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Marta Hanson

Marta Hanson

Marta Hanson is an Associate Professor of the history of East Asian medicine in the Department of the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University (2004-present). Before that she taught late imperial Chinese history at the University of California, San Diego (1997-2004).
Her first monograph is titled Speaking of Epidemics in Chinese Medicine: Disease and the Geographic Imagination in Late Imperial China (Routledge, 2011). Through the lens of a “biography” of the Chinese disease concept “Warm diseases” (wenbing 溫病) since it was first articulated in the 1st century BCE, this book explores pre-modern Chinese medical debates about the nature of epidemics, their intersection with the geographic imagination, and how conceptions of geography shaped the sociology of medical practice and knowledge in Chinese medicine. She is currently writing a book with the working title “‘Heaven and Earth Within One’s Grasp’ (Qian Kun zaiwo 乾坤在握): The Healer’s Body-as-Technology in Classical Chinese Medicine.” By placing the healer’s body itself at the center of the therapeutic encounter, this book weaves three narrative threads together: 1) bodily arts of memory (i.e., hand mnemonics used to master medical concepts); 2) prognostication and divination practices relevant to healing (i.e., dactylomancy and chronomancy that relied on hand mnemonics); and 3) self-cultivation practices employed to enhance the efficacy of the healer’s body as therapeutic instrument. 
Her research interests are mainly within the history of Chinese science and medicine, late imperial Chinese cultural, social, and intellectual history, cross-cultural history of medicine, and the history of epidemics and disease, western disease maps, and public health in East Asia. Within imperial Chinese history, she is writing a book that synthesizes the history of arts of memory and the healer’s body-as-technology with the history of prognostication and divination in classical Chinese medicine. Within cross-cultural medical history, she has an on-going scholarly collaboration with Professor Gianna Pomata on seventeenth to eighteenth-century translations of Chinese medical texts into European languages. She was senior co-editor of the journal Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity (2011-2016) and President of the International Society for the History of East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine (ISHEASTM, 2015-2019).
Marta Hanson will take part of the Visiting Professors Program designed by EHESS, on proposal of Antonella Romano (Centre Alexandre-Koyré) from November 4th to December 4th 2019.


Heaven and Earth are Within One’s Grasp’ (Qian Kun zai wo 乾坤在握): The Body-as-Technology in Classical Chinese Medicine

Dans le cadre du séminaire d’Anne Carol et Rafael Mandressi « Histoire de la médecine, des savoirs sur le corps et de la mort »

Some sixteenth to seventeenth-century Chinese medical scholars used the phrase “Understanding is within one's grasp’ (liaoran zaiwo 燎然在握) to emphasize how their readers could use “hand mnemonics” (zhangjue 掌訣) to master the cosmic patterns relevant for medical care. These authors included instructions for potential healers to use their hands to think with, for example, by prognosticating based on seasonal cycles, predicting epidemic periods, and differentiating aberrant from normal pulses. To have something “within one’s grasp” (zaiwo 在握), in Chinese as well as in English, metaphorically meant to understand (liaoran 暸然). Early modern Chinese healers instrumentalized their bodies in complex ways as diagnostic instruments and measuring units as well as time-keeping, mnemonic, and calculating devices. Understanding how classical Chinese medical texts recorded the healers’ body-as-technology illuminates the range of knowledge about Heaven and Earth early modern healers were expected to use their hands as well as their minds to master. This seminar will use select examples of the healer’s body-as-technology in classical Chinese medicine and suggest that the field of extended cognition within cognitive science offers some productive insights into this historical phenomenon.

  • Vendredi 15 novembre 2019, 15h-18h / EHESS, salle 4 - 105 bd Raspail, 75006 Paris

Primers, Hand Mirrors, and Manuals: Learning Medicine by the Book in Late Imperial China

Dans le cadre du séminaire d’Alain Arrault, Michela Bussotti et Frédéric Obringer « Histoire culturelle de la Chine impériale tardive : textes techniques et prescriptions du quotidien »

With the boon in private publishers using xylographic (i.e., woodblock) printing in the Ming (1368-1644), many technical fields of knowledge became more widely available than ever before in Chinese book markets. What knowledge had been dominantly passed down within families and so known primarily as hereditary occupations now readers could more easily learn by the book. Medicine was one of the most important fields of knowledge private publishers experimented with how to expand their readership in Chinese book markets from the 14th through 17th centuries. Publishers developed innovative ways to make medical knowledge more accessible to a non-medical audience. These innovations included typographically distinguishing original passages (larger size) from their commentary (half the size), punctuating previously unpunctuated texts, translating complex concepts into easily memorized verse and mnemonic diagrams, integrating more illustrations and tables, and combining previous medical publications into newly structured medical primers.

Furthermore, literati men promoted medicine increasingly during this period as a realm of knowledge all good Confucian scholars should learn. Mastering medicine was a form of filial piety via taking care of one’s aging parents as well as caring for the health of family members. In fact, medical books not only were more widely printed than ever before but also their form was changed to meet needs of an expanding novice audience. Publishers and authors used phrases for genre types that indicated that the contents of their books are meant for beginners. For example, rumen 入門, literally means “to enter a gate” and so in the book title Yixue rumen 醫學入門 (Introduction to Medical Studies, 1575) it means an introduction. In the book title, Danxi xinfa 丹溪心法 (Zhu Danxi’s Essential Methods ca. late 14th c.), xinfa 心法 literally means “heart-mind methods” but metaphorically meant the “essential methods” of the physician Zhu Danxi (1282–1358). Namely, these were the basic medical methods that one could memorize and so master within one’s heart-mind (xin 心), the location where Chinese consider thinking and feeling occurred. The phrases “To enter a gate” or “introduction” and “essential methods” or “heart-mind methods” would have signalled to the reader that books like these were medical primers.

In addition to the bodily metaphor of “heart-mind” in some medical titles, authors sometimes used the hand itself as a metaphor for grasping the essentials of a specific medical topic. For instance, the genre titles shoujian 手鑑 and shoujing 手鏡 both mean “hand mirrors.” The mirror as metaphor for reflecting back to the reader knowledge of a subject had been widely used in book titles about other subjects, especially history, but here emphasized such knowledge could be held in one’s own hand, as easily as holding a hand-held mirror. The combined term zhizhang 指掌 (lit. fingers and palms) also used hands as a metaphor for mastery of something. This phrase comes closest to the Latin “manualis,” Old French “manuel,” German “handbuch,” and English “manual” or “handbook.” Similarly, the phrase zhinan 指南 (to point south) metaphorically meant a “guide” to a specific subject and was also used in some medical manuals of the period.

What medical books can be considered handbooks for Chinese medicine between roughly 1400-1700? How were such books titled to indicate their handbook quality and how were their contents reorganized, versified, and illustrated to appeal to new novice audience? Were these types of medical manuals necessarily a genre that referenced, summarized, and simplified existing knowledge? In some cases did such manuals also function as an epistemic genre that sometimes produced new knowledge? What subfields of Chinese medicine were repackaged in new manual or handbook structures in late imperial Chinese medicine between the 14th-17th centuries. This seminar will offer preliminary answers to these questions related to “learning medicine by the book” in late imperial China by focusing on about half a dozen medical texts that signal their handbook or manual structure with titles that reference the heart-mind (xin) or the hand (shou, zhizhang, zhinan) as corporeal metaphors that emphasize the potential mastery of the contents within just through learning by the book.

  • Vendredi 22 novembre 2019, 15h-17h / EHESS, salle A07_51 - 54 bd Raspail, 75006 Paris

Translating the Maijue fufang 脈訣附方 (Pulse Rhymes with Appended Formulas) into Cleyer’s Specimen Medicinae Sinicae (1682)

Dans le cadre du séminaire de Catherine Jami et Frédéric Obringer « Sciences et savoirs de l’Asie orientale dans la mondialisation (XVIe-XXe siècle) »

The first published results of my collaborative research with Prof. Gianna Pomata “Medicinal Formulas and Experiential Knowledge in the Seventeenth-Century Epistemic Exchange between China and Europe” (Isis 108.1, 2017) focused on the recipe form as the vehicle for the transmission of experiential knowledge between cultures. We analysed, in particular, the medical recipes included in Andreas Cleyer’s Specimen Medicinae Sinicae (1682), a text that played an important role in the transmission of Chinese medicine to Europe in the 17th century. We also examined and compared notions of experience-based knowledge in European and Chinese early modern medical cultures. The second result of our research project “Travels of a Chinese Pulse Treatise” (chapter in Globalizing Chinese Medicine in the 17th Century, ed. by Harold Cook, Brill forthcoming 2019) took a diachronic approach to comparing and contrasting translation strategies in Persian (1313), Latin (1682), and French (1935) translations of the same genre of Chinese Pulse Rhymes texts. This seminar will present the range of manuscripts related to this collaborative research project and introduce those manuscripts that offer interesting new avenues for research and those whose historical significance remains elusive.

  • Mardi 26 novembre 2019, 13-15h / EHESS, salle AS1_08, 54 bd Raspail 75006 Paris

Epistemic genre-blending in Chinese medicine: How physicians used commentary (zhu註), diagrams (tu 圖), and formulas (fang 方) to articulate new knowledge in 14th- to 16th-century Pulse Rhymes (Maijue 脈訣) texts

Dans le cadre du séminaire d’Antonella Romano « Savoirs et productions du monde au XVIe siècle. Lieux, acteurs, échelles »

This paper develops from collaborative research with Gianna Pomata on Michael Boym / Andreas Cleyer’s Specimen Medicinae Sinicae (1682). This text played an important role in the transmission of Chinese medical knowledge to Europe in the late 17th century, especially on Chinese pulse reading and related drug formulas. We use this text to compare notions of experience-based knowledge in European and Chinese early modern medical cultures. The aspect of the Specimen that makes it particularly productive for our research is that, in addition to being one of the earliest and the most comprehensive introductions to European audiences of Chinese pulse knowledge, it contains the earliest Latin translations of Chinese medicinal formulas. From extant Jesuit manuscripts as well as Chinese printed texts we know that the source text for these formulas was titled the Secrets of the Pulses with Appended Formulas (Maijue fufang 脈訣附方). This pulse formulary was included much earlier as a chapter in Differentiating Authenticity in the Secrets of Pulses, Illustrated with Commentary (Tu zhu maijue bian zhen 圖註脈訣辨真, preface 1510) by physician Zhang Shixian 張世賢 (ca. 16th cent.). Several illustrations (tu 圖) from Zhang’s work were also translated in the Specimen, as were chapters from Wang Shuhe’s Secrets of the Pulse (Wang Shuhe maijue 王叔和脈訣, pr. 1578). 
These two Chinese source texts for the Specimen on pulses share one unique dimension relevant to the history of epistemic genres in Chinese medicine more broadly: namely, they differ considerably from the original Canon of Pulses (Maijing 脈經), attributed to the 3rd-century imperial physician Wang Shuhe, as well as its affiliated editions with commentaries (zhuben 注本). These texts reveal how Chinese physicians used other genres available to them, which they called “rhymes” (jue 訣), “diagrams” (tu 圖), and “formulas” (fang 方) to articulate their own contributions to the existing medical literature on the Canon of Pulses, which previously was largely based on the interaction between canonical (jing 經) and commentarial (zhu 注 or 註) genres of writing. In this textualizing process they created a different Pulse Rhymes (Maijue 脈訣) sub-genre in the Chinese diagnostic literature. To illuminate this “genre-blending” phenomenon I focus in this seminar on when and where physicians added “formulas” (fang) to this Pulse Rhymes literature and why this matters for the larger question of experience-based knowledge and knowledge-making genres in the history of science.

  • Mercredi 27 novembre 2019, 15h-18h / Campus Condorcet, salle 3.09, centre de colloques, Cours des Humanités, 93300 Aubervilliers