Folk Healing in Late Imperial China and Formatting Practices in Medical Manuscripts
Focusing on the Unschuld collection of Chinese medical manuscripts from late imperial China (16th through early 20th centuries), this project pursues a twofold objective. First, it will open up new perspectives beyond the limits of previous, purely text-oriented scholarship by treating these medical manuscripts as meaningful compilations of medical (and other) contents in their own right. Second, it aims to widen our knowledge on yet understudied folk healing practices of the rural population in late imperial China. With this, it seeks to reconstruct to what extent these practices involved and differed from the orthodox or ‘elite’ medicine as found in printed books, most prominently represented by the imperially-commissioned Golden Mirror of the Medical Tradition published in 1742.
Taking a sub-group of manuscripts that contain text copied from the Golden Mirror as a starting point, this twofold objective is approached through systematically investigating the ways in which the formatting of the content of the Golden Mirror changed in the process of transmission from a printed book into manuscripts. For example, usually only parts of the Golden Mirror were excerpted or they were arranged differently, ‘official’ commentary was often deleted, whereas personal notes were added, the original layout was changed, character forms were abbreviated, etc. Furthermore, many of the manuscripts in the Unschuld collection apart from material copied from the Golden Mirror also incorporate different kinds of other medical or even non-medical contents, sometimes diagrams or illustrations from unknown sources. In short, they often constitute multi-graphic and/or multi-layered written artefacts. Through an analysis of formatting practices, the project will enhance our understanding of why and how these manuscripts were produced and used and whether they – rather than merely being inexpensive but inferior substitutes for printed books – may have been the ideal choice to fulfil particular functions.