University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

History of Science and Technology/Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Colloquium

Friday, December 9th 2016
Speaker: Marta Hanson, Johns Hopkins University
Subject: "Material Things and Technologies of the Body in the Golden Mirror, 1742"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In the last month of 1739, the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) ordered the compilation of a treatise on medicine “to rectify medical knowledge” throughout the empire. By the end of 1742, eighty participants chosen from several offices within the palace bureaucracy in Beijing completed the Golden Mirror of the Orthodox Lineage of Medicine (Yizong jinjian 醫宗金鑑). In addition to integrating literati trends in evidential scholarship from the Jiangnan region into the imperial medicine of the Manchu court, the Golden Mirror also coalesced publishing trends that made medicine more accessible to a wider audience through rhymes, annotations, illustrations, and instructions to use both material things and one’s own body therapeutically. The reader could learn about not only a range of medical tools - acupuncture needles, moxabustion sticks, devices for smallpox inoculation, braces for securing broken bones – but also multiple ways to use the body-as-technology through self-cultivation, ritual, and corporeal mnemonics to improve the accuracy of pulse reading, the efficacy of drug treatments, and the predicability of disorders. Hand mnemonics, for instance, were a form of embodied medical technology that enabled the reader to memorize multiple temporal orders of the cosmos and relate them to the pulse readings and conditions of individual sufferers. In addition to mastering how to read the patient’s body accurately according to the four examinations (sizhen 四診) and how to use the various material tools of the medical trade, the ideal physician was expected to master his own body. This paper provides examples of how the three corporeal distinctions of 1) the patient’s body, 2) the physician’s body-as-technology, and 3) the physician’s hand-as-medical technology give us better purchase on the connection between the body and “material culture in health and medicine” meant for the norms of medical practice established in the Golden Mirror of the imperial Qing court in mid-eighteenth-century China.

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