Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text

By Paul U. Unschuld | Go to book overview

V
A Survey of the Contents
of the Su wen

1. THE LITERARY SETTING

The Huang Di nei jing su wen is a compilation of fragmentary texts written by an unknown number of authors in a period lasting from about the second or first century B.C. to the second century a.d. Some passages may have been written even later. It may well be that several of the headings of the seventynine discourses of the textus receptus denoted a treatise prior to its inclusion in the Su wen collection. Also, some of the titles quoted explicitly in the Su wen discourses may have been titles of treatises incorporated elsewhere in the Su wen. However, none of the texts that found entrance in the Su wen has survived as an independent text.

The formation of vessel theory and of the yin-yang and five-agents doctrines of systematic correspondence was part of a wide-ranging intellectual movement in Chinese natural philosophy whose beginnings can be seen in the fourth and third centuries B.C. 1 A corollary of this development was a quickly growing community of literati and literary patrons who collected, disseminated, and made use of the texts conveying the new knowledge. The bibliographic section of the Han dynastic history and also the collections of texts unearthed from several tomb sites since the early 1970s bear witness to the production and also to the widespread availability of such texts.

The absence of all the unearthed texts from the official bibliographies of the time is a clear sign that the latter should be considered selective. Obviously, they listed only a part of all texts circulating during the Han era. We do not know, however, what proportion of existing literature found entrance on the official lists and how much remained exclusively in private hands.

The possibility cannot be excluded that the medical books referred to in

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