Antiquarianism, Language, and Medical Philology: From Early Modern to Modern Sino-Japanese Medical Discourses.

Author:Boyanton, Stephen
Position:Book review

Antiquarianism, Language, and Medical Philology: From Early Modern to Modern Sino-Japanese Medical Discourses. Edited by BENJAMIN A. ELMAN. Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Studies, vol. 12. Boston: BRILL, 2015. Pp. viii + 232. $135.

This book, one of the products of a series of seminars led by Benjamin Elman, titled "East Asia and the Early Modern World: Fresh Perspectives on Intellectual and Cultural History 1550-1800," challenges the notion that European medical modernity is an adequate model for understanding developments in East Asia. It does so primarily by examining one of the elephants in the room of East Asian medical history: the role played in medicine by texts and the scholarly skills needed to work with them.

In his introductory essay, Benjamin Elman situates the broader concerns of the book. For the purposes of this volume, he defines philology as "an umbrella term for any and all activities involving the study, deployment, or evaluation of ideas contained in classical texts" (p. 2) and notes that the contributions to this volume cohere around a concern for "the firsthand uses of language for medicine and the secondhand tools of philology needed to master the medical classics" (p. 3). The importance of texts and the study of texts in East Asian medicine has long been recognized, but this is the first book devoted to exploring this topic. As such it is an extremely welcome addition to the growing literature on East Asian medical history.

Apart from their general interest in the role of texts in medicine, the nine chapters in this book have little connection to one another. I will therefore present a brief summary of each chapter before concluding with an evaluation of the book as a whole.

Asaf Goldschmidts contribution to the volume, "Reasoning with Cases: The Transmission of Medical Knowledge in Twelfth-Century China," is, given the period it covers, somewhat out of place among the other essays. Nevertheless, his discussion of the Treatise on Cold Damage (Shanghan lun [phrase omitted]--a highly influential early text that is important in many of the chapters--provides useful contextualization. Goldschmidt analyzes the medical case records of the Song literatus and physician Xu Shuwei [phrase omitted] (1079-1154), author of the first Chinese book devoted entirely to such records. Goldschmidt contends that Xu was driven to this innovation by the need to reconcile contemporary medical practice with the doctrines contained in older medical texts being published and propagated by the imperial government. He begins by presenting a brief but welcome revision of the history of medical cases in China, including the often-neglected Song exemplars of the genre. This is followed by a survey of Xu's historical context, life, and medical writings. The heart of the chapter is an examination of the first three cases from Xu's collection. Goldschmidt concludes that Xu's medical cases were part of an overarching effort to educate his medical peers and improve their clinical practice, an effort that largely failed, as Xu's books were generally ignored until the Ming.

Goldschmidt's chapter possesses much intrinsic interest. Unfortunately, his argument rests on the contention that the Treatise on Cold Damage had been "virtually out of circulation for centuries" (p. 20), a contention that has been seriously questioned by other scholars, including myself ("The Treatise on Cold Damage and the Formation of Literati Medicine: Epidemiological and Medical Change in China 1000-1400," PhD Diss., Columbia Univ., 2015, pp. 10-54). There are also smaller problems regarding his citation of the Treatise--such as when he describes an extremely loose paraphrase as a "direct quotation" (p. 37 n. 54)--and translation errors--such as his reading of the phrase "this is nothing to be surprised about" [phrase omitted] as "there is no one [in...

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