Ruth Yun-Ju ChenAug 2, 2023
Empirical Evidence in Mid-Imperial Chinese Medical Texts
University of Washington Press 2023
Ruth Yun-Ju Chen is a historian of mid-imperial China (600–1400). Her research interests lie in the histories of medicine, publishing, and material cultures during this period. Her first book, Good Formulas: Empirical Evidence in Mid-Imperial Chinese Medical Texts, will come out from the University of Washington Press in 2023. This book charts how early print culture reshaped strategies for presenting medical knowledge in Song China (960–1279). Her current project explores the transregional circulation of medical knowledge and aromatic drugs across East Asia and Southeast Asia in Song-Jin-Yuan China (960–1368). She has published articles in Chinese and English language journals and, most recently, “A New Study of Scholar-officials’ Roles in the Printing of Medical Texts in Song China” in the Bulletin of IHP 92.3 (2021) and “The Quest for Efficiency: Knowledge Management in Medical Formularies” in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 80.2 (2021).
A bit about the book:
Why and how did the strategy of documenting medical practices through personal experience rise to prominence in China? This question is at the heart of Good Formulas, the first book-length study of the use of empirical evidence in Chinese medicine between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. The rise of this new approach to substantiating knowledge, which had appeared only sporadically in earlier medical literature, provides a window into transformations in the construction of textual authority in mid-imperial China.
Focusing on medical genres and working extensively with notebooks (biji), Ruth Yun-Ju Chen shows that employing empirical evidence became prominent in conjunction with a publishing boom that enabled wider availability of medical texts and treatises. To convince a more socioculturally diverse readership to believe their claims and to win intertextual debates with contemporaneous authors, many Song medical authors turned to empirical methodology. Revealing a correlation between publishing cultures and changes in persuasion strategies in medical genres, Good Formulas offers new insights into the histories of medicine, knowledge production, and publishing in China. It also provides rich examples for scholars interested in the development of empirical evidence in the premodern world.
Victoria Oana Lupașcu is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Asian Studies at University of Montréal. Her areas of interest include medical humanities, visual art, 20th and 21st Chinese, Brazilian and Romanian literature and Global South studies.