In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction
  • Ruth Rogaski (bio)

When constancies are lost, qi and essence steam upward, causing heat in the body; if qi and essence are blocked, they cause cold; if they are bound, they give rise to tumors and excrescences; if they sink, abscesses; if they scatter, they cause panting and shortness of breath; and if they are exhausted, scorching and withering. These symptoms are visible on the face and manifest throughout the body.

When one extends this analogy to Heaven and Earth, it is also likewise. Unseasonable winter cold and summer heat are the ascent or blockage of qi and essence in Heaven and Earth. Boulders and thrust-up earth are the tumors and excrescences of Heaven and Earth. Collapsing mountains and caved-in ground are the abscesses of Heaven and Earth. Scattered winds and violent rain are the panting and shortness of breath of Heaven and Earth. Dried-up streams and parched marshes are the scorching and withering of Heaven and Earth.

—Biography of Sun Simiao from the Jiu Tang shu quoted in Wilms (2010, 7)

These phrases attributed to the sixth-century physician Sun Simiao vividly convey the way Chinese Daoism thought of human bodies as inextricably embedded in the world. Linked by the same coursing vitalities, the earth and all its things could take part in the same processes of lively flourishing but were also susceptible to the same problems of blockage, exhaustion, and collapse. Many scholars have seen within this and other East Asian traditions [End Page 95] a unique way of envisioning the relationship between human health and the environment: the body as "fundamentally porous to the world that surrounds it," embedded in an ecology that, when properly recognized, can nurture the capacity for balanced harmony (Miller 2017, xxii; see also Tucker and Berthrong 1998; Rots 2017).

If East Asia has been defined by particular ideas about the intertwining of humans and the environment, it also gives us a reality in which humans and the environment are frequently at odds. Philosophies may have preached the harmony of the macrocosm and human microcosm, but this did not stop people from exploiting and harming the environment for centuries with catastrophic impact on human health (Elvin 2008; Perdue 1987; Totman 1989). The advent of capitalist development and its accompanying neoliberal philosophies have accelerated these processes to unimaginable effect. Indeed, it is impossible to think about East Asia today without touching on destructive links between humans and the environment, whether manifest in the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima, cancer villages in Sichuan, or bird flu pandemics emerging from Vietnam (Walker 2010; Lora-Wainwright 2013a; Porter forthcoming 2019). Historian Brett Walker's observation about Japan holds true for all of East Asia: scholars "can no longer be content to ruminate on Japan's exquisite harmony with nature" but must instead "explain how it has contributed to regional ecological collapse and global climate change" (Walker 2013, xiii).

Indeed, the relationship between health and environment in East Asia has taken center stage in considerations of the Anthropocene and its definitive environmental crises. Whether those crises are deadly pandemics, worldwide effects of drought, or mass migrations linked to climate change, influential thinkers from Amitav Ghosh to Martin Rees look to Asia to find catastrophic manifestations of global dilemmas (Peckham 2016; Ghosh 2017; Rees 2018; Austin 2017; Sipress 2009; Sze 2015). Human health and environment has emerged as an important subfield within Asian studies, with numerous influential monographs, edited volumes, and special journal issues, particularly in the China field (Lora-Wainwright 2013b; Holdaway 2013; Aunan, Hansen, and Wang 2018; Kostka and Nahm 2017). This focus on East Asia's environmental crises runs the risk of echoing the colonial discourses of the nineteenth century through the production of an image of a "Polluted Man of Asia" or an "Eco-Yellow Peril" (Litzinger and Yang forthcoming 2019), [End Page 96] an image that obscures the responsibility of Western capitalism and sets East Asia apart as singularly degraded. The best scholarship on East Asia's crises recognizes that they are part of a contemporaneous, linked global phenomenon from California's agricultural pesticides to New York's Love Canal to Flint, Michigan, and cannot simply be put on an inevitable...


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pp. 95-104
Launched on MUSE
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Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2020
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