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Ge Hong as depicted by Gan Bozong, woodcut print, Tang dynasty (618–907)

Ge Hong (Chinese: 葛洪; pinyin: Gě Hóng; Wade–Giles: Ko Hung; b. 283[1][2] – d. 343[1] or 364[2]), courtesy name Zhichuan (稚川), was a Chinese linguist, Taoist practitioner, philosopher, physician, politician, and writer during the Eastern Jin dynasty. He was the author of Essays on Chinese Characters, the Baopuzi, the Emergency Formulae at an Elbow's Length,[3] among others. He was the originator of first aid in traditional Chinese medicine and influenced later generations.

He also took on the name Baopuzi (Chinese: 抱朴子), with a literal meaning of embracing simplicity, core qualities, and untempted by material desires.

Early life

Ge Hong was born near Jurong county in AD 283, as the third son into a well-established family originally from Eastern Wu.

His ancestor Ge Xi (葛奚) once served in the high ranking position of Dahonglu (大鸿胪) in Eastern Wu. His great-uncle was Ge Xuan (葛玄) (also known as Ge Xianweng), an alchemist during the Three Kingdoms period. He studied alchemy and Taoism with Zuo Ci.

His father, Ge Ti (葛悌), served as the prefect of Shaoling (邵陵) after the nation entered the Jin Dynasty. He died when Ge Hong was 13 and his family went into decline.

Ge Hong is of an ascetic nature and did not like honor and gain. He was not especially found of classic literature, but rather especially appreciates the guidance of the divine. Ge Hong studied Chinese alchemy under Ge Xuan's disciple Zheng Yin (郑隐).[4]


By Ge Hong's time, although the family was declining, he was employed in numerous high ranking positions within the bureaucracy of the time.

In his public service role as an official, he was often asked to appraise his friends and acquaintances as possible candidates for government office positions and was also chosen to perform military service. However, he was unhappy with his life as an official and general. Although he never rejected Confucianism, he grew interested in Taoist cultivation and elixirs to achieve the spiritual freedoms of Taoist Immortality.

In the second year of Tai'an in the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 303), Ge Hong was promoted due to his contributions in calming the peasant uprising led by Shi Bing (石冰) in Yangzhou.

In the first year of Guangxi (AD 306), Ji Han (嵇含), the newly promoted governor of Guangzhou, recommended Ge Hong to join the ranks as an army official. Ge Hong first went to Guangzhou, but after Ji Han was killed, he went to Mount Luofu to live in seclusion. There, he gathered herbal medicine, refined elixirs, and documented numerous cases of illness.

Later, Ge Hong became a disciple of Bao Liang (鲍靓), then prefect of Nanhai, from whom he learned alchemy and received the Sanhuangjing. He also married Bao Liang's daughter Bao Gu, who excelled in the techniques of moxibustion.

In the second year of Jianxing of Emperor Min (AD 313), Ge Hong returned to his hometown, but still lived in seclusion and did not work as an official. In the first year of Jianwu of Emperor Yuan of Jin (AD 317), the Inner and Outer Chapters of Baopuzi were written.

In the first year of Xianhe (AD 326), he was called by Wang Dao to serve as under the position of "Zhubo" (主簿), later promoted to "consulting general" (咨议将军).

In the 7th year of Xianhe, he heard that Jiaozhi County (present-day Vietnam) produced cinnabar, and asked Emperor Cheng to serve as the magistrate of Gouti (句屚) (near present-era Hà Sơn Bình province).[5] After receiving the Emperor's consent, his family traveled south. When he arrived in Guangzhou, he was asked to remain, so Ge Hong once again lived in seclusion in Mount Luofu to refine elixirs.[6][7]

His autobiography was the last part of his collected writings.[8] Referring to his years as an official in Guangzhou, he wrote that "Honor and status, are like guests yet are not common goods, as they leave they cannot be kept."[9]


His main contributions were in Chinese alchemy and medicine, and also as a religious scholar integrating Confucianism and Taoism. Ge Hong questioned ancient writings and was against the traditionalism of the time, whereby older writings were valued while newer ideas were less respected, and instead emphasized innovation and methods which involved experimentation and results. This was especially the case in his work in medicine and alchemy. In medical practice, Ge Hong read a large number of medical books in his analysis and research. He summarized treatment experience and collected knowledge from folk treatments, compiling works such as the hundred-scrolled book Yuhanfang (Chinese: 玉函方).

In his book Emergency Formulae at an Elbow's Length (Chinese: 肘后备急方), he suggested treating rabies patients by applying the brain matter of rabid dogs onto the bite wound,[10] and extractions from the plant Artemisia annua to treat malaria. The latter method inspired the works of Tu Youyou, which led to the discovery of artemisinin extracted from the same plant, part of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.[11]

Ge Hong was knowledgeable about chemistry. He documented the redox reaction of mercury. He also discovered that chalcanthite (copper sulfate pentahydrate) can be transformed to a golden bronze-like alloy, using the redox reaction involving copper sulfate and iron.

There is a hall in Xiaolingfeng Temple (小灵峰寺) in Ningbo, in which enshrines a statue of Ge Hong. In the second year of Xianhe (AD 327), Ge Hong came here to distill elixirs. When he lived in seclusion in the Lingfeng peaks (in the Yandang Mountains) nearby, a plague occurred, and he practiced medicine to help locals.

See also


  1. ^ a b Wells, Matthew (18 July 2013). "Self as Historical Artifact: Ge Hong and Early Chinese Autobiographical Writing". Early Medieval China. 2003 (1): 71–103. doi:10.1179/152991003788138465. S2CID 161623586.
  2. ^ a b Liu, Peng (12 October 2016). ""Conceal my Body so that I can Protect the State": The Making of the Mysterious Woman in Daoism and Water Margin". Ming Studies. 2016 (74): 48–71. doi:10.1080/0147037X.2016.1228876. S2CID 164447144.
  3. ^ "Daoism Series 31: Prepared Emergency Formulae Behind the Elbow". Purple Cloud. 2020-12-09. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  4. ^ 《晉書》〈葛洪傳〉:「從祖玄,吳時學道得仙,號曰葛仙公,以其煉丹秘術授弟子鄭隱。洪就隱學,悉得其法焉。」
  5. ^ "句屚县_历史地名:句屚县_历史上的句屚县来历与出处_历史地名". 国学大师_国学网_国学迷_汉字宝典_诗词宝典_国学经典&古典文学_古今图书集成&四库全书电子版&永乐大典 (in Chinese). Retrieved 2024-04-02.
  6. ^ Book of Jin (晋书), Ge Hong's chapter:“以年老,欲炼丹以祈遐寿。闻交阯出丹,求为句漏令。帝以洪资高,不许。洪曰:“非欲为荣,以有丹耳。”帝从之。洪遂将子侄俱行,至广州,刺史邓岳留不听去,洪乃止罗浮山炼丹。岳表补东官太守,又辞不就。岳乃以洪兄子望为记室参军。在山积年,优游闭养,著述不辍。”
  7. ^ Yang Xia (夏杨) (2019-12-13). ""Why does Mount Luofo hold a special place in the heart of Elder Ge?" (【惠州文脉】"葛仙翁"为何钟情于罗浮山?)". Retrieved 2024-04-02.
  8. ^ Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (1993). Chinese civilization : a sourcebook (2nd ed.). New York: The Free Press. pp. 91. ISBN 002908752X. OCLC 27226697.
  9. ^ 《抱朴子外篇》(autobiographical):「荣位势利,譬如寄客既非常物,又去其不可留也。」
  10. ^ Ge, Hong. 《肘后备急方》 (in Chinese). Wester Jin (near present day Guangdong).
  11. ^ "Youyou Tu – Biographical". Retrieved 2018-04-22.

Further reading