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Reviewed by:
  • Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History ed. by T. J. Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes
  • Daniel Asen
Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History, edited by T. J. Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2013. 480 pp. US$45.00 (Hardcover). ISBN 9780674047372.

Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History is an engaging overview of medicine and healing in Chinese history that is deeply grounded in the historical and conceptual insights of recent scholarship in the field. Under the editorship of Linda L. Barnes and T. J. Hinrichs, seven scholars contributed chronological chapters to this volume, joining three major chapters authored by Barnes and Hinrichs themselves. The chapters examine developments in medicine and healing from the Shang to present, firmly locating this history within political, social, cultural, and religious contexts. Within each chapter are several additional sections authored by other scholars who have drawn on their own areas of expertise to provide in-depth discussions of particular themes, documents, or historical figures. These provide additional texture to a volume that already effectively balances broad narrative with compelling detail.

This volume has two overarching themes that are discussed in the introduction and developed throughout subsequent chapters. First, a strong argument is made for eclecticism and plurality as long-standing features of medicine and healing in China. The reader is introduced to many forms of healing that fall beyond the scope of the varied and shifting practices associated with yi ( medicine), including ritual healing, practices of self-care and cultivation, and other techniques that were disparaged by elite medicine during the imperial period. Another central argument of the book is that the territorial, political, and ethno-cultural boundaries of “China” have shifted over time and that this insight is crucial for understanding the history of healing institutions, knowledge, and practices. This theme is illustrated in the maps that appear at the beginning of each chapter, each of which vividly shows the boundaries of the Chinese political formation at different points in its preimperial, imperial, and modern history. The work presents a compelling argument for the historical mutability of national and cultural identity across time and, by implication, for the contingency of “Chinese” medicine and healing.

Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History includes ten chapters, each of which focuses on a particular period of history, whether a single dynasty, several dynasties, or, in the case of the last two chapters, the expansive “worlds” in which the meanings of Chinese [End Page 159] medicine and healing continue to be negotiated. Each chapter includes basic historical information about the period, making the volume suitable for readers with minimal knowledge of Chinese history. While the chapters vary in length and organization, the volume as a whole presents a number of themes that can be followed across the entire work. These lend coherence to a work that is expansive in space and time.

One major theme is the ways in which healers have legitimated their knowledge and skills in a medical marketplace often defined by porous boundaries between expert and layperson and secular and religious healing. The chapters discuss the range of healers that existed in early China and throughout the imperial and modern periods, the new conceptualization of the “scholar-physician” ( ruyi) during the Song, the development of elite medicine in late imperial times, and the ways in which conceptions of medical knowledge and expertise associated with modern biomedicine have refigured the medical landscape in China and at other global sites in which Chinese healing techniques have been adopted and adapted. Another important theme is the ways in which state institutions and political power have shaped the codification, dissemination, and institutionalization of medical knowledge. The reader can follow this thread through discussions of the influence of new conceptions of imperial order on the imagination of disease and healing during the Han, the significant attempts of the Song to regulate medical knowledge and practice, declining state involvement in medicine under the Ming and Qing, and the unprecedented forms of medical regulation that have emerged since the fall of the Qing and, especially, since the 1950s.

The volume’s treatment of other themes is just as deserving of mention. The chapters explore...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1015-6607
Print ISSN
1680-2012
Pages
pp. 159-161
Launched on MUSE
2013-11-08
Open Access
No
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