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The Trouble with Wang Xizhi: Illness and Healing in a Fourth-Century Chinese Correspondence

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Containing many reports of his own illnesses and attempts at treatment, along with inquiries after the health of correspondents and acquaintances, the letters of Wang Xizhi (303-361) constitute the earliest sizeable corpus of personal health reports in Chinese literature and are thus a valuable source for the study of Chinese epistolary communication and medical history. This article explores the rhetorical strategies of Wang’s medical narratives and the role that writing about illness and healing may have played in the correspondents’ relationships and broader networks. Examining the medical ideas and terminology evident in Wang Xizhi’s letters, the article also seeks to illuminate a section of the multifaceted world of early medieval Chinese healing practices. By allowing us to get closer to the calligrapher’s body, Wang’s illness narratives further help us to heighten our awareness of the circumstances that shape the artistic process.
Les lettres de Wang Xizhi (303-361) contiennent de nombreuses informations sur ses propres problèmes médicaux et sur ses façons de se traiter, ainsi que des questions adressées aux destinataires quant à leur santé et celle de leurs connaissances communes. Elles constituent ainsi le plus ancien corpus de taille conséquente au sein de la littérature chinoise traitant de l’histoire médicale d’individus ; elles ont donc une valeur importante comme source tant pour l’histoire épistolaire que médicale. Cet article explore les stratégies rhétoriques dans les récits qu’offre Wang au sujet de la santé, ainsi que le rôle que ses écrits sur les maladies et les guérisons ont pu jouer dans ses rapports sociaux avec ses correspondants et au-delà. En examinant les idées et la terminologie médicale exprimées dans les lettres de Wang Xizhi, cet article ambitionne aussi d’éclairer un pan du monde très varié des pratiques de guérison chinoises médiévales. Ses témoignages sur ses maladies, qui nous permettent d’approcher de près le grand calligraphe dans sa corporalité, nous rendent plus attentif aux conditions les plus physiques de sa production artistique.

Affiliations: 1: University of Colorado
 ; 2: Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine


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