Translating Ancient Chinese Wisdom into Medicine for Today

History and Culture 3

Chinese History and Culture

Part Three: Medical History

In the third and last block of my three-part course on Chinese History and Culture for CM Practitioners, we discuss Chinese history from the perspective of medical history, on the foundation of Chinese history and culture that we covered in the first two courses in this series. Students learn about the major medical classics and their authors as keystones in the development of medical theory. At the same time, this course considers changes in clinical practice, as much as these can be reconstructed through archaeology and direct and indirect textual references. This course will

  • Familiarize you with important texts, such as: Guanzi chapter on Neiye (Inner Cultivation), Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic): Suwen and Lingshu, Nanjing (Classic of Difficult Issues), Shanghanlun (Treatise on Cold Damage) and Jingui yaolüe (Essential Prescriptions from the Golden Cabinet), Shennong bencaojing (Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica), Beiji qianjin yaofang (Essential Prescriptions for Emergencies Worth a Thousand in Gold), Bencao gangmu (Systematic Materia Medica), Leijing (Categorized Classic), Zhenjiu dacheng (Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion), and Piweilun (Discussion of the Spleen and Stomach).

  • Discuss the contributions of major writers and physicians in the history of Chinese medicine: Bian Que and Hua Tuo; Zhang Zhongjing, Wang Shuhe and Huangfu Mi; Ge Hong and Tao Hongjing; Sun Simiao; Four Great Masters: Liu Wansu, Zhang Congzheng, Li Dongyuan, and Zhu Zhenheng; Li Shizhen; Zhang Jiebin.

  • Survey the origin, growth, and development of Chinese medical theory and practice.

  • Describe the influence of the major historical changes in China on the history of medicine.

  • Identify and describe the cultural foundations that inform the reading of the medical classics.

  • Appreciate Chinese medicine not as one monolithic and internally coherent “Tradition,” but as a succession of regionally, individually, socially, economically, philosophically, and politically determined theories and practices.

Required textbooks used in this block:

  1. TJ Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes, eds., Chinese Medicine and Healing. An Illustrated History (Harvard University Press, 2013).

  2. Resources posted for each class below.

Highly recommended textbooks and resources are:

  1. Donald Harper, Early Chinese Medical Literature: The Mawangdui Medical Manuscripts (Kegan Paul International, 1998)

  2. Elisabeth Rochat de la Valle, The Rhythm at the Heart of the World. Neijing Suwen Chapter 5 (Monkey Press, 2011), or any of her other Neijing translations.

  3. Paul U. Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas AND Medicine in China: A History of Pharmaceutics (both University of California Press). Also, his translation of the Suwen and Lingshu (also published by University of California Press in 2011 and 2016 respectively).

  4. Vivienne Lo and Christopher Cullen, eds., Medieval Chinese Medicine: The Dunhuang Medical Manuscripts (RoutledgeCourzon, 2005).

  5. Carla Nappi, The Monkey and the Inkpot (Harvard University Press, 2009).

  6. Sabine Wilms, The Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica, Humming with Elephants, and Channeling the Moon (Happy Goat Productions, 2016, 2018, and 2019, respectively)

  7. Resources posted below.

Lesson 1: Introduction: Shang and Zhou healing, Bian Que and Hua Tuo

  • Study Questions:

    • As you contemplate healing in ancient China, what are our potential sources of information and what are the limitations of these records?

    • What are some etiologies and methods of treatments found in the historical record?

    • What is the meaning of shamanism and how is it related to medicine? What is the role of the shaman, the root of their power, the nature of their practice? How do you define “shaman” even? How do you feel about contemporary uses of that term, in the context of Chinese medicine and beyond?

  • Readings

    • Barnes and Hinrichs, 5-29.

Lesson 2: Mawangdui Manuscripts and pre-classical medicine. Guanzi, “Inner Cultivation”

  • Study Questions:

    • How can you relate this week’s information from the readings on Warring States and early Han medicine to the philosophical and cosmological theories that were common during this same period, especially to Confucianism and (philosophical) Daoism?

    • What does Mawangdui tell us about the roots of our medicine? How do we define and delineate religion, science (“natural” and otherwise?), and medicine?

    • What are “fang” 方 (“recipes”) and who had, bought, used, and transmitted them?

  • Preparation:

Lesson 3: The Han Classics I: Neijing

  • Study Questions:

  • Readings:

    • Wilms, Humming with Elephants (Qiological interview, excerpts, and discussions on my translation of Suwen 5, all linked from my website page on the book) and and translations of Neijing selections from the Members-Only Translations page on this website (read as many as you can and want, from both Lingshu and Suwen, but make sure you include SW 1-3, SW 8, and LS 1 and 3 and 8).

    • Elisabeth Rochat. The Rhythm at the Heart of the World. Neijing Suwen Chapter 5

Lesson 4: Han Classics II: Nanjing, Maijing (Wang Shuhe), Zhenjiu Jiayijing (Huangfu Mi)

Lesson 5: Han Classics III: Zhang Zhongjing and the Shanghanlun and Jingui Yaolüe

Lesson 6: Early Materia Medica literature and alchemy: Ge Hong, Tao Hongjing, and the Shennong Bencaojing

Lesson 7: Medieval medicine: Chao Yuanfang and the Zhubing Yuanhou Lun; Sun Simiao and the Qianjinfang

Lesson 8: Song dynasty medical innovations

Lesson 9: The Four Great Masters of the Song-Jin-Yuan

Lesson 10: Late Imperial Chinese Medicine