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Northern Purgatives, Southern Restoratives: Ming Medical Regionalism

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image of Asian Medicine

Physicians during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) understood that the Chinese empire was geographically diverse. They observed that their patients were corporeally and physiologically heterogeneous. They interpreted this ecological and human diversity within the reunited Ming Empire according to both an ancient northwest-southeast axis and a new emphasis on north versus south. The geographic distinctions—northern and southern (nanbei) as well as northwestern (xibei) and southeastern (dongnan)—similarly helped explain doctrinal and therapeutic divergences within the literate sector of Chinese medicine. They thought about ecological, climatic, and human variation within the framework of a uniquely Chinese northwest-southeast polarity with roots in Chinese mythology and the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor. They also thought in terms of a north-ern and southern split in medicine, which the Yuan scholar Dai Liang (1317–1383) explicitly mentioned in his writings. The Ming physicians who discussed medical regionalism mostly asserted, however, the opposite; namely their own impartiality as medical authorities for all of China. Nevertheless, their essays on regionalism reveal considerable tensions, fissures, and conflicts in the literate sector of Ming medicine.


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