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Cold food powder, cold mineral powder, fivemineral
powder, han-shih, han-shih san, han-shi
powder, medicinal powder made from the five
The Chinese politician He Yan (in office 240-249
C.E.) was one of the most important philosophers
of the Wei dynasty. After trying the han-shi
powder, he reported enthusiastically, "When one
takes the five mineral powder, not only are diseases
cured, but the mind is awakened and opened to
clarity" (in Wagner 1981,321).
The purported inventor or discoverer of the
drug, Huangfu Mi (215-282 C.E.), commented:
In recent times, He Yan has devoted his time to
music and esteemed sex, and when he took the
drug for the first time, he attained an additional
clarity of consciousness, and his physical
strength gradually grew stronger. [Because
of this], everyone was soon passing the drug
around in the capital city.... After his death,
the number of those who took it grew even
larger, and this did not change over time. (In
The poet Su Shi (1036-1101) listed the main
ingredients of the drug:
It began with He Yan, that the people took
stalactites with aconite and uninhibitedly
abandoned themselves to wine [= sake] and
sex in order to extend their lives. In his youth,
He Yan was rich and respected, why should it
be such a surprise that he took the han-shi
powder in order to satisfy his desires? (In
Although there is some connection between
the efficacious powder and the recipes of Taoist
alchemy, han-shi was used chiefly as an agent of
pleasure (Strickman 1979, 168). It was generously
consumed in circles that were already interested in
From the Wei period on [after 220 C.E.], one
encounters wine [pressed from grapes] in a
totally new context. It was consumed by the
feudal class with a consciousness-expanding
and potency-promoting drug-the han-shi
powder. According to the instructions of the
inventor Huang-fu Mi, the drug needed to be taken with hot, high-quality wine in order for
its effects to be released. The literature of the
time contains various reports of wine societies,
which were actually drug parties. The
combined effects of wine and drugs sometimes
caused things to get out of control. For
example, it was said that the wealthy Shi
Ch'ung would use so-called beautiful women
to encourage his guests to drink wine at his
banquets. In the event the guest did not drink
to complete excess, the woman would be executed.
Many han-shi consumers-and not only Taoists
and/or alchemists-also experimented with such
other drugs as sake, wine, brandy (alcohol), and
psychoactive mushrooms (Wagner 1973; Wagner
1981,322; cf. Strickman 1979 and Cooper 1984,23,
54, 62*). Unfortunately, we do not yet know the
identity of these psychoactive mushrooms (cf.
"Polyporus mysticus"). It also appears that the hanshi
powder was often used in the context of Taoist
sexual practices and sexual magic exercises.
Yii Chia-hsi (1938) has conducted research
into the recipe or recipes for making han-shi powder,
but only imprecise details are known:
The recipe for the drug is known. In addition
to various ingredients containing calcium
(stalactites [e guan shi], oyster shells [mu 11],
both ground) and numerous herbs, it contains
above all the poisonous aconite. Unfortunately,
no pharmacologist has studied this
complex drug to date, so that we provide no
information about experiments or theoretical
effects. (Wagner 1981, 321)
Unfortunately, Yii Chia-hsi did not indicate
whether the e guan shi (literally "gooseneck
stones" =stalactites) and oyster shells (most likely
Crassostrea gigas [Thunberg 1793])416 were pulverized
or burned/slaked. But it seems likely that
this was a slaked lime, for the recipes for all known
psychoactive products that are mixed with lime
require slaked lime (i.e., calcium hydroxide); cf.
Areca catechu, Erythroxylum coca, Nicotiana tabacum,
and betel quids. In addition to stalactites,
Shen Kuo names an additional plant ingredient:
Atractylodes macrocephala Koidz. (cf. sake). He considers the effects of the powder to be a product of
SYnergistic interactions between its components:
When a person ingests many minerals in one
medicine, then the minerals must be able to
work in synergy, and when in addition a
person further stimulates them with medicinal
plants, then the effect must be .very
strong. Thus, when the powder of the five
minerals is combined with different medicinal
plants, one should use only an extremely small
amount of mineral powder, for one must
produce the effects with only small amounts
of additives. (Shen Kuo 1997, 127 f.*)
Shen Kuo then mentions Sun Simajao, who
claimed that poison sumac (Rhus toxicondendron
1. [syn Toxicondendron quercifolium (Michx.)
Greene]) and kudzu vine (Pueraria lobata [Willd.]
Ohwi [sYn. Dolichos lobatus Willd., Pueraria thunbergiana
(Sieb. et Zucc.) Benth., Pueraria hirsuta
(Thunb.) Scheid. non Kurz]) were effective substitutes
for the dangerous five mineral powder (Shen
Kuo 1997, 129*).
Aconite is the only psychoactive ingredient (cf.
Aconitum spp.) known to be present in the powder.
It is possible that it reacts with the lime and
the other herbs in a SYnergistic manner, although
Su Shi claims that the other plants are not significant.
In addition, the inebriating effects of alcohol,
which was used as a carrier substance, should not
be underestimated or forgotten.
It would be truly interesting to reconstruct the
recipes and perform pharmacological tests on
humans with them. However, caution is advised,
for the Chinese literature also contains descriptions
of unpleasant side effects, emaciation resulting
from chronic use, and death from overdose(Wagner 1981,322 f.).
Mailis, Brigitte. 1981. Alkoholische Getranke im
Alten China. In Rausch und Realitiit, ed. G.
Volger, 1: 314-19. Cologne: Rautenstrauch-JoestMuseum
Needham, Joseph, and He Ping-Yii. 1959. Elixir
poisoning in mediaeval China. Janus 48.
Strickman, Michel. 1979. On the alchemy ofT'ao
Hung-ching. In Facets in Taoism, ed. Holmes
Welch and Anna Seidel, 123-92. New Haven and
London: Yale University Press.
Wagner, Rudolf G. 1973. Lebensstil und Drogen im
chinesischen Mittelalter. T 'oung Pao 59:79-178.
---.1981. Das Han-shi Pulver-eine "moderne"
Droge im mittelalterlichen China. In Rausch und
Realitiit, ed. G. Volger, 1:320-23. Cologne:
Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum fur Volkerkunde.
Yu Chia-hsi. 1938. Han-shih san k'ao. In Fu-jenhsiieh-chih 7:29-63. (In Chinese.)