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The Social Logic of Disease in Guiyijun Dunhuang

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Like its companion ‘Illness, Threat and Systems of Authority in Dunhuang’, this article takes up the relationship between disease and institutional structure. It suggests that action taken towards the sick in Guiyijun Dunhuang was formulated within the larger framework of ritual politics, and was intimately related to the problem of rationing, that is, of differentiation in access to esteemed positions and privileged goods. The notions found in Chinese medical theory cohered with the foundational divisions in Guiyijun society: ideas of the body as a network of storehouse-organs mapped directly on to the material order of a society founded on institutions which were holders of stored energies in the form of a control of storehouses. The power of the government, the Buddhist church and families involved differentiated control over these stored energies and entailed constant monitoring and adjustment of inputs and outputs. The problem of ranking in social relations and the circulation of forces within the body, it is thus suggested, were interrelated phenomena. The form of threat to which this particular system was most prone was simultaneously internal disruption in the balance of relationships between storage-organs and the risk of a wholesale takeover of the system by hostile external forces. This corresponds to two different therapeutic strategies in response to illness in the Guiyijun, those of internal medical adjustment and public ceremony.


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