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Chinese Yangsheng: Self-help and Self-image

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image of Asian Medicine

AbstractYangsheng 养生 means nurturing or nourishing life.1 It is about health and health cultivation. The term that has been around for two thousand years or so first appeared in the manner in which we now understand it in the Yangsheng lu 养生录’(Records of Cultivating Life’) of Ji Kang 稽康 in the Three Kingdoms Era (220–265 CE). This was the period that followed the disintegration of the Han Empire. Yangsheng represents and encompasses many strands of rich discourse on health, philosophy and ‘the art of living’ that stretch back at least two and a half thousand years in Chinese history to the mid-Warring States era.2 Some of its elements are simple and familiar, both in the East and now in the West, while others require a much greater level of acculturation and range into the arcane and obscure. However, in essence, Yangsheng is about popular practices—popular in the sense of those carried out for and by people themselves in their daily lives. It can also be seen as popular in the sense of fashionable or, indeed, highly fashionable, as at different points in history it has enjoyed or suffered, in one form or another, from intense public attention. On the basis of extensive semi-structured interviews, film recording and mass media reports during six years of participant observation, this article argues that the Yangsheng fever of the last decade has seen a growing commercialism, a reflection of the economic power of the newly- wealthy urban middle classes. In many cases, successful commercialisation has involved complex negotiations between practitioners, religious organisations, commercial operations and the State. If the Qigong fever of the 1980s and 1990s had a somewhat austere and Salvationist aspect, Yangsheng of the 2000s, which covers so much of the same ground in the quest for health and identity, has had a certain low-key decadence.

10.1163/15734218-12341242
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/content/journals/10.1163/15734218-12341242
2012-01-01
2016-12-05

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