Promoting free flow in the networks: reimagining the body in early modern Suzhou

Scheid, V. (2017) Promoting free flow in the networks: reimagining the body in early modern Suzhou. History of Science. ISSN 0073-2753 (In Press)

HoS Submitted Revised Manuscript.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (3MB) | Preview
0073275317709406.pdf - Published Version

Download (849kB) | Preview
Official URL:


The history of Chinese medicine is still widely imagined in terms dictated by the discourse of modernity, that is as ‘traditional’ and ‘Chinese.’ And yet, so as to be intelligible to us moderns, it must simultaneously be framed through categories that make it comparable somehow to the ‘West’ and the ‘modern’ from it is said to be essentially different. This is accomplished, for instance, by viewing Chinese medicine as fundamentally shaped by cosmological thinking, as focusing on process rather than matter, and as forever hampered by attachments to the past even when it tries to innovate. At the same time, it is described to pursue its objectives in ways that make sense in ‘our’ terms, too, such as the goal of creating physiological homeostasis through methods of supplementation and drainage. In this paper, I seek to move beyond this kind of analysis through a two-pronged approach. First, by focusing on the concept of tong - a character that calls forth images of free flow, connectivity, relatedness and understanding - I foreground an important aspect of Chinese medical thinking and practice that has virtually been ignored by Western historians of medicine and science. Second, by exploring how the influential physician Ye Tianshi 葉天士 (1664-1746) employed tong to advance medical thinking and practice at a crucial moment of change in the history of Chinese medicine, I demonstrate that physicians in early modern China moved towards new understandings of the body readily intelligible by modern biomedical anatomy. I argue that this mode of analysis allows us to transcend the limitations inherent in the current historiography of Chinese medicine: for it allows for comparison to emerge from our subject matter rather than imposing our imaginaries onto it in advance.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Chinese medicine, early modernity, anatomy, Ye Tianshi;
Subjects: University of Westminster > Science and Technology
SWORD Depositor:
Depositing User:
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2017 11:01
Last Modified: 21 May 2018 12:24

Actions (login required)

Edit Item (Repository staff only) Edit Item (Repository staff only)