Healing, Literature, and Popular Knowledge in Early Modern China
University of Washington Press
By examining the dynamic interplay between discourses of fiction and medicine, Novel Medicine demonstrates how fiction incorporated, created, and disseminated medical knowledge in China, beginning in the sixteenth century. Critical readings of fictional and medical texts provide a counterpoint to prevailing narratives that focus only on the "literati" aspects of the novel, showing that these texts were not merely read, but were used by a wide variety of readers for a range of purposes. The intersection of knowledge-fictional and real, elite and vernacular-illuminates the history of reading and daily life and challenges us to rethink the nature of Chinese literature.
The genius of this book is to take what appears to be three disparate realms-healing/medicine, literature, and religion-and demonstrate that they shared a common 'literary logic.' The world before the introduction of modern science and bio-medicine is thus revealed to be wrought of a surprising and equally valid common sense. In focusing on recycling, quotations, and oblique references among familiar and obscure texts, Schonebaum has painted a dynamic picture of vernacular knowledge on the eve of China's modernity.
Novel Medicine is a highly provocative book. Schonebaum seeks to deal with the discourse of illness as reflected by late imperial and early modern literary masterpieces. His research examines a wide range of subjects, from narrative literature to cultural history, and from medicine as an episteme and medicine as a social institution. Schonebaum particularly focuses on the circulation of infectious diseases as a point of reference to the changing notion of body, disease, hygiene, medical technology, and socioeconomic dynamics of early modern China. This is a groundbreaking work.
Andrew Schonebaum is associate professor of Chinese literature at the University of Maryland. He is the coeditor of Approaches to Teaching "The Story of the Stone" (Dream of the Red Chamber).
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