Book Announcement: Speaking of Epidemics in Chinese Medicine

ello everyone,

Patricia Clark’s announcement of her new book last week prodded me to announce mine.
It came out this past July with Routledge Press. Here is the publisher’s link to it.

Speaking of Epidemics in Chinese Medicine: Disease and the Geographic Imagination in Late Imperial China

Please order it for your university library! (Too expensive for an individual academic’s budget)

And if you wish to read further, here is an abstract:

This book takes a “disease biography” approach to trace the centuries-old history of a class of febrile disorders called “Warm diseases” (wenbing) in China.  Although biomedicine does not largely recognize traditional disease classifications, focusing on them in Chinese medicine opens a new window on interpretive themes in medical and cultural history as well as on contemporary cultural studies of the history of science. This biography of a Chinese disease concept explores both the geographical imagination in Chinese medical thought over two thousand years of textual history and its intersection with pre-modern and modern epidemiology.

The Chinese geographic imagination is also the metageography of traditional China, such as the fundamental spatial binaries of northwest-southeast and north-south that informed how people organized their world. It also includes the major natural boundaries of mountain ranges and rivers, and even man made ones, such as the Great Wall. Culturally defined regions also fall under metageography—such as the names of the states of antiquity, the schematic five regions and eight winds of the classical period, or the later provinces and bureaucratic regions of imperial China. This metageography structured how Chinese understood the space they lived in, influenced how physicians treated their patients, and had a history as unique to it as does each disease concept.

This book thus focuses on conceptions of space in medical thought, complementing the better-known analysis of medical cosmology in terms of time.  It relates this spatial imagination to the changing boundaries and internal divisions of empire as well as to the different social and clinical local environments within which doctors practiced. “Warm diseases” acquired their association with the geographical south early in imperial history, with epidemics in the wake of the devastating late Ming epidemics of the mid-seventeenth century, and began to be redefined as a distinct “current of learning” in the Qing period. The revisionist indigenous epidemiology that gradually developed out of this led to several “emergent traditions” of the nineteenth century, and became the foundation for twentieth-century Traditional Chinese Medicine disease classification that linked “Warm diseases” with both acute infections and the regional disorders of the Far South. This book thus links the bio
graphy of Warm Diseases and the Chinese geographical imagination to both an evolving older ethno-epidemiology and the processes of resistance to and accommodation with modern science in the twentieth century.

This book also shows how relevant medicine is to cultural and social historians of China by relating medical practices to both late imperial movements of cosmological criticism and social understandings of human variation based on regional rather than ethnic identity. The conclusion brings the story down to the present, showing how the continuing dialectic between local and universal made “Warm diseases” a category that constitutes both Traditional Chinese medicine’s response to germ theory in the twentieth century and a southern disease pattern that the world came to know in the form of SARS, the first newly emergent disease of the twenty-first century.

Currently Visiting Scholar, Max Plank Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

Website & publications:

Published in: on September 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: