Although there are thousands historical examples of China’s scientific innovation, their success in the field of endocrinology I find simply amazing.
Some current fertility drugs in the West contain hormones extracted from human urine. It is a common misconception that the utilisation of hormones extracted from urine is a European discovery from 1927. In fact, the Chinese, utilising their enthusiasm for alchemy, had been extracting hormones from urine to be used medicinally since the second century BC (at the same time Iron Age Britains were believed to be introduced to coins). The astonishingly sophisticated extraction process resulted in a product called “autumnal mineral”. One recipe states that they gather 150 gallons of human urine and heat it until it has evaporated leaving dried solids of urine. To purify and rid these dried solids of urea, salts etc., the Chinese utilised the process of sublimation (the transition of a substance from the solid phase to the gas phase without passing through an intermediate liquid phase [ex: dry ice]). Of the 150 gallons of urine, only 2-3 ounces of sublimate of hormone crystals remained. Male and female urine was kept separate in order to extract specific hormones. This was all done with specially designed and engineered equipment.
What is truly astonishing is that to successfully keep steroid hormones in tact, sublimation must occur between the controlled temperatures of 120- 300 degrees. This fact was not learned in the West until this century. It is unknown how the Chinese came across this discovery so early. Regardless, by utilising these methods, the Chinese were able to separate large amounts of extraneous matter and create concentrated and powerful hormone substances for medicinal purposes.
It's facts like this that make my head spin whenever I hear someone suggest that Chinese medicine is not based on science. To me it just seems unfair that such mind boggling discoveries should not be given due credit. However, I'm very aware that the idea that the West discovered all scientific advances is a misconception that is deeply ingrained and is continually perpetuated. It's really unfortunate because if Western science would open their mind to historical discoveries, they could make huge leaps forward. I'm constantly coming across research where the "profound discovery" is based on a herb that the Chinese have been using for centuries for exactly what they are testing it for. I don't mind that they want to know why, but it irks me a bit that they don't give the Chinese credit, and that they label it as "profound".
Reference: Temple, R. (2007). The Genius of China. Andre Deutch: London.