Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here

Chinese Yangsheng: Self-help and Self-image

No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
The full text of this article is not currently available.

Brill’s MyBook program is exclusively available on BrillOnline Books and Journals. Students and scholars affiliated with an institution that has purchased a Brill E-Book on the BrillOnline platform automatically have access to the MyBook option for the title(s) acquired by the Library. Brill MyBook is a print-on-demand paperback copy which is sold at a favorably uniform low price.

Access this article

+ Tax (if applicable)
Add to Favorites
You must be logged in to use this functionality

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.


Full text loading...


Data & Media loading...

1. de Certeau M. Rendall S. " The Practice of Everyday Life " L’invention du quotidien 1984 [1974] Berkeley University of California Press
2. Chen Hsiufen 陳秀芬 "‘Nourishing Life, Cultivation and Material Culture in the Late Ming: Some Thoughts on Zhunsheng bajian遵生八牋 (Eight Tablets on Respecting Life: 1591)’" Asian Medicine 2008 Vol 4 1 29 45
3. Chen N. Urban Spaces and Experiences of Qigong in Urban Spaces in Contemporary China 1995 Cambridge University Press Woodrow Wilson Center Series
4. Chen N. "‘Healing Sects and Anti-Cult Campaigns’" China Quarterly 2003 Vol 174 505 520
5. Clunas C. Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China 2004 [1991] Honolulu University of Hawai’i Press
6. Davidson R. J. , Lutz A. "‘Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation’" 2008 Vol 25 1 176 184 IEEE Signal Process Mag.
7. Despeux C. Lo V. , Cullen C. "‘Illness Prognosis to Diagnosis in Tang China’" Medieval Chinese Medicine: The Dunhuang Medical Manuscripts 2005 London RoutledgeCurzon 176 205
8. Despeux C. Barrett P. "‘Food Prohibitions in China’" The Lantern 2007 Vol 4 1 22 32
9. Dikotter F. The Discourse of Race in Modern China 1992 London Hurst & Co
10. Dramlic S. Lai Chen Tradition and Modernity: A Humanist View, China Perspectives 2011 [Online], 2012/14 | 2011, Online since 30 December 2011, connection on 25 October 2012. URL:
11. Duara P. Rescuing History from the Nation 1995 Chicago University of Chicago Press
12. Farquhar J. B. "‘For Your Reading Pleasure: Popular Health Advice and the Anthropology of Everyday Life in 1990s Beijing’" Positions 2001 Vol 9 1 105 130
13. Farquhar J. B. , Zhang Q. "‘Biopolitical Beijing: Pleasure, Sovereignty, and Self-Cultivation in China’s Capital’" Cultural Anthropology 2005 Vol 20 3 303 327
14. Farquhar J. B. , Zhang Q. Ten Thousand Things 2012 New York Zone Books
15. Furth C. Gilmartin C. K. , Hershatter G. , Rofel L. , White T. "‘Rethinking Van Gulik: Sexuality and Reproduction in Traditional Chinese Medicine’" Engendering China: Women, Culture, and the State 1994 Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press 125 146
16. Graham A. C. Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters 1989a [1981] London George Allen and Unwin
17. Graham A. C. Disputers of the Tao 1989b La Salle, Illinois Open Court
18. Harper D. Early Chinese Medical Literature 1998 London Kegan Paul International
19. Harper D. Lo V. , Cullen C. "‘Dunhuang Iatromantic Manuscripts’" Medieval Chinese Medicine: The Dunhuang Medical Manuscripts 2005a London RoutledgeCurzon 134 164
20. Harper D. "‘Ancient and Medieval Chinese Recipes for Aphrodisiacs and Philters’" Asian Medicine 2005b Vol 1 1 91 100
21. Jiejun He Changsha Mawangdui er, san hao Han mu 2004 Beijing Zhonghua shuju
22. Yoke Ho Peng , Needham J. "‘ Elixir Poisoningin Mediaeval China’" Janus 1959 Vol 48 22 51
23. Hudson W. C. "‘Spreading the Dao, Managing Mastership and Performing Salvation: The Life and Alchemical Teachings of Chen Zixu’" 2007 unpublished doctoral thesis, Indiana University
24. Kleinman A. The Social Origins of Distress and Disease 1986 Yale New Haven
25. Kuriyama S. "The Expressiveness of the Body and the Diverence of Greek and Chinese Medicine" 1999 New York Zone
26. Lally P. , et al "‘How Habits are Formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World’" European Journal of Social Psychology 2009 Vol 40 998 1009
27. Lau D. C. " Mencius " Translation and Introduction 1970 London Penguin Books
28. Ling Li 里零 Zhongguo fangshu zheng kao 中国方术正考 2006 Beijing Zhonghua shuju
29. Yi Li 李一 Yangsheng you liangfang 养生有良方 2010 Hangzhou Zhejiang chubanshe
30. Liang T. T. Tai Chi Ch’uan for Health and Self-Defence 1977 [1974] New York Vintage Books
31. De Lin 林德 , Qiang Wang 王强 , Shuwei Ding 丁树伟 Zhonghua shiwu biandian 中华食物便典 2007 Gunagzhou Guangdong kezhi chubanshe (Concise Dictionary of Chinese Foodstuffs)
32. Lexian Liu 刘乐仙 Lo V. , Cullen C. "‘Love Charms among the Dunhuang Manuscripts’" Medieval Chinese Medicine: The Dunhuang Medical Manuscripts 2005 London RoutledgeCurzon 165 175
33. Lo V. "‘The Influence of Yangsheng Culture on Early Chinese Medical Theory’" 1998 unpublished doctorial thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies
34. Lo V. "‘Spirit of Stone: Technical Considerations in the Treatment of the Jade Body’" Bulletin of SOAS 2002 Vol 65 1 99 128
35. Lo V. Sterckx R. "‘Pleasure, Prohibition and Pain: Food and Medicine in China’" Of Tripod and Palate 2005 London Palgrave MacMillan 163 186
36. Lo V. Bray F. , Metailie D.-L. "‘Imagining Practice: Sense and Sensuality in Early Chinese Medical Illustration’" The Warp and the Weft 2007 Leiden Brill 387 425
37. Lo V. , Cullen C. Medieval Chinese Medicine: The Dunhuang Medical Manuscripts 2005 London RoutledgeCurzon
38. Moerman D. Meaning, Medicine and the Placebo Effect 2002 Cambridge Cambridge University Press
39. Munro R. "‘Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and its Origins in the Mao Era’" 2002 Human Rights Watch and the Geneva Institute of Psychiatry
40. Ofori P. K. , Biddle S. , Lavallee D. "‘The Role Of Superstition among Professional Footballers in Ghana’" Athletic Insight 2012 Vol 4 2 available online at .
41. Palmer D. Qigong Fever 2007 New York Columbia University Press
42. Penny B. "‘Falun Gong, Prophesy and Apocalypse’" East Asian History 2002a Vol 23 Institute for Advanced Studies, Australian National University
43. Limin Qu 曲黎敏 Yangsheng shi er shuo 养生十二说 2008 Beijing Zhongguo chuban jituan (Twelve Talks on Yangsheng)
44. Limin Qu 曲黎敏 Cong zi dao ren 从字到人 2009 Wuhan Changjiang wenyi chubanshe (From words to man)
45. Roth H. Original Tao 1999 New York Columbia University Press
46. Qian Sima 司马其 Shiji 世纪 Beijing Zhonghua shuju ( c. 145–90 BCE)
47. Shugong Song 宋书功 Gudai fangzhong yangsheng zhenyao 古代房中养生真要 2010 Beijing Zhongyi guji chubanshe (The True Essentials of Ancient Bedchamber Yangsheng)
48. Shugong Song 宋书功 Fangshi yangsheng tiyao 房室养生集要 2011 Hainan Hainan chubanshe (Essential Collection of Bedroom Yangsheng)
49. Stanley-Baker M. "‘Cultivating Body, Cultivating Self: A Critical Translation and History of the Tang Dynasy Yangxing Yanminglu’ 养性延命录" 2006 unpublished MA thesis, Indiana University
50. Umekawa S. "‘Sex and Immortality—A Study of Chinese Sexual Activities for Better-Being’" 2004 unpublished doctoral thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies
51. Weller R. Resistance, Chaos and Control in China 1994 Seattle University of Washington Press
52. Wells M. Scholar Boxer 2005 Berkeley CA North Atlantic Books
53. Wile D. Art of the Bedchamber 1992 Albany SUNY
54. Wile D. Lost Tai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty 1996 Albany SUNY
55. Wilkinson E. Chinese History: A Manual, (revised and enlarged) 2000 Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series
56. Wilms S. Bei Ji Qian Jin Yao Fang: Essential Prescriptions Worth a Thousand in Gold for Every Emergency 2007 Portland, Oregon The Chinese Medicine Database
57. Wilms S. "‘Nurturing Life in Classical Chinese Medicine: Sun Simiao on Healing without Drugs, Transforming Bodies and Cultivating Life’" Journal of Chinese Medicine 2010 Vol 93 5 5 13
58. Xu B. Disenchanted Democracy: Chinese Cultural Criticism after 1989 1999 Ann Arbor University of Michigan Press
59. Xu Jian "‘Body, Discourse and the Cultural Politics of Contemporary Chinese Qigong’" Journal of Asian Studies 1999 Vol 58 3–4 961 991
60. Wuben Zhang 张悟本 Ba chi chulai de bing, chihuiqu 把吃出来的病吃回去 Beijing Renmin chubanshe (3 vols 2009/12, 2010/15, 2010/17) (‘Eating for better health’ or ‘Dietary recovery/remedies for dietary disease’)
61. Xingfa Zhang 张兴发 Huashuo daojia yangsheng shu 话说道家养生术 2006 Jinan Qilu shushe (Talking of Daoist Yangsheng techniques)
62. Jinsheng Zheng 郑金生 "‘The Vogue for Medicine as Food in the Song Period (960–1279)’" Asian Medicine 2006 Vol 2 1 38 58
63. On Guo Xue: ,
64. On Food Scares:
65. Penny B. "‘The Body of Master Li’" 2002b The Charles Strong Memorial Trust Annual Lecture for the Australian Association of Religious Studies, published online at:
66. .

Article metrics loading...



Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to ToC alert
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    Asian Medicine — Recommend this title to your library
  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation