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Tongues on fire: on the origins and transmission of a system of tongue diagnosis

Holroyde-Downing, Nancy; (2017) Tongues on fire: on the origins and transmission of a system of tongue diagnosis. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This dissertation explores the origins and development of a Chinese diagnostic system based on the inspection of the tongue, and the transmission of this practice to Europe in the late 17th century. Drawing on the rich textual history of China, I will show that the tongue is cited as an indicator of illness or a portent of death in the classic texts of the Han dynasty, but these references do not amount to a system of diagnosis. I will argue that the privileging of the tongue as a diagnostic tool is a relatively recent occurrence in the history of Chinese medicine. Paying particular attention to case records kept by physicians from the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce) to the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), I will show that an increasing interest in the appearance of the tongue was specifcally due to its ability to refect the presence and intensity of heat in the body. Tongue inspection’s growing pervasiveness coincided with an emerging discourse among Chinese physicians concerning the relative usefulness of shanghan 傷寒 (Cold Damage) or wenbing 溫病 (Warm Disease) theories of disease progression. With the establishment of global trade routes in the 16th and 17th centuries the transmission of knowledge, objects and practices from China to Europe was facilitated. I will argue that among the various medical practices of China that fascinated European audiences, tongue diagnosis, unlike pulse diagnosis, was able to stand outside the constraints of Chinese medical theory in its transmission to Europe.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Tongues on fire: on the origins and transmission of a system of tongue diagnosis
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10040369
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