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Reviewed by:
  • Die Heilkunst des Pien Lu: Arzt und Krankheit in bildhaften Ausdrücken der Chinesischen Sprache
  • Hermann Tessenow
Erhard Rosner. Die Heilkunst des Pien Lu: Arzt und Krankheit in bildhaften Ausdrücken der Chinesischen Sprache. Münchener ostasiatische Studien, no. 55. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1991. 216 pp. DM 60.00.

This book presents a collection of traditional Chinese medical metaphors as they may be encountered by any reader of Chinese belles lettres. As the author points out, throughout the ages metaphors have had a significant assertive value in China; like precedences, they have played and continue to play an important role in many argumentations. Rosner emphasizes that it was not his intention to write a book on traditional Chinese medicine in general; rather, he concentrated on those realms of Chinese medicine which have left their traces in widely used metaphors (p. 18). He has based his survey on one major source: the Ming dynasty encyclopedia Yü Lin (“Forest of Metaphors”), written by Xu Yuantai for the practical use of literati.

On the basis of a categorization into topics such as “notions of illness,” “diagnostics,” and “physicians and patients,” Rosner comments on the images conveyed by Chinese medical metaphors, and he links them to certain stages in the development of Chinese medicine. For example, terms like “needling” or “burning” do not necessarily refer to acupuncture and moxibustion-cauterization: they frequently imply such interventions as bloodletting, the opening of abscesses, or even minor surgery (pp. 104–5, 115 ff.). Rosner offers an interesting hypothesis to the effect that acupuncture and moxibustion, as well as some elements of surgery, should be seen in the context of “evacuation therapies”; as G. Lorenz has pointed out, such therapies are ubiquitous, and they are meant to eliminate “the origin of an illness through simple mechanical means including cutting, needling, and cauterization” (pp. 119, 180). Even though Rosner emphasizes that the material at hand is insufficient to verify his hypothesis unequivocally, it supports an impression that the use of some of the metaphors demonstrates a former prevalence of theories and practices that are no longer considered part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Interestingly, the metaphors collected by Xu Yuantai in the Yü Lin rarely include notions related to that conceptual tradition of Chinese medicine which is nowadays identified as Chinese medical theory per se—namely, the medicine of systematic correspondence. Such knowledge, even though important, may have been too specific to lend itself to metaphorical use because metaphors must reveal their meaning immediately to any educated reader.

Until now, the history of Chinese medicine has been approached mainly through data obtained from Chinese medical literature and, to a much lesser degree, from general historical sources or even belles lettres. Rosner’s analysis focuses on a new approach that might be worth pursuing further. The present [End Page 126] book, however, is seen by its author more as a preliminary report than a definitive standard work. The translation of technical terms included in the metaphors is at times rather idiosyncratic. Rosner has been truthful to various of his English and German sources to the extent that he has preferred not to standardize their respective renderings of one and the same term. For example, the central term qi appears as pneuma, fluidum, Einflüsse, Lebenskraft, Lebensessenz, and in various transliterations (ch’i, chhi). Only insiders know that all these terms refer to the same Chinese concept. Readers may also be somewhat confused by the double appearance of one lengthy quote from the Huai Nan Zi, once in Rosner’s own translation (p. 64) and once in a rendering by Lu and Needham (p. 172).

Rosner has also refrained from systematically tracing the original sources of the metaphors listed in the Yü Lin. Occasionally this has resulted in problems. For example, the quotation on page 77 taken from the Yü Lin 1902 is not from the famous Dao De Jing of Laozi but, as the Yü Lin points out, from the Dao De Jing Zhigui.

These flaws aside, Rosner’s book is a valuable contribution in that it directs our view to a wealth of data in a realm of sources that deserve further attention.

Hermann Tessenow
Munich University

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