Speaking of Epidemics in Chinese Medicine
Disease and the Geographic Imagination in Late Imperial China
By Marta Hanson
Routledge – 2011 – 268 pages
This book traces the history of the Chinese concept of "Warm diseases" (wenbing) from antiquity to the SARS epidemic. Following wenbing from its birth to maturity and even life in modern times Marta Hanson approaches the history of Chinese medicine from a new angle. She explores the possibility of replacing older narratives that stress progress and linear development with accounts that pay attention to geographic, intellectual, and cultural diversity. By doing so her book integrates the history of Chinese medicine into broader historical studies in a way that has not so far been attempted, and addresses the concerns of a readership much wider than that of Chinese medicine specialists.
The persistence of wenbing and other Chinese disease concepts in the present can be interpreted as resistance to the narrowing of meaning in modern biomedical nosology. Attention to conceptions of disease and space reveal a previously unexamined discourse the author calls the Chinese geographic imagination. Tracing the changing meanings of "Warm diseases" over two thousand years allows for the exploration of pre-modern understandings of the nature of epidemics, their intersection with this geographic imagination, and how conceptions of geography shaped the sociology of medical practice and knowledge in late imperial China.
Speaking of Epidemics in Chinese Medicine opens a new window on interpretive themes in Chinese cultural history as well as on contemporary studies of the history of science and medicine beyond East Asia.
"Rich, detailed, and hugely impressive in scope, Marta Hanson’s history of the “warm diseases” or the wenbing disease classification, from the earliest references in the canonical medical literature through to the present day, is a welcome addition to the Needham Research Institute Series of texts on East Asian medical history… the picture she paints is not only a fantastically thorough portrait of the Chinese wenbing disease concept that will be of interest to historians of East Asian medical history, but also a richly textured landscape that reveals much about the previously unexplored intersections between geography and disease and will have a broader appeal to anyone interested in the dynamic interplay between medicine and society." - Joanna Grant; Bulletin of the History of Medicine 2013.
Part 1: Foundation and Inheritances 1. Medical History in Three Themes 2. A Deep History of the Chinese Geographic Imagination: The Five Regions, Northwest-Southeast, and the Southern Shift Part 2: New Ming Medical Boundaries 3: The Geographic Imagination in Ming Medicine: Northern Purgatives, Southern Restoratives, and Conceptions of North and South 4. Ming Medical Frontiers: Diseases of the Far South, New Conceptions of Contagion 5. Ming Medical Scepticism: Epidemiological Crisis, Cosmological Criticism Part 3: Early-Modern and Modern Medical Transformations 6. Matters of Place: Epistemological Divergence, Genealogical Division 7. Emergence of Traditions: The Nineteenth-Century Genealogy and Geography of Warm Diseases Conclusion New and Old Nosologies in Modern China: From the Geographic Imagination to Distribution of Diseases in China (and back again)
Marta Hanson is Assistant Professor in the Department of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, USA. Her research interests are in the history of medicine, disease, and public health in China and the cultural history of Chinese arts of memory.