The Rise of Phlegm as Embodied Emotion in Chinese Medicine (960-1911)

  • KÖHLE, Natalie Caroline (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Today and going back for almost one thousand years, phlegm has figured as a major cause and symptom of disease and disorders of the mind in traditional Chinese medicine. Curiously, however, when we go back to the ancient classics, such as the Huangdi neijing and the Nanjing (ca. 100 BC), the very notion of phlegm is entirely absent. The rise of the pathology of phlegm is one of the fundamental transformations in the historical development of Chinese medical thought. This suggests two basic questions: a) when, how, and why did the discourse of phlegm arise and take root in China? b) how did the rise of phlegm alter the Chinese understanding of disease, the body, and the self? Answering these questions will entail research into the entangled relations of developments in medical thought and in the cultural and socio-economic sphere (i.e. neo-Confucian thought, and the rise of a nascent monetary market economy) during the Song period (960-1279). Remarkably, these questions have gone almost entirely unstudied—perhaps in part because the thousand-year reign of phlegm has made it seem so integral to traditional Chinese medicine that its absence from the foundational classics of traditional Chinese medicine has been forgotten.

Elucidating these questions is crucial for: (a) understanding the historical evolution of traditional Chinese medicine and (b) excavating the archaeology not only of contemporary Chinese medical thought and practice, but also of the contemporary everyday experience of the embodied self. Addressing these questions will open up new horizons for the study of emotions. On the one hand, the proposed project will contribute to the historical study of emotions in China; on the other hand, the project will function as a case study that can offer hints about the concepts and methods needed to study the history of emotions more generally. In this respect, the study will add to the growing corpus of studies on embodied emotions, and it will draw attention to the extraordinary importance of phlegm for the study of emotions, as to date phlegm has received virtually no attention in emotion history despite its undisputed importance as emotion fluid in Chinese, Greek, and Indian medicine . This will contribute to establishing a scholarly framework for a psychology built on emic Chinese medical conceptions rather than on Western categories, and will also contribute to contemporary discourses in the philosophy of mind and in clinical psychology.
Effective start/end date1/08/2031/07/23


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