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Distilling Experiences into Words: Producing Medical Knowledge in Traditional China

Sun, June 26, 10:30am to 12:20pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 110

Session Submission Type: Roundtable Proposal Application


This roundtable focuses on the textual production and its relation to medical practice in traditional China, particularly the Tang, Song, and Yuan periods, when the multiplication of medical genres, the development of print technology, and the professionalization of different kinds of practitioners began to take shape in medicine. We seek to address the tension between text and experience, the discursive power of medical writings in specific historical contexts, the epistemic orientation in different medical genres, and the construction of collective experience through textualized knowledge.

Each panelist proposes a set of medical texts and questions and is responsible for a deeper historical investigation of those texts. Yan Liu will compare two specific medical genres from the Tang (materia medica and recipe compilation) and select sample sections from the Xinxiu bencao and Sun Simiao’s Qianjin yaofang. Hsiao-wen Cheng will choose passages from Chen Ziming’s Furen daquan liang fang, a compilation for women’s medicine, where Chen makes creative synthesis of multiple genres and traditions. Margaret Ng will examine different editions of Yang Zijian’s Shichan lun, a treatise on childbirth and birth complications, and highlight the process of how manual techniques become abstract knowledge in medical texts. Yun-ju Chen will pick passages from Shi Jihong’s Lingnan weisheng fang, a collection of four Southern Song authors’ writings on treating zhang disorders in Southeastern China, in which geographical difference both shapes and is shaped by the emerging medical interest in regional diseases. Shigehisa Kuriyama will select several anecdotal accounts from both medical and non-medical books during the Song-Yuan period that reveal the use of daily medicine in private domains and informed by individual experiences.

We will share the texts and supplementary materials online and invite interested participants to join the discussion at least two months before the conference. During the meeting, we will engage the audience in close reading of some of these texts, and will solicit responses to our questions, and in turn encourage new questions on our texts. Each panelist will take ten minutes to introduce his/her texts and questions, and this will be followed by an open floor discussion.

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