The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine
by Shigehisa Kuriyama, published by Zone Books (2002-03-15)
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What are our bodies trying to tell us? In the scholarly yet delicately beautiful The Expressiveness of the Body, Japanese scholar Shigehisa Kuriyama examines two widely divergent traditions of diagnostic examination: Greek and Chinese. While at first glance it would seem that this would entail a straightforward familiar vs. exotic dichotomy for Western readers, only a short way into the book we realize that the ancient Greeks were just as foreign to us as the ancient Chinese. While there is some greater resemblance to modern medicine in the works of Galen and his contemporaries, Kuriyama shows us that their struggle to "decode" the body's signals was just as arbitrary--and just as accurate--as works like the Huangdi Neijing.
Showing that the often dramatic differences between their attitudes about signs such as pulse, breath, and blood both developed from and informed deeper beliefs about the nature of the body, Kuriyama exposes the highly subjective artistry of medicine. Like the proverbial blind men feeling the different parts of the elephant, the ancients focused exclusively on one set of traits and signs and developed a complex theoretical framework around it. Well documented and handsomely illustrated, The Expressiveness of the Body pokes and prods into the space between precise anatomical knowledge and the understanding of qi flow to find the rest of the elephant beyond the trunk, legs, and tail. --Rob Lightner At the heart of medical history is a deep enigma.
The true structure and workings of the human body are, we casually assume, everywhere the same, a universal reality. But then we look into the past, and our sense of reality wavers: accounts of the body in diverse medical traditions often seem to describe mutually alien, almost unrelated worlds.
The Expressiveness of the Body meditates on the contrasts between the human body described in classical Greek medicine and the body as envisaged by physicians in ancient China. It asks how this most basic of human realities came to be conceived by two sophisticated civilizations in radically diverging ways. And it seeks answers in fresh and unexpected topics, such as the history of tactile knowledge, the relationship between ways of seeing and ways of listening, and the evolution of bloodletting.
This remarkable book accomplishes several things.
First, it is a stunningly CLEAR analysis of the fundamental concepts of Chinese medicine. For example: what is the difference between 'pulse analysis' in China and 'taking the pulse' in the West? What is the vision of anatomy in early China? How do doctors conduct an examination? What do they look for, and what do they see? How are the abstract, understated illustrations of Chinese medicine to be read and understood? We find that physicians in China not only looked for different things, both healer and patient 'experienced' differently.
If this book had restricted itself to China, that would have been enough. However, it does much more. It also digs deeply into formative ideas of Western civilization, ideas that would become what we now call Western biomedicine. Students of Western medicine are obligated, in my opinion, to read the profound chapter on muscles. It transformed my understanding of what we call anatomy.
If you have ever wondered about the differences between Chinese medicine and Western biomedicine, this is the book.
I used this book one semester to teach undergraduates, and mid-semester, two students approached me and said this: 'We took your class hoping to read a book like this.'
In terms of the writing, this book is a model of economy and lucidity.
It's an immensely enriching work of scholarship.The author is to be commended for doing a service, not only to the medical community, but to all who would seek a greater understanding of how perception feeds and shapes knowledge as such. The prose is elegant, and the subject matter selected and laid out judiciously for the purpose of maximum comparison. The author demonstrates, convincingly that if Eastern Medicine seems strange (and it always did) to Western eyes, Western Medicine is no less so in its peculiar assumptions about the body. All fine and good, BUT... The reason I give it four stars is that there is a lacuna in the logic of comparison here. The design of the study intended to do a one-on-one comparison necessarily restricts the theme drastically. What is seriously lacking is a treatment of the influence on the development of Chinese medicine of Taoist yoga and other esoteric techniques concerning the body, techniques well articulated during the Former Han Dynasty (ca. 200 BCE). The Helenic Civilization, and the West in general, is distinguished from the East by virtue of its lack of systematic techniques of mind-body control, the likes of which may be found in yoga and the various martial arts of the Chinese variety. It seems reasonable to assume that a martial arts technique has to be grounded in a particular, but thorough understanding of the body. And indeed, much of Chinese martial arts and yoga techniques, and medicine are based on experience of things not within the ken of Western modes of perception -- The notion of the ethereal body and various modes of consciousness,for example. But, alas, so much of what is within Chinese medicine and experience remains unmeasured and perhaps unmeasurable by modern Western medical episteme. There are some genuine efforts today in other sectors to bring scientific measurement within the scope of realities as espoused by Buddhist psychology. But real substantial dialogue is still way off, I think, insofar as what counts for episteme in the East is routed through an empirical "meditational" experience of the mind. The author, in attempting to maintain a certain clarity of scholarly prose and presentation appears to have deliberately skipped over much of what would really make the topic interesting. One only hopes that either the author himself or others will bring out the entree soon now that the hors d'oeuvres have been served. But, there are limits to how much one can compare the two traditions using material evidence alone.This book was given the Award for the Achievement of Excellence in the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of Oriental Medicine Journal.Anyone who has explored and studied Chinese medicine is struck by the different perspective it offers. For those intrigued by the history behind how western and eastern perceptions diverged so greatly, this book is an excellent start. In a very scholarly fashion SK has drawn on ancient Greek and Chinese texts to dilineate where that split in perception began. Plato's works reflect a view of medicine not unlike the authors of early chinese medicine texts. Later texts by Galen and Hippocrates, however, begin to show signs of the "evidence based medicine" we all recognize as "western medicine". What led to that transition is the focus of this book and is very absorbing. KS breaks the discussion down into topics such as "Muscularity and Identity", "Blood and Life", and "Wind and Self". Each chapter exploring the vast difference in perception as well as application. This potentially is a very excellent start to developing a bridge between eastern and western medicine. This book gets 4 stars, however, as the vocabulary is cumbersome. I recommend you have a dictionary at your side at all times.
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