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Visual Representation and Oral Transmission of Yangsheng Techniques in Ming China

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image of Asian Medicine

AbstractPictures of publications abound in Ming China (1368–1644). So do the illustrations of books on medicine and health maintenance. In the case of daoyin gymnastics, the number of their illustrations increases rapidly in particular during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They are depicted in both yangsheng monographs and household almanacs. Some believe that the abundance of illustrations is due to the fierce competition in the publication industry and book marketing of the Ming. This article goes further to argue what the illustrations signify is not only the commercialisation of yangsheng knowledge, but the popularisation of the body techniques. These pictorial objects do make the written instructions more comprehensible. Another aspect that this article reveals is the verses, songs and maxims on yangsheng widely recorded in the Ming health manuals. These mnemonics help summarise yangsheng knowledge into an easy-to-remember form. They also indicate the influences from oral transmission of therapeutic techniques. With the aid of images and verbal evidence, Chinese yangsheng tradition handed down from the antiquity has been transformed in both its production and reception in the Ming times.


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