- The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine
The Expressiveness of the Body by Shigehisa Kuriyama is a magnificent and provocative work that explores the historical construction of the radically different conceptions of the human body in the medical traditions of classical Greece and early China. In the second part of the title Kuriyama specifies this difference as a "divergence" because, as he shows in many places, the earliest demonstrations of the medical conceptions of the human body in both traditions shared many similar points, for example the perceived benefits of bloodletting and the view of wind as a source of illness. On the other hand, in his preface Kuriyama provides a stark visual contrast between the fully developed conceptions of the body from each tradition by reproducing two drawings, the first from the fourteenth-century Chinese acupuncturist Hua Shou and the second from the sixteenth-century European anatomist Vesalius. The Chinese figure is defined by the locations of its acupuncture points, the European by its anatomical musculature. "In Hua Shou, we miss the muscular detail of the Vesalian man; and in fact Chinese doctors lacked even a specific word for 'muscle'. . . . On the other hand, the tracts and points of acupuncture entirely escaped the West's anatomical vision of reality" (p. 8).
Kuriyama's work, however, is much more than a comparative analysis of Greek and Chinese medical views of the body; more particularly, it is a study of the ways in which mental images interact with styles of touching and perceiving in the experience of the body and the world: "Theoretical preconceptions at once shaped and were shaped by the contours of haptic sensation" (p. 60). Kuriyama describes how cultural traditions shape the knowledge that humans have of themselves as persons and the perceptions and sensations they have or take of themselves as bodies. Exploring the separate histories of the early Greek and Chinese constructions of the human body, Kuriyama leads the reader through the interdependent processes of thought and perception and the growth of tradition likely to have played dominant roles in the establishment of cultural particularity and cross-cultural difference.
In chapter 1, Kuriyama explores that most basic of all bodily markers of life, flowing blood, and details the different ways in which early Greek and Chinese doctors theoretically conceived and physically felt it. Relying primarily on the writings of the Hippocratic treatises up to the time of Galen, Kuriyama shows how the concept of the pulse was, through formalized styles of touching for it, standardized in tandem with an understanding of blood vessels discovered through anatomical dissection. He places this in stark contrast to the Chinese [End Page 130] concept of mo, a term meaning both blood circulation and the tracts or channels through which the blood flows. Differing from veins and arteries, these circulation tracts were thought to connect separate internal and external parts of the body based on the correlations of yin-yang and the Five Phases. Although both the pulse and the mo were felt for at the wrist, the Greek pulse, originating in the heart, gave only a single reading, whereas each of the different mo, all available for palpation in separate parts of the wrist, gave multiple readings and conveyed very different information. Chapter 2 continues this topic in relation to language, specifically the ways in which words were applied to the sciences of the pulses and the mos. Kuriyama demonstrates that the early Greek doctors were aware of meaningful variations of information from the pulse but that they lacked a language to speak of its extremely subtle variations, which could be found only by touch. Even Galen tried to find an exact language, but could do no better than "ant-crawling," "mouselike," and "worming," and this led him, like a majority of later Western doctors, to describe the art as too subjective and thus worthless. Chinese doctors also found it...