Bodily knowledge and western learning in late imperial China
The case of Wang Shixiong (1808–68)
in Historical epistemology and the making of modern Chinese medicine
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This paper aims to problematize a common yet misleading trope in modern descriptions of Chinese medicine: that it was historically interested in the body's "functions" but not its "structures." To make this point, I will analyze how doctors from the Wang family of Hangzhou used indigenous Chinese knowledge of the skeleton to critique Western anatomical teachings. The core of my case study is a close reading of Casual Jottings from the Hall of Repeated Felicitations (Chongqing tang suibi). First composed by the Hangzhou doctor Wang Xuequan in 1808, the work was annotated and expanded by three successive generations of Wang family doctors until it was finally published in 1855 by Xuequan’s great-grandson, the eminent physician Wang Shixiong (1808-68). The first section of the paper describes what I call the Wang family’s “anatomical skepticism.” Accurate knowledge of the human body was an important component of scholarly empirical research (gezhi). However, the perceived omissions and inconsistencies in Western anatomical texts made the Wang doctors skeptical about their claims to universal truth. Subsequently, I discuss a key issue that the Wangs used to evaluate Western anatomical knowledge: the issue of how many and what kind of bones there were in the human body.

Editor: Howard Chiang


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