China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: How and why were religious objects, products, and techniques used as medicines in premodern China? This panel uses varying disciplinary approaches to discuss the mediating roles that herbs, recipes, scriptures, and the human body played in medicinal and healing practices for premodern Chinese peoples, whether medical professionals, religious practitioners, or even peasants. Most pertinently, the papers emphasize the materiality intrinsic to these peoples’ conversion of previously unimbued substances and processes into efficacious healing and spiritual agents. Steavu’s piece, interrogating self-cultivation manuals and pharmacopeias from the medieval period, analyzes how substances and objects such as numinous mushrooms (lingzhi), cannabis, rare minerals, and other stones represent processual pivots towards healing, longevity, and immortality. Lazzerini’s contribution, highlighting mid-Tang texts associated with the demon-goddess Hārītī, examines the mediation of medicinal concoctions and religiously impure substances in a complex framework of ritual practices as laid out by the scriptural innovator, Amoghavajra. Sum Cheuk Shing’s paper, centering Dunhuang medical recipes, investigates grain avoidance (bigu) in the late medieval period and demonstrates how religious practitioners used drugs to attain spiritual goals. Cheng’s study, focusing on the herb cangzhu 蒼术, charts how cangzhu became an integral part of various peoples’ lives and reveals the trade, market, and environmental considerations of the healing and wellness culture in the Song. Together, the panel presents a wide selection of primary documents from various regions and explores both transmitted and manuscript sources, to illustrate the numerous intersections between medicine and religion and their implications for cultural history in premodern China.
Paper Presenter: H.S. Sum Cheuk Shing – University of Chicago
Paper Presenter: Hsiao-wen Cheng – University of Pennsylvania
Paper Presenter: Simona Lazzerini – Stanford University