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Storax, Benzoin, and the Chinese Anxi xiang

Stephen G. Haw


The Chinese term Anxi xiang 安息香 is now usually applied to benzoin, an aromatic resin obtained from species of the genus Styrax native to Southeast Asia. However, it appears from Chinese records that this aromatic originally was imported into China from western Asia. What this early Anxi xiang was has never been ascertained. It is here suggested that, like benzoin, it was produced from a species of Styrax, and was the storax of the ancient Mediterranean region. A complication is that storax was obtained from more than one plant source. Another issue is that a different substance, known to the Chinese as suhe 蘇合, has often been identified with storax. The available evidence is assessed and probable solutions are proposed.

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