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  • Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History ed. by T. J. Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes
  • John Welden (bio)
T. J. Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes, editors. Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013. x, 464 pp. Hardcover $45.00, isbn 978-0-674-04737-2.

The most remarkable aspect of Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History (2013) is how the editors, T. J. Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes, seamlessly integrate the contributions of fifty-eight different scholars from various backgrounds into a single coherent narrative of Chinese medicine’s diverse forms of healing spanning over 3,200 years of history and reaching around the globe. Such a monumental task would otherwise exceed the expertise of any single researcher, but since this field has rapidly grown over the last few decades, there are now many temporal, spatial, and intellectual arenas of study being undertaken. The stated goal of the editors “is to explore the historical processes that produced shifts in the scope or practice of medicine … that changed what was valued as more efficacious or ethical, and that sometimes intensified efforts to establish and reinforce the boundaries of what could be considered properly ‘medical’” (p. 2). Not only is this accomplished, but they also educate the reader on both the variety of practices that fall within the larger sphere of healing and exciting new directions that researchers are currently exploring.

The book is organized chronologically, dividing history into periods that are named after dynasties while trying to avoid the temporal limitations associated with their founding and fall. The first chapter examines the Pre-Han period (ca. 1200–220 b.c.e.), from the oracle bones of the Shang dynasty to the literary classics of the Zhou, and explores the shift from beliefs in supernatural causes of disease to natural causes with the resultant shift in treatment strategies, spurred by political, social, cultural, religious, and economic changes. This is followed by a chapter on the Han period (ca. 220 b.c.e.–220 c.e.), in which the unification of the imperial state influenced the unification of medical theories and practices and the evolution of authoritative medical writing. The third chapter examines the period of division following the fall of the Han through the Tang dynasty (ca. 220–960), characterized by a broadening of cultural exchange through expanding trade routes across Asia. Notably, the rise of the influence of Buddhism and the Daoist response on medical practice are explored. Although the secular elite continued with the systemization of medical theories and produced texts focused on herbal therapies, the dominant practices of the period were religious and included the use of talismans, incantations, exorcisms, rituals, and an emphasis on moral rectification. Thus, the first two chapters argue that there was a move away from supernatural causes of disease and treatments, while the third argues that belief in the supernatural remained profoundly influential. This apparent contradiction is not discussed in the text. [End Page 92]

Although the study of early Chinese medicine has made progress, there remains confusion about how to rectify the differences between the legends surrounding the Han medical classics and the fragmentary evidence datable to these periods. For example, various authors assert that the Huangdi neijing (Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor) was compiled sometime during the four centuries of the Han dynasty, that excavated manuscripts from the Han reveal a very different account of medical practice than found in the received canon, and that all of these texts have been “edited, amended, and altered over subsequent centuries” (p. 39). In some cases, the excavated manuscripts appear to be early versions of works credited to the Han period, and while parts of the received canon likely date even earlier, other portions may have been added as late as the eleventh century. This alternative model argues for an ongoing debate that gradually sought to extend and refine the core medical theories and practices over many centuries. As medical historians seek to move past the antiquated periodization of an early golden age of innovative ideas followed by a dark age of intellectual stagnancy, it is essential that questions surrounding the...


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pp. 92-94
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