The 116th Peking University Medical Humanities Forum: prof. Zhang Shujian: History of Traditional Chinese Medicine after Visual Turn: Perspectives and Approaches

   On the morning of June 19, 2023, Zhang Shujian, professor of Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, was invited to give a lecture entitled “Research Perspectives and Approaches of Image Traditional Chinese Medicine History” in Conference Room 620, School of Medical Humanities, Peking University. The lecture was chaired by Associate Professor Su Jingjing (School of Health Humanities, Peking University), and Professor Zhang Daqing (School of Health Humanities, Peking University) was invited as the commentator.

   This lecture is a wonderful sharing of Prof.Zhang Shujian based on his monograph “Medical Image Volume of the History of Chinese Image Culture. The lecture focused on issues including the special value of images to the history of traditional Chinese medicine, and the knowhow of using images in research.

   First of all, Prof.Zhang Shujian points out why the history of traditional Chinese medicine is viewed with images. In his view, although the history composed of texts makes history organized, the lack of visual images always makes the imprint of history counterproductive and difficult to touch due to the continuous accumulation of explanatory texts. Text and image complement each other, rendering the background of traditional Chinese medicine and constructing the framework of traditional Chinese medicine theory, whose subtleties depend more on the interpretation of images. Images can not only supplement the deficiencies of written records, but also vividly present details and atmospheres that words cannot capture. The historical value of images is emphasized.

   Secondly, Prof. Zhang Shujian was based on the question “Where is the picture?” , “What are the pictures?” It points out that with the changes of the times, the carriers of pictures have become more abundant, such as documentaries, movies and photos, and the contents of pictures have become more and more abundant, including therapeutic equipment, medical places and medical images, and emphasizes that based on “images or medical history? Art history or medical history? / Can images be used as evidence?” , It holds that through the materials of art, we can study both art history and medical history.At the same time, Prof. Zhang Shujian also pointed out that although images can be used as evidence, they need to be identified, and pointed out that there may be discrepancies in the images drawn by ancient people with examples such as traditional Chinese medicine ossa draconis and Plum Rain Water.

   Thirdly, Prof. Zhang Shujian pointed out that the images can be classified according to historical period, subject, content and topic, etc. The classification methods of images are different, but the basic research methods are similar. It further points out the three meanings of image records, including natural meaning, conventional meaning and essential meaning, and believes that it is necessary to interpret images, such as the “history of objects” in the history of material culture, the “paradigm of the other” in cultural anthropology, the “oral history” in visual narration, the history of daily life and the “semiotics” in structuralism.It is emphasized that not only vision can perceive images, but images interpreted with thought have a deeper beauty.

   At last, the teachers and students present had a heated discussion on the image problems in the Compendium of Materia Medica and the differences between Chinese and Western bloodletting.

   This lecture was funded by the Chinese National Social Science Foundation Major Project of the “Contemporary Historiography and Database Construction of Epidemics” (20&ZD224).


   Mo Xiaocong, Su Jingjing

   School of Health Humanities