- A New Exploration on the Medical Books Revision Bureau of the Northern Song Dynasty by Ka Wai Fan
The relationship between society and medicine in ancient China is a booming academic field. Fan Ka Wai points to the temporary national Medical Books Revision Bureau 校正醫書局 (jiaozheng yishu ju, from 1057 to 1077) during the Northern Song to discuss the interaction between the government and medicine. The Northern Song was a high point in the history of Chinese medicine, a period when the imperial government made great efforts to promote medical developments. Many scholars explain these developments from the angle of renzheng 仁政 (benevolent governance). Fan’s work, however, focuses on the Medical Books Revision Bureau, by which the imperial court facilitated an integration between Confucian knowledge and medical knowledge. The subject of this book is a special group of Confucian officials 儒臣 (ruchen) equipped with medical knowledge gained through education within the family and employed at the Medical Books Revision Bureau of the Northern Song. These Confucian officials differed both from general scholar-officials 士大夫 (shidafu) who specialized in Confucian knowledge but not in medicine, and from medical officials 醫官 (yiguan) who provided medical services to imperial persons. Such officials played a key role in the government-dominated revision of medical books.
In chapters 3–7, Fan sets out the historical background, establishment, and operation of the Medical Books Revision Bureau from the beginning of the dynasty to the period of the Xining 熙寧 reign (960–1077). He compares the compilation process for two medical works released by the Taizong Emperor 太宗 (976–997)—Taiping shenghui fang 太平聖惠方 (Saintly Benevolent Prescriptions of the Taiping Reign Period, 992 AD) and Shenyi pujiu fang 神醫普救方 (Supernal Physician’s Prescriptions for the Cure of All People, 987 AD)—and points out the difference between medical officials and Confucian officials. Prior to the establishment of the Medical Books Revision Bureau, the revision of medical books was originally carried out by [End Page 219] the Confucian officials of the imperial book institution, the Sanguan mige 三館秘閣 (Three Departments for Book Reservation and Compilation). Focusing on clinical practices to take care of the imperial family, medical officials were not qualified to revise medical books, though they might be able to provide assistance on professional knowledge. Though Confucian officials were generally not proficient in medical knowledge, one particular group of Confucian officials was far better qualified than others, since the majority of them came from, or had a close relationship with, families with a medical heritage.
The Medical Books Revision Bureau was temporarily established during the periods of the Jiayou 嘉佑 and Xining 熙寧 reign (1056–77) to provide medical books for the army and for local regions. Fan’s book makes it clear that the bureau’s officials took their common Confucian ideology into account in the revision process: the revisers Lin Yi 林億 and Sun Zhao 孫兆 did not intend to preserve the original appearance of medical classics such as Huangdi neijing 黃帝內經 (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon), and instead changed the sequence of chapters according to a method known as “assembly into the same category” 以類相從 (yilei xiangcong). Though Lin and Sun believed this revision reflected more closely the real intention of the original authors, subsequent physicians and historians were critical of such a rearrangement. Fan points out that the practice resulted from the desire of Song Confucians to transcend the Han and Tang dynasties in cultural terms. More specifically, the medical ideology of the Song dynasty traced itself back to the Yellow Emperor, the imperial court having taken him as its divine ancestor 聖祖 (shengzu). For example, when revising the Materia Medica 本草 (bencao), Su Song 蘇頌 (1020–1101) supplemented it with a large amount of textual content deriving from the classical Confucian and historical canon 經史百家 (jingshi baijia), though this supplementary content was hardly useful to physicians in terms of practical treatments. But to Confucian officials, such Confucian works formed the origins and basis of their knowledge, and they depended on them when revising all books, including...