence deterrence in later generations. In the late Ming Dynasty, rich experiences and measures of prevention and control were accumulated in the struggle against the plague. These methods and experiences also have a significant, positive guiding influence on the prevention and control of plague in the present day.

Key wordsLate Ming dynasty      Plague      Infectious diseases      Traditional Chinese medicine      Prevention and control     
Published: 13 April 2020
Fund:  The study is supported by 2017 Liaoning Province Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinics (Specialized) Branch Capacity Building Project and 2018 Liaoning Doctoral Start-up Foundation (20180540043).
Corresponding Authors: Zhao-Zhe Liu   
Cite this article:

Qiu-Hua Li, Yue-Hai Ma, Ning Wang, Ying Hu, Zhao-Zhe Liu. Overview of the plague in the late Ming Dynasty and its prevention and control measures. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2020, 5(3): 136-144. doi: 10.12032/TMR20200222166


Time stage 1368-1450 C.E. 1451-1550 C.E. 1551-1644 C.E.
Outbreak, number (n) 30 72 78
Frequency (times/year) 2.77 1.39 1.21
Annual occurrence probability (%) 36.1 71.9 83.0
Ratio of total times (%) 16.7 40.0 43.3
Number of plague counties (n) 234 478 1878
Table 1 Summary of plague occurrence during different periods of the late Ming Dynasty
Major province 1368-1451 C.E. 1451-1550 C.E. 1551-1644 C.E.
Northern Zhili 1 17 38
Hubei and Hunan 6 30 38
Jiangxi 7 27 24
Southern Zhili 6 46 50
Shanxi 4 17 26
Zhejiang 6 27 27
Fujian 7 44 26
Table 2 Major distribution of provinces and disaster years of the plague
Figure 1 The founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty and Welfare pharmacy in the Ming Dynasty. A. The founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 C.E.); B. Welfare pharmacy in the Ming Dynasty.
Figure 2 Prevention and control measures of plague
Figure 3 Variolation was invented in the Ming Dynasty to prevent smallpox. To prevent smallpox, a smallpox scab was ground to a fine powder and blown into the nostrils of children. This method was widely used because of its simplicity.
Figure 4 Treatise on Epidemic Febrile Diseases (1642 C.E.). The Wenyilun (Treatise on Epidemic Febrile Diseases) written by Wu Youke is the first monograph on epidemic febrile diseases in the history of medicine in China. The treatise creates a new guidance for the prevention and treatment of exogenous diseases in traditional Chinese medicine, establishes a relatively complete theoretical system of epidemic febrile diseases and has an epoch-making impact on the development of epidemic febrile diseases.
1.   Lin XH. Studies on epidemic disasters in the Ming Dynasty. Jiangxi Nor Univ 2010. (Chinese)
2.   Shen P. A study on the problem of refugees in the early and middle period of Ming Dynasty. Shandong Nor Univ 2011. (Chinese)
3.   Yang Y. The influence of natural disasters on the collapse of the Ming Dynasty. J Suzhou Univ 2016, 31: 73-77. (Chinese)
4.   Xiao J, Zheng GZ, Guo ZS, et al. Climate change at the peak of Little Ice Age and its social response. J Arid Land Resour Environ 2018, 32: 80-83. (Chinese)
5.   Wang XW. Study on the geographical law and environmental mechanism of epidemic disasters in Jiangnan area in Ming and Qing Dynasties. Centr Chin Nor Univ 2013. (Chinese)
6.   Ji LQ. History of the northern part of Ming Dynasty. Beijing: China Publishing House, 2015. (Chinese)
7.   Yao XY. Li Zicheng.Beijing: People's Literature Publishing House, 2015. (Chinese)
8.   Zhang T. Study on the spatio-temporal distribution and environmental mechanism of epidemic disasters in Ming Dynasty. Centr Chin Nor Univ 2015. (Chinese)
9.   Wu XL. Study on Welfare Pharmacy in Yuan Dynasty. Guizhou Ethnic Studies 2019, 140: 167-170. (Chinese)
10.   Duan Naican. A study on the training system of medical officers in Imperial Hospital of Ming and Qing Dynasty. Shandong Nor Univ 2017. (Chinese)
11.   Li QY. An analysis of the transfer system of imperial hospital officials in the Ming Dynasty. J Tianzhong 2018, 33: 99-104. (Chinese)
12.   Guo YC. Research of the imperial medical institution in Ming Dynasty. Fujian Nor Univ 2014. (Chinese)
13.   Zhou WQ. A study on the protection of royal palace in Ming Dynasty. Shanxi Nor Univ 2016. (Chinese)
14.   Xia YQ. A study of the imperial hospital system in Ming Dynasty. Shandong Univ Tradit Chin Med 2013. (Chinese)
15.   Chen S. Study on Welfare pharmacy in Ming Dynasty. Heilongjiang Univ 2013. (Chinese)
16.   Luo ZJ. The historical evolution of dispute settlement mechanism between doctors and patients in China and its enlightenment. Nanchang Univ 2018. (Chinese)
17.   Uri G. A philological study of the customs of northern captive by Xiao Daheng. Nanchang Univ 2013. (Chinese)
18.   Chen X. Plague in Ming Dynasty and society in Ming Dynasty. Southwest Univ 2011. (Chinese)
19.   Liu Q, Li G, Yang XJ. A study of the extreme drought events from 1637 to 1643 in the late of Ming Dynasty. J Northwest Univ (Natur Sci) 2014, 44: 833-837. (Chinese)
20.   Shan LZ. Study on epidemic law of epidemic disease in Shanxi Province in Ming and Qing Dynasties. Chin Acad Tradit Chin Medicine 2013. (Chinese)
21.   Zhang LF. The characteristics of Shanxi epidemic disasters and the measures of rescue and cure in Ming Dynasty. J Shanxi Nor Univ (Soc Sci) 2005, 32: 115-119. (Chinese)
22.   Zhang CW. The plague and its treatment in Jianghuai area during Ming and Qing dynasties. Chin Local Record 2008, 2: 44-53. (Chinese)
23.   Shao LL. Study on the social security system of epidemic prevention and control in Ming Dynasty. Liaoning Nor Univ 2013. (Chinese)
24.   Qiu YF. On the history of plague disaster in Ming Dynasty. Med Philos 2011, 32: 74-76. (Chinese)
25.   Sun Boxin. Analysis of epidemic factors and innovation of TCM epidemic theory. Hubei University of Traditional Chinese Medicine 2010. (Chinese)
26.   Ding HF, Zhang BL, Chang SF, et al. The contribution of Bencao Gangmu to epidemic febrile diseases by Li Shizhen. Lishizhen Med Mater Med Res 2017, 28: 3-4. (Chinese)
27.   Weng XH, Li LH, Xiao LR. Thoughts and methods of epidemic disease prevention in Ming and Qing Dynasties. J Fujian Univ Tradit Chin Med 2016, 16: 57-59. (Chinese)
28.   Qian Y, Liu T. Medical concepts in the SINOSPHERE's Spring Festival diet. Chin Med Cul 2018, 13: 42-50. (Chinese)
29.   Gong TX. Prolonging life and preserving the origin. Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House, 2014. (Chinese)
30.   Record of Ming Dynasty. Shanghai: Shanghai Bookstore Publising House, 2018. (Chinese)
31.   Cao Z. Explore on the academic thought of treating pre-disease in Jing Yue Quan Shu. Jiangxi Tradit Chin Med 2013, 44: 73-76. (Chinese)
32.   Deng TT. The diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases in traditional Chinese medicine. Henan Tradit Chin Med 2006, 26: 1-3.
33.   Xiao L, Song SH. Re-evaluation of Wu Youke’s academic thought and reflection on it. Jiangsu Tradit Chin Med 2019, 51: 14-17. (Chinese)
34.   Rong ZY, Yang J, Wang YL, et al. Study on the systematic pharmacology on the substance basis and action mechanism of the prescription Dayuan decoction. Chin J Hospital Pharm 2019, 39: 1227-1233. (Chinese)
35.   Peng xin, Tang Erqun. Application of Dayuan decoction in the treatment of epidemic disease. Chin J Basic Med Tradit Chin Med 2011, 17: 978-982. (Chinese)
[1] Yu-Liang Zhang, Wan-Ying Zhang, Xin-Zhe Zhao, Jia-Ming Xiong, Guo-Wei Zhang. Treating COVID-19 by traditional Chinese medicine: a charming strategy?[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2020, 5(4): 178-181.
[2] Min Cao, Jing Miao, Li Wang, Hai-Zhao Liu, Huan-Tian Cui, Yu-Hong Bian. The advances of traditional Chinese medicine in the treatment of liver diseases in 2019[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2020, 5(4): 261-271.
[3] Huan-Tian Cui, Yu-Ting Li, Li-Ying Guo, Xiang-Guo Liu, Lu-Shan Wang, Jian-Wei Jia, Jia-Bao Liao, Jing Miao, Zhai-Yi Zhang, Li Wang, Hong-Wu Wang, Wei-Bo Wen. Traditional Chinese medicine for treatment of coronavirus disease 2019: a review[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2020, 5(2): 65-73.
[4] Ke-Wu Zeng, Ming-Yao Gu. Annual advances of integrative pharmacology in 2019[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2020, 5(2): 74-82.
[5] Xue Yang, Xin-Yuan Luan. Annual advances in traditional medicine for tumor therapy in 2019[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2020, 5(2): 90-107.
[6] Li-Jun Jin, Ying Liu, Ming-Ming Zhang, Xue-Meng Han, Qiu-Jie Li, Yu Xiang, Bing-Tao Zhai, Peng Chen, Xia-Ying Chen, Wen-Gang Wang, Shui-Ping Liu, Duan Ting, Jiao Feng, Tian Xie, Xin-Bing Sui. Clinical distribution and molecular profiling on postoperative colorectal cancer patients with different traditional Chinese medicine syndromes[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2020, 5(1): 44-52.
[7] Li-Hong Zhou, Yan Li, Qi Li. Research hotspot and frontier progress of cancer under the background of precision medicine[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2020, 5(1): 22-33.
[8] Yan-Hang Wang, Ke-Wu Zeng. Natural products as a crucial source of anti-inflammatory drugs: recent trends and advancements[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2019, 4(5): 257-268.
[9] Su-Tong Liu, Su-Fang Zhang, Kai-Qi Su, Ying-Bin Luo, Zhi-Hong Fang, Yuan Fang, Jing Xu, Jian-Chun Wu, Yan Li. The effect of long-term traditional Chinese medicine treatment on disease-free survival of postoperative stage I-III lung cancer patients: a retrospective cohort study[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2019, 4(2): 91-98.
[10] Wei-Jie Xie, Yu-Mei Wu, Shuai-Shuai Chen, Jian Xu, Fang-Fang Yang, Yong-Ping Zhang, Xiao-Bo Sun. In vitro evaluation of transdermal permeation effects of Fu’s cupping therapy via six diffusion kinetics models[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2019, 4(1): 42-53.
[11] Jian Hao, Shi-Jun Li. Recent advances in network pharmacology applications in Chinese herbal medicine[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2018, 3(6): 260-272.
[12] Liang-Jun Yang, Dao-Rui Hou, Ya Li, Zhi-Peng Hu, Yong Zhang. A network pharmacology approach to investigate the mechanisms of Si-Jun-Zi decoction in the treatment of gastric precancerous lesions[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2018, 3(6): 273-285.
[13] Yue Ji, Jun-Chen Li, Jing-Yan Meng, Xue-Rou Yan, Jian-ang Li, Qing-Yun Zhao, Kang Yang, Chun- Liu. Study of dual-directional regulatory effect of Banxia (Pinellia ternata) and Huanglian (Coptis chinensis) drug pair on gastrointestinal movement of mice[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2018, 3(3): 148-156.
[14] Li-Lin Yang, Jie Gao, Hai-Wang Wu, Song-Ping Luo. History of recurrent miscarriage in traditional Chinese medicine literature[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2018, 3(2): 62-69.
[15] Wen-Qi Huang, Zhu Yang, Dong-Xin Tang, Feng-Xi Long, Li Luo, Bing Yang, Juan Li, Jie Chen. Pharmacological intervention of traditional Chinese medicine for the quality of life in patients with colorectal cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis[J]. 1Traditional Medicine Research, 2018, 3(2): 95-105.