Novel Medicine

Healing, Literature, and Popular Knowledge in Early Modern China

Andrew Schonebaum

  • Published: 2016. Paperback October 2018
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 296 pp., 42 bandw illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

By examining the dynamic interplay between discourses of fiction and medicine, Novel Medicine demonstrates how fiction incorporated, created, and disseminated medical knowledge in China, beginning in the sixteenth century. Critical readings of fictional and medical texts provide a counterpoint to prevailing narratives that focus only on the "literati" aspects of the novel, showing that these texts were not merely read, but were used by a wide variety of readers for a range of purposes. The intersection of knowledge-fictional and real, elite and vernacular-illuminates the history of reading and daily life and challenges us to rethink the nature of Chinese literature.
Andrew Schonebaum is associate professor of Chinese literature at the University of Maryland. He is the coeditor of Approaches to Teaching "The Story of the Stone" (Dream of the Red Chamber).

"Novel Medicine, by bringing together disparate material in a novel way, sheds new and interesting light on traditional Chinese medicine, vernacular literature, and society."
-David Rolston, author of Traditional Chinese Fiction and Fiction Commentary: Reading and Writing Between the Lines

"The genius of this book is to take what appears to be three disparate realms-healing/medicine, literature, and religion-and demonstrate that they shared a common 'literary logic.' The world before the introduction of modern science and bio-medicine is thus revealed to be wrought of a surprising and equally valid common sense. In focusing on recycling, quotations, and oblique references among familiar and obscure texts, Schonebaum has painted a dynamic picture of vernacular knowledge on the eve of China's modernity."
-Dorothy Ko, author of Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding

"Novel Medicine is a highly provocative book. Schonebaum seeks to deal with the discourse of illness as reflected by late imperial and early modern literary masterpieces. His research examines a wide range of subjects, from narrative literature to cultural history, and from medicine as an episteme and medicine as a social institution. Schonebaum particularly focuses on the circulation of infectious diseases as a point of reference to the changing notion of body, disease, hygiene, medical technology, and socioeconomic dynamics of early modern China. This is a groundbreaking work."
-David Der-wei Wang, Harvard University


"Groundbreaking. . . . Explores not only the textual interplay of novel medicine and medical fiction, but also their roles as important literary genres in disseminating vernacular knowledge about health, illness, healing, and the body."
-Robert E. Hegel, Nan Nu: Men, Women, and Gender in China

"Novel Medicine is an innovative comparison of medical lore and fictional practice. . . . This is an important study, one that should be read by anyone seriously interested in late imperial Chinese culture; it demonstrates the interactions between realms of knowledge that modern specialized fields so easily overlook."
-Harry Yi-Jui Wu, Medical History

"Like an early Chinese novel, Andrew Schonebaum's book Novel Medicine both informs and titillates. . . . This is innovative scholarship. . . . Schonebaum's expansive conception and meticulous research make Novel Medicine an eye-opening read, one that I particularly recommend to historians of medicine and of gender and sexuality."
-Hilary A. Smith, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"Offers exciting new literary and historical methods for unraveling the many intersections between medicine and literature that should be of great interest to readers engaged with the medical humanities, the cultural history of medicine, and late imperial Chinese history."
-Marta Hanson, Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review