New Directions in the Cultural Studies of Chinese Science and Medicine

Biology Recapitulates Ecology: Disease, Space, and Identity in Late Imperial China (Marta Hanson, UCSD)

During the past decade scholars in the China field have been debating the emergence of a discourse on race during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). These scholars argue that the foreign Manchu rulers constructed a discourse on race to consolidate loyalty among the conquered Chinese. They did this by systematically codifying cultural, linguistic, and racial difference within the empire to reinforce their ideology of universal emperorship over all in the empire. Two problems arise, however, from this academic discussion. First of all, these scholars often use the western biological conception of race as a catch-all category and project it on to Chinese discourse on human difference. Secondly, they have not systematically examined Chinese indigenous conceptions of human variation. Chinese used a conception of resonant local qi (vital energy) to explain human variation in ecological rather than biological terms. Chinese intellectuals, physicians in particular, used this conception of local qi to fashion both the spatial contours of Chinese cultural identity and Chinese perceptions of ethnic difference. In this paper, I use the intersections between the discourses on disease, space, and identity in medical discussions on two types of disorders, miasmatic fevers and gu poisoning. Long before the Qing dynasty, Chinese physicians associated these disorders with the tropical regions of China's southernmost frontier and the minority peoples who lived there. Both disease constructs expressed Chinese fears of these indigenous populations while simultaneously defining their difference from them. Whereas miasmatic fevers expressed their frustration with complete sinification since at least the Tang dynasty (618-907), however, gu poisoning expressed fears of Chinese assimilation into the local Miao (Hmong) population during the frequent Miao rebellions over the course of the eighteenth century.

How Does Acupuncture Work? A Political-Historical Survey (Bridie Andrews, U Penn)

Since the 1970s and the high-profile demonstrations of Chinese acupuncture analgesia to teams of scientists from the West, much effort has been expended in trying to find a scientific explanation for how acupuncture works. In China and Japan, such efforts go back to the 1880s. So far, no-one has been successful in finding a consistent justification for acupuncture in modern-scientific terms.

As an exercise in structural functionalism, this paper compares several of the theories advanced to explain the efficacy of acupuncture, and compares them with contemporary local political ideologies, West and East. It will be seen that not only has acupuncture theory frequently reflected political ideology, but that even the practice of acupuncture - as for instance the location of acupuncture points - has sometimes been quite drastically modified in order to conform to political expectations. In spite of a series of such changes, acupuncture continues to defy scientific explanation, at the same time as its therapeutic appeal has continued to grow.

These findings raise questions of the relationship of theory to practice and of ideology to effectiveness in the history of acupuncture. Has the therapeutic appeal of acupuncture increased because it has been explained in locally-acceptable terms, or because in spite of the failure of such explanations, it is 'essentially' effective? And in the latter case, what significance is to be ascribed to the substantial changes in the practices collectively labeled 'acupuncture'?

Storia Literati Doctor: The Practice of Chinese Medicine in the Seventeenth Century (Charlotte Furth, USC)

Using the case history collection (yi'an) of Cheng Congzhou, a late Ming physician practicing in the city of Yangzhou, this paper sketches the production of medical knowledge and the social relations of healing through the experience of a single doctor. It first explores the tensions between text and clinical experience informing the case history as a new Ming genre of medical textuality, and the cultural ideal of the physician-as-scholar shaping the writing of case histories and their audience.

Then, using one of Cheng's longer case histories as a center piece, it employs the techniques of close reading to discuss several issues. These include seventeenth century medicine as crisis management, the negotiated nature of medical a, the multiple voices of doctors, patients and families in interpreting illness, and late Ming controversies over medical doctrine and the interpretation of classical theory. Overall, the paper offers a concrete, historically situated portrait of a medical practitioner at work against which to evaluate the popular holistic image of Chinese medicine as "traditional" and hence timeless.

Proof, Propaganda and Patronage: The Dissemination of Western Studies In 17th-Century China (Roger Hart, Stanford)

The apparent inevitability of the triumph of Western science over the declining Chinese tradition in the seventeenth-century has seemed to render superfluous historical analysis of the scientific content of this emblematic conflict of cultures. The received historiography has instead focused on the distorting social interests and psychologistic causes (e.g., pride, conservatism, and xenophobia) purported to explain Chinese opposition to the Jesuits; the adoption of Jesuit doctrines has been asymmetrically naturalized as resulting from the assumed validity of Western science, and thus has seemed not to require further historical explanation.

This paper offers a historical, sociological and cultural analysis of Jesuit science in China contextualized as strategies of proof, propaganda and patronage. Extant Ming mathematical treatises demonstrate that the dissemination of Western Studies and the Jesuit recruitment of converts cannot be explained by anachronistic claims of Western scientific superiority; Western Studies--a hierarchy of knowledges ranging from Euclidean geometry to Aristotelian cosmology and ultimately Christian theology--was adopted and propagated by elite converts with little knowledge of the Chinese sciences. In the converts' propaganda, Jesuit scientific proofs provided a rhetoric for describing their conversion to the higher theological truths which had been stripped by Ricci of their revelatory content; acceptance of the truths of Western science, by providing an exemplar for supplanting "doubt" with "clarity," was represented as part of the process of accepting demonstrations of Christian truths. More importantly, Western Studies provided these elite converts with novel proposals for their memorials to the Ming court; the misrecognition of Jesuit teachings as scientific allowed the ambiguous loyalty of the Chinese converts to the Jesuits to be explained as loyalty to the Ming Dynasty. Ultimately, I will argue, it was not the effectiveness of Jesuit propaganda but rather their patronage strategies that legitimated Western Studies.