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Variolation and Vaccination in China and the West

Tian Jing (Shenzhen, China)

Smallpox was a pernicious infectious disease, it was spread into China at the end of the Han Dynasty. In the middle of the fourth century, the first authentic description of smallpox was given bei Ge Hong in his Chou Hou Jiu Zu Fang. There is a legend about the practice of the human inoculation of variolous virus in the Song Dynasty. In the Longqing period (1567 - 1672), the variolation was popular in Jianxi province. Afterwards, Chinese physicians found four forms of inoculation and a group of rules in their practicing variolation. in the 17th century, variolation was transmitted into Russia, and then to Western Europe. Variolation was also noticed by the Western missionaries, relying on the study of Chinese medicine books, Pierre Cibot mentioned variolation in the Memoirs of the Peking Missionaries. It is said that the variolation had a direct impact on the Jennet's epoch-making discovery - vaccination, which was discovered in 1798. In 1805, vaccination was transmitted into China, and was popular in Guangdong province, and then in Fujian, Shanghai province, and finally in the whole country. It is after the transmission of vaccination that western medical practice began to gain a permanent foothold in China.

It is well known that the spread of vaccination was very difficult both in China and the West. It was in 1840, that variolation was declared a felony in England by Act of Parliament. Therefore the study on the history of the spread of variolation and vaccination is very interesting and important. In this article, I would like to give a comparative study on the history of the spread of the two methods in China and the West, especially on the different and similar opinions toward them in these two different societies.

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