80th Historia Medica Lecture, ‘Longevity for the World: Self and the Social Body in Early Modern China,' given by He Bian, PhD, Associate Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Princeton University.
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The cultivation, or nourishment of life (yangsheng) has been a central precept in traditional Chinese medicine since ancient times. Our understanding of medical history in China also has been dominated by powerful men (and women) who sought self-perfection – or even immortality - through the art of medicine. In this talk, Bian highlights instead the rising prominence of the social body in printed medical texts since the 15th century, particularly the trope of “Longevity for the World” (shoushi). Through a close study of the rhetoric, targeted readership, and reception of these texts Bian argues that a gap started to emerge between techniques intended for self-perfection and techniques for the masses by the seventeenth century, coinciding with the Ming dynasty’s downfall in 1640s. We can thus start to rethink the Ming-Qing transition as a crisis over the representativeness of the male literati body, which then ushered in a new social imagery of popular medicine that would dominate the eighteenth century.
|He Bian (Ch. 邊和), PhD, is a historian of late imperial and a historian of science. She earned her doctorate in History of Science from Harvard University in 2014. Her research interests span many topics pertaining to the question of authority and variation in China’s traditional culture, particularly in medicine and the natural sciences, between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Overall, her passion lies in writing a new kind of Chinese cultural history that foregrounds knowledge of all kinds, and is also rigorously contextualized by institutional, social, and economic conditions of the day.|