Medical Humanities

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Doctors, Daoists and Demons: Situating Medicine and Religion in Early Imperial China

Michael Stanley-Baker
 

The emergence of classical Chinese medicine took place within a dynamic and vibrant marketplace populated by a host of other practitioners—trance mediums, transcendents, Daoists and Buddhists of different stripes. This book examines how these local communities and individuals defined themselves through diverse repertoires of rituals, drugs, exercises and other treatments, and introduces novel arguments within the history of Chinese medicine and religions. It argues that the relationship between medicine and religion was not cleaved by the emergence of classical medicine, but that an emerging distance between developed as healers responded to changing conditions of their time. Through close reading of primary sources, paying attention to the language of practice and how healers situated their practices in relation to others, we see the emergence of complex, shifting relations over time. The story moves through complex solutions produced in response to the collapse of the Han Dynasty and its widespread epidemics; a period of consolidation, structuring and competition in the third and fourth century; a radical shift to post-mortem forms of salvation in the fifth century, with the introduction of large volumes of Buddhist translations and increasing institutional presence; and the development of state medicine by the Sui/Tang court.

 

Switching focus away from the history of ideas and social history, Stanley-Baker argues that early healers’ reflections on what they did and how it differed from others was expressed in the language of practice—be it linguistic, technical, embodied, or bibliographic. Arguing that knowledge is al-ways situated and performative, Stanley-Baker shifts our view from one from above to a view from within, teasing out the means by which early healers situated themselves, negotiating the value and meaning of what they did within their contemporary environment. Examining the processes by which real-world actors engaged with material problems in complex ways, rather than mapping out abstract structures of an abstract marketplace, this book portrays “religion” and “medicine” as emergent, dynamic positional claims, rather than defined and fixed fields of activity or knowledge.