Avoiding the Dire Straits
An Inquiry into Food Provisions and Scurvy in Maritime and Military History of China and wider East Asia
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Scurvy is known to be one of the most gruesome pathological phenomena that, in the course of centuries, has made innumerable victims. Long distance seafaring operations, war zones, prisons and crop failures all created breeding grounds for the vitamin C defi ciency disease, which was commonly characterized by swelling and bleeding gums and internal haemorraghes in the limbs. While the history of scurvy is rather well-known from a Western perspective, the higher proneness to scurvy of Asian peoples in comparison to Europeans, Polynesians and other peoples, as proven in recent biochemical studies, compelled to broaden that horizon and look for scurvy in China and beyond. The purpose of this book is to trace the history of the disease in China, Japan and Southeast Asia and to highlight the ways in which peoples from these regions in pre-modern and early modern times dealt with provisioning in their seafaring and military enterprises. This cross-cultural quest for scurvy and food supplies, involving such areas as maritime and military history and the medical traditions from East and West, is ultimately meant as an attempt to elucidate whether historical sources can confirm the biochemical findings.