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The Gendered Medical Iconography of the Golden Mirror (Yuzuan yizong jinjian , 1742)

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How have gender norms historically influenced the visual depiction of the human body in Chinese medicine? I address this question by analysing 484 images of the body published in the Imperially-Commissioned Golden Mirror of Medical Learning (Yuzuan yizong jinjian) of 1742. The Golden Mirror used male figures to depict the standard human body, a pattern that I call visual androcentrism, and I discuss three factors that helped to foster this pattern. First, the Golden Mirror borrowed images from non-medical sources and thereby reiterated a broader cultural tendency to use male figures as normative, with female figures used only in special circumstances. Second, there was a strong association in Chinese visual culture between the semi-exposed male body and ideals of spiritual enlightenment and longevity. This made male figures particularly appropriate for a text on healing that needed to reveal the features and disorders of different body parts. Finally, male medical figures provided a ready vehicle for conveying positive messages about the ability of male physicians. The Golden Mirror enhanced its male figures with auspicious imagery and Daoist symbols, thereby transforming them into visual metaphors for the male doctor’s scholarly mastery of cosmological principles, a mastery that allowed him to be an effective and superior healer.


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