"A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people"
-Mahatma Ghandi
Xiang pu and the four meanings of incense
6 May 2015

Professor Liu Jing Min from the Department of Painting and Calligraphy Arts in National Taiwan University, presents at Incense of Culture: 2015 Chinese Incense Conference, May 1, 2015.

The spread of Buddhism from India to China during the Han Dynasty was a significant factor in the expansion of incense use in China, fanning a vibrant incense culture that continued to be sustained for hundreds of years. By the time of the Song dynasty, a rich history of incense use had been inherited, and scholars seemed particularly motivated to produce texts that documented the knowledge on incense that this inheritance had to offer, and to, by the same token, continue the passing of this information to the succeeding generations. Xiang pu was a specific type of literature on aromatics that was produced, a reference book that generally contained information such as the use, consumption methods as well as recipes for aromatics. Each xiang pu, by different authors, displays different approaches in editing and compilation choices. In her presentation at the Culture of Incense: Incense Conference held in Nanjing on May 1, 2015, Professor Liu Jingmin, from the Department of Painting and Calligraphy Arts in National Taiwan University, discussed some of the various xiang pu of the Song period. The content of Dr. Liu's talk was based on her book, "The research of Xiang Pu in Song dynasty" published in 2007. Even a quick study of xiang pu would reveal the latitude of influence that aromatics had in daily life, and this was reflected in the different classifications that xiang pu were categorized under— an agricultural text, a medicinal text, a food and goods text (since aromatics were seen as a trade commodity) were just some of these classifications.

Mural from tomb M2, a Liao dynasty (907-1125AD) site in Xunahua, Hebei. The painting shows local tea, flower, and incense. The censer depicted here is a flower-shaped one with a long handle, in front of the rectangular box.
"Xiang Pu were put into a wide range of categories by different scholars during the Song Dynasty, clearly showing that incense, and aromatics were deeply rooted into the lives of the Chinese people," said Dr. Liu.

Hong Chu Xiang Pu

"The first xiang pu was published by Shen Li during the Northern Song Period, but Hong Chu's xiang pu has endured to be the most complete and detailed extant xiang pu produced during the Northern Song dynasty," Dr. Liu noted. Hong Chu Xiang Pu includes the history of aromatics, receptacles and the different applications of incense. According to Dr. Liu, Hong Chu arranged his version of xiang pu by classifying all incense information into four categories: paraphernalia, general information, practices and odd facts about incense. Hong Chu Xiang Pu is composed of a list of forty-three types of aromatics, with the inclusion of relevant legends, Buddhist citations, and even paranormal stories related to each aromatics entry; the history and the storming methods of the aromatics are also recorded.
Page 1 | 2