Chinese Visceral Dryness, Western Hysteria? Chinese Medicine, Mental Pathology, and Gender in Modern China

CGS Brown Bag Lecture Series
Mar 21, 2018
12:15 PM to 01:15 PM
157 Burrowes

Xiaoran He, Penn State

This talk tells the history of "visceral dryness," a term of Chinese medicine in reference to hysteria today. Through tracing how it transformed from an emotional disorder in the late imperial period into a modern mental illness, it argues for Chinese medicine's participation in and contribution to the newly formed medical space of mental illness in Republican China. Although advocates of Chinese medicine had been introducing Japan-mediated psy knowledge for decades, it was the 1929 political crisis that propitiated them to adjust themselves in meeting the challenges and attacks from Western medicine and in so doing reformulated their conventional wisdom of "visceral dryness." This turned out to be a successful story for two reasons. One the one hand, "visceral dryness,” re-interpreted and reframed by doctors of Chinese medicine in terms of the standards set by Western biomedicine in attributing a mental illness, was widely recognized by the Chinese public. On the other hand, the reinvented medical term further promoted to popularize the Freudian theory on hysteria, serving as a vehicle for expressing the public concern over mental health and hygiene—especially the mental wellbeing of women. The modern history of “visceral dryness” was, in other words, a story of how an old idea was reconfigured into a new context and how a professionally-defined medical vocabulary entered into the everyday lexicon of self-knowledge. 

Xiaoran He is a graduate student from the Department of History and Asian Studies at Penn State. Her research interest is the history of mental health in modern East Asia, medical humanities, and print culture in modern China. 

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