Medical knowledge and uses of hair in traditional China

Authors
Citation
Fs. Lin, Medical knowledge and uses of hair in traditional China, B INST H PH, 71, 2000, pp. 67-127
Citations number
6
Language
CHINESE
art.tipo
Article
Categorie Soggetti
History
Journal title
BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE OF HISTORY AND PHILOLOGY ACADEMIA SINICA
ISSN journal
1012-4195 → ACNP
Volume
71
Year of publication
2000
Part
1
Pages
67 - 127
Database
ISI
SICI code
1012-4195(200003)71:<67:MKAUOH>2.0.ZU;2-S
Abstract
Clearly, for most traditional Chinese physicians and authors of medical wri tings, hair was an important object of perception and discourse. However, t his study also indicates that religious ideas and practices seem to have ha d an impact on the formation and development of traditional Chinese medical knowledge and uses of hair. Many prescriptions or medical works such as th e Zhouhou beiji fang, Lingqui fang, Mingyi bielu, and Beiji qianjin yaofang were compiled or composed by eminent Taoist masters, including Ge Hong, Ta o Hongjing and Sun Simiao. Furthermore, in the medical texts we can find ma ny sources concerning Taoist concepts and techniques of "nourishing life," especially the care of hair or the use of hair in practice. It seems that r eligious Taoism regarded black and healthy hair as a symbol of beauty, vita lity, longevity and even as a sign that one had reached immortality. Nevertheless, from the viewpoint of traditional Chinese medicine, exemplifi ed by medieval medical texts, hair was the source of much anxiety and requi red much care and attention. People were instructed to spend a large amount of time combing their hair everyday, and to wash their hair periodically i n a proper way and in a proper place, in order to prevent or cure various d iseases. Hair was also considered an essential cause of many ailments. A tr aditional Chinese physician, however, would not suggest that one cut one's hair short or shave one's head, since long hair is regarded as a sign of a healthy body and mind. Furthermore, in traditional China, an important func tion of hair style was to express one's ethnicity, age, gender, status, pow er and cultural identity, and many laws and customs existed in order to pro tect one's hair from damage caused by oneself or others. Hence, in traditio nal China, most people normally would not accept cropped hair. Against the backdrop of traditional Chinese attitudes toward hair, the Movement of Cutt ing Queues in 1911 can be seen to mark a break with the past, and a transfo rmation of traditional Chinese medicine and concepts of the body under mode rn Japanese influences.