Project (2017)

Medical Knowledge and the Circulation of Islamic Texts in China, Seventeenth–Nineteenth Centuries

This project proposes to research medical knowledge as it was embedded and incorporated in the body of Islamic literature that circulated in China between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Arabic and Persian texts, and their Chinese translations and commentaries circulated in China from as early as the mid-fourteenth century. However, by the seventeenth century they were attracting an unprecedented degree of attention in different echelons of society: from local practitioners of Islam to non-Muslim officials and literati. The corpus of these Arabo-Persians texts and its Chinese extension covered a variety of fields including medicine, cosmology, linguistics, logic, and Islamic jurisprudence. Hundreds of early manuscripts and printed works still exist in libraries, museums, and mosques around China, suggesting that they were perused on a wide scale. As such, they shed light on the accommodation of foreign concepts, methods, and techniques during the late imperial period.

In addition to its contribution to understanding processes of knowledge transmission and movement, this study will also demonstrate how ideas and theories transform into daily praxis, by focusing on their reception. Islamic literature in China served two main audiences in the late imperial period: scholars, for whom this corpus of texts provided a platform to exercise philological and philosophical critical studies, and who orchestrated the translation and reproduction of texts; and Chinese practitioners of Islam, who consumed the texts as practical guides. The study of both groups in tandem will bring to wider attention the cross-fertilizing relationship between religious praxis and medical or medicinal theories.