University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

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

Friday, March 3rd 2017
Speaker: Stacey Van Vleet, University of California - Berkeley
Subject: "Edible Networks: Precious Pills as Technologies of Medical Governance in Qing China"
Refreshments served at 3:25 p.m.

Between the seventeenth and the early twentieth century, Tibetan Buddhism grew from a regional system of governance to one at the heart of the Qing Empire (1644-1911) ruling China and Inner Asia. A crucial factor in this growth was the Qing rulers' adoption of Tibetan Buddhist medical institutions and technologies, in a concerted imperial strategy to consolidate administration of the frontiers by promoting medical training, treatment, and ritual. Tibetan Buddhist monastic colleges in the Qing Empire practiced medical technologies from smallpox innoculation to moxibustion and bonesetting, but became best known for their production of "precious pills" (rin chen ril bu), or the consecrated, edible products of ritual assemblies. In this talk, I demonstrate how precious pills during the Qing period developed as technologies of collecting and compounding expensive ingredients from far-flung regions of the empire, materializing the experience of a multi-ethnic Buddhist community as a consecrated "edible network." Understanding precious pills as medical technologies available for imperial adoption and redevelopment, I argue, reveals how they served not only to engineer physical health and spiritual growth, but also to engineer remedies for conflict and building community.

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