Ch'ung i-liao k'an Chung-kuo shih 從醫療看中國史 [Examining Chinese History Through Medicine] (review)
- East Asian Science, Technology and Society: an International Journal
- Duke University Press
- Volume 4, Number 2, 2010
- pp. 349-353
- Additional Information
Li Jianmin, ed., Ch’ung i-liao k’an Chung-kuo shih 從醫療看中國史 [Examining Chinese History Through Medicine] Taibei: Lianjing, 2008. 616 pp. ISBN: 9789570833270. Yüan-ling Chao Received: 7 January 2009 /Accepted: 7 January 2009 /Published online: 30 June 2010 # National Science Council, Taiwan 2010 Who is best qualified to study the history of medicine? Physicians with technical training? Historians with a finer appreciation of how to approach the past? This issue has mostly been resolved in the West, where historians have largely replaced physicians, fulfilling the call of Henry Sigerist in the 1940s to move from the “Great Man in medicine” narrative to a more social and cultural approach. In Europe and the Americas, the history of medicine has emerged as an acknowledged field within history. Just consider the annual conference of the American Association for the History of Medicine, where historians rather than doctors now dominate the program. A quick browse through the contents of the association’s official journal, the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, confirms that most of the work is being done by scholars who belong to university history departments. In China, however, the debate continues. This is brought to the fore by the editor of the book under review, Li Jianmin, who recalls in the introduction a challenge from an audience member at a colloquium in Hong Kong: how could someone who had not trained as a physician say anything about the history of medicine? Li points out that most of the historical work by physicians does not move beyond technical aspects of medicine. While these works are critical to furthering our understanding, only those who have been trained as historians can place medicine within broader trends, illuminating society’s dramatic and subtle transformations. Li also points out that while scholars in mainland China have made significant contributions to the understanding and authentication of medical texts, it is those in Hong Kong and Taiwan who have been broadening the field with a more fully historical approach. The book under review represents a major step in that direction, and it reflects the collaborative efforts of an international cadre of scholars from the USA, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and Japan. There are altogether 15 chapters covering a timeframe ranging from the ancient Shang dynasty (1766?–1050 BCE) to the recent colonial East Asian Science, Technology and Society: an International Journal (2010) 4:349–353 DOI 10.1007/s12280-010-9136-z Y.-l. Chao (*) History Department, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN 37132, USA e-mail: email@example.com administrations in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The sources used include archaeological findings, pi-chi (literary jottings), medical treatises, archival materials, as well as images (as pointed out by Huang Longxiang in his chapter on historical sources, care has to be taken when utilizing medical texts, as repeated copying sometimes produced critical mistakes). These 15 chapters cover diverse topics that reflect the connections between developments in the theory and practice of medicine, on the one hand and on the other, broader historical processes such as intellectual trends, political and social changes, state policies, and perceived differences between northern and southern China. There studies of medicine thus illuminate broader historical trends. Li Jianmin’s chapter utilizes newly excavated materials to shed light on how changing intellectual developments altered ideas about the role of ghosts and spirits in the transmission of disease from approximately 475 BCE to 589 CE. A major change occurred around the fourth century BCE, when developments in mathematics enable scholars to forecast the weather, traditionally considered an important cause of illness. At roughly the same time, intellectual discourse increasingly emphasized the preservation and cultivation of the inner self. This emphasis on rationality and inner cultivation merged with the growing importance of the notion of ch’i, paving the way for the rationalization of ghosts and spirits. The supernatural was incorporated into the medical theory of fire and heat (huo je), categorized as a yang illness, and prescriptions for ghosts and spirits appeared in the materia medica. Rather than causing sudden illness, it was now believed that illnesses caused by ghosts and spirits were gradual and continuous. This change was also interwoven with developing notions...