Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017.



He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.



Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.



After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.



Monday, December 24, 2012

Paintings by Joseph Yen 2 (poems from Formosa)


(1)   Lotus by Night

How to tell the dark
from the blossom it feeds?
Leaf’s shadow spreading
from stem rising?

And the water – where
else than in waves,
never the light
but the light divided –

up now,
down then,
never where it was,
breaking into sight

wherever I am breaking,
wherever an I is spreading,
mirroring its leaf, its shadows,
ever its deepening eyes.


(2)   Mother and Child

Where do I have a face
except where I am open,
where up I look
and into me you be?

Where are my lips
except at your coming?
Saying you I see,
know in your name my need.

Eyes closed –
where I feel you is light –
knowing in your ribs
a form of my hand: fingers of me,

finding me now:
what made my face
and seeks my face
and feeds me, feeds with seeking.

--Lloyd Haft (from Formosa, Querido 2005)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Whatever Happened to Air?



 (Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 23)

At a certain age, many of us suddenly crave to revive old familiarities. It becomes haunting and vital to find out ‘whatever happened to’ this or that schoolmate, to take a trip to the town and neighborhood where one spent the first summer after graduation, met one’s first serious...and so on.
        The Sentimental Journey need not be physical. You can do it in the space of a single library. In my case, a big part of it was to re-read, or even just take another respectful look at the title pages of, some of the books that had introduced me to Oriental Studies when I was just getting into my twenties. They included Spoken Chinese by Hockett and Fang, books on Buddhism by Edward Conze and Christmas Humphreys, even the Joyce Chen Cook Book.
        Looking back through these Venerable Tomes, one finds things that in the light of later training and experience are ‘incorrect.’ But as anyone who has lived in the Far East knows, the authoritativeness of the Teachings does not depend on whether they are factually true, but only on whether they are still circulated and quoted.
        One of the books I went back to was East Asia: The Great Tradition by Edwin O. Reischauer and John King Fairbank.[1] In the chapter ‘Classic China: The Golden Age of Chinese Thought,’ on page 77, I stumbled on a passage that would not have seemed strange to me as a student:

...all nature is made up of varying combinations of the “five elements” or “five powers” (wu hsing): wood, metal, fire, water and earth. The parallel to the four elements of the Greeks (earth, fire, air and water) is striking.

After decades of further reading both inside and outside ‘the field,’ I have two comments on this. The first is that nowadays not many academics would translate the hsing (nowadays usually spelled xing) as ‘elements’ – that term sounds too material and physical. The translation might be ‘energies,’ ‘processes,’ energetic transitions,’ ‘phases,’ ‘modi’ or whatever, but probably not ‘elements.’ This would already seriously undermine any comparison with ancient Greek thought.
        But even more importantly – for the life of me I cannot see any ‘parallel’ whatsoever, let alone a ‘striking’ one, between a four- and a fivefold system. In the Greek grouping, there are indeed four radical constituents. This quaternity naturally lends itself to a symmetrical presentation, whether as a circle divided into four equal quadrants, a vertical and a horizontal axis each having two poles, a bar or horizon having two elements above (air and fire) and two below (water and earth), and so on.
        In the Chinese fivefold scheme, symmetry is more problematical. Sometimes the ‘elements’ are drawn up as a circle with wood, fire, metal and water occupying points along the rim and earth in the center. But often the five are equally spaced along the rim, or as points on a pentagram or star. Their order is not always the same. They can stand in various kinds of mutual relationship, so that it is not possible to state that one is higher or lower than another.
        In the writings of C. G. Jung (I am not American enough to call him ‘Carl’ Jung, which he himself never did in his publications), who was a tremendous influence on many young people of my generation, the fourfold or quaternity idea is not only important; it is raised to the status of a supposed ‘archetype’ inherent to human consciousness. It underlies or constitutes the ‘mandala,’ a focus or ordering device.
        But if we are looking for ‘archetypes’ that supposedly apply to the whole of humanity, then what about a people, like the Chinese, who exceed the bounds of the fourfold and get along perfectly well with their fivefold focus?
        Perhaps the Jungian ‘archetype’ notion was more culture-bound than we had thought. Maybe there is no such thing as an inherent quaternity to which consciousness is magnetically attracted. And why should there be? The human hand, undoubtedly one of the unconscious models for such things, has not just four fingers but five, if not – as in the writings of Zhuangzi or the poetry of Zhou Mengdie – even more.
        To be sure, many scholars believe the Chinese fivefold goes back to an earlier fourfold (or more accurately, four-plus-one) scheme. Supposedly there were originally four Quarters (fang ) surrounding a Center; subsequently the Center was dislodged from its unique role and all five players became equal.[2] But even if this is so, the change is supposed to have occurred several centuries before the beginning of our era, and isn’t it then strange that the Chinese, comprising such a huge percentage of humankind, should have merrily proceeded to live an anti-archetypal and in that sense atypical life for the past couple of thousand years?
        But aside from the validity or otherwise of a formal or structural ‘parallel’ between the Western four and the Eastern five, we can also approach all this from the viewpoint of content. Comparing the Greek and Chinese lists of ‘elements,’ what does the five have that the four lacks?
        As it turns out, things are more complicated. The Chinese model contains two factors that the Greek does not – wood and metal – but at the same time, it importantly lacks the Western element of air.[3]
        I say ‘importantly’ because in Western culture, the ‘air’ element symbolizes mind, spirit, consciousness, or communication, and that factor is often considered the specifically human dimension, the crucial difference between mankind and the non-human world.
        It would go beyond the scope of this Scrapbook to expand on the cultural associations of the Chinese non-air elements of wood and metal. But could we just make a wild leap and surmise that the functions of ‘our’ air, in ‘their’ system, are perfectly well present but divided between wood and metal?
        We cannot. Even the assumption that more or less the same ‘functions’ must be operative for ‘them’ in more or less the same ways, is a wide one. It smacks of archetype-mongering, and I personally do not believe it.[4] In traditional China, people would have had no problem with there being no specific sector reserved for ‘consciousness’ as such. In the fivefold grouping of inner organs which is one of the conceptual mainstays of Chinese medical theory, thought or ‘ratiocination’[5] is treated as one of a group of ‘emotional states’[6] in which both ‘grief and worry’[7] and ‘joy’ are assigned to entirely different organs. I am inclined to agree with Chad Hansen that most ‘Chinese thinkers treat mind as an action guide’ and ‘we may even doubt that an intelligent, rational philosopher working in the ancient [Chinese – LH] conceptual scheme has any reason to postulate consciousness.’[8] A. C. Graham, discussing the two Cheng 二程brothers who were among the most influential neo-Confucian philosophers, says they ‘do not regard the mind as an organ of knowledge distinct from what it knows.’[9]
        Even linguistically, offhand I cannot think of a word in Classical Chinese that would have meant ‘air’ with the same monosyllabic obviousness and plausibility of the jin, shui, mu, huo and tu 金水木火土 that are in standard use for metal, water, wood, fire and earth. The modern word for ‘air’ is kongqi, but neither kong nor qi would have unambiguously meant ‘air’ as opposed to ‘emptiness,’ ‘unreality,’ ‘sky,’ ‘ether,’ ‘energy,’ ‘atmosphere’ or various other things.
        It is true that traditional Chinese medicine includes, in addition to the five phases or elements or whatever, another standard list of factors, this time sixfold, in which ‘wind’ is one of the players. The six are called the liu qi 六氣or six...aaah, but yes, six what? Donald E. Kendall, a well-known author in the Chinese-medicine field from whose work I have profited, calls them the ‘airs,’ ‘sky-airs,’ or ‘atmospheric airs.’[10] Nathan Sivin, whose translations I think mostly have the ring of sinological reliability, calls them ‘climatic configurations.’[11] In any case, I think it is clear that ‘wind’ as a ‘configuration’ or as one of the possible ‘airs,’ is not the same as ‘air’ pure-and-simple.
        Still, I must admit that having mentioned it, I am intrigued by my own thought that maybe ‘wood’ and ‘metal’ have something to do with my mind. Tree-shapes stirred by a breeze at dawn, shadows reflected in a metal-framed mirror at the approach of evening: maybe these Chinese-sounding images have more to do with ourselves than we think. And maybe we think about them more, or in different and less ‘mental’ ways, than our culture has taught us to think that we think.
        And come to think of it, there is at least one important area of Chinese culture in which the ‘elements’ are explicitly features of mental activity. This is the whole family of meditation techniques in which the mind is indeed an ‘action guide,’ directing the imagination or attention through a fixed sequence of foci or loci or stations which are associated with organs of the body.[12] To make this just a bit easier to – what shall we say, ‘imagine’? – I will give a brief description of one of these techniques, practiced by quite a number of people in Taiwan, which I learned earlier this year from an 82-year-old retired actress and opera singer whom I will call Teacher Zhang (her real surname).[13]
        Sitting with crossed legs (if possible in what yoga practitioners call the lotus position), we start by letting our hands rest easily on our knees, with the thumbs lightly touching the index fingers and the other fingers loosely open. The left hand lies palm-up, the right palm-down, so that we have a ‘yin’ and a ‘yang’ hand. Then we check to see that three important points are vertically in line above each other: (1) the ‘yin opening’ or yinqiao 陰竅, an imaginary point nearby the anus and/or slightly in front of it, (2) the ‘heart opening’ or xinqiao 心竅, thought of as between the breasts or nipples, and (3) the ‘general assembly point’ or baihui 百會at the center of the crown. We think of our body as connected with ‘heaven energy’ via the ‘general assembly’ and with ‘earth energy’ via the ‘yin opening’; the ‘heart opening’ in between is to direct or supervise what will go on in our body.
        When these three are in line (as much as possible), we direct our thought to the lowest point, the ‘yin opening.’ We stay there until we have a feeling, a consciousness, or a sense of ‘something’ being there. Directed or accompanied by our thought, the ‘something’ then gradually rises along an imaginary mid-line of the body until it reaches the ‘heart opening.’
        From there, again led or accompanied by our thought or imagination or attention, ‘it’ divides to left and right, going into the lungs on both sides. We think of ‘the Metal of the lungs’ and stay there with our attention, but without straining too hard to avoid extraneous thoughts, which will arise in any case. We do not necessarily keep repeating the words ‘metal’ or ‘lungs’; in the fivefold system, metal is simply the ‘element’ associated with the lungs. We sustain a relaxed awareness of ‘it’ being present in the lungs.
        When we feel it has been enough for now, we let ‘it’ return from left and right into the ‘heart opening’ in the center. From there it proceeds backward through the body to the spinal column and then goes down the back to the level of the kidneys. Again it divides to the left and right, going into the kidneys on each side. We are aware of ‘the Water of the kidneys’ and stay with this until we feel it has been enough for now.
        Again ‘it’ returns from both sides to the mid-line of the back at about kidney level, and from there proceeds forward and down through the interior of the body, to the so-called Cinnabar Field or dantian 丹田. The dantian is not an organ but a theoretically present point. Because of its importance in the so-called Inner Alchemy of Daoism, in English it is often called the ‘Lower Elixir Field.’ Another name is qihai 氣海, the ‘Sea of Energy.’ Skipping all possible debates over the exact location of this point (if there is one), let’s just say for now that it is slightly under and slightly behind the navel.
        We let our attention rest briefly in the Cinnabar Field, then let ‘it’ rise again along the original mid-line to the ‘heart opening.’ This time, from the ‘heart opening’ we direct it to the right and slightly downward, into the liver. We consciously think of ‘the Wood of the liver’ and let it remain there, circulating or being present in the liver.
        When we are ready, we then have ‘it’ return to the ‘heart opening’ between the two breasts, where it now stays for a while. We think of ‘the Fire of the heart.’
        Finally, to round off the sequence of five ‘organs,’ we let ‘it’ sink from the heart downward into the tummy and belly area which in a general way is associated with the spleen. Thinking of ‘the Earth of the spleen,’ we imagine ‘it’ being in this region. When we feel we are finished, we have completed one cycle of meditation.
       
What I have just described is one particular version of what I call a ‘family’ of meditation techniques which utilize the fivefold system of inner organs as foci in a mental process which is said to be beneficial to physical health. Sometimes that mental process is explicitly called neishi 內視 or ‘inner viewing’; sometimes the practitioner is encouraged to think of specific colors, animals or other attributes while dwelling upon each of the organs. Interestingly, though the fivefold group of organs is perennially the same, the order in which they are ‘innerly viewed’ is not always identical. In my description above, I have indicated the order which I learned from Teacher Zhang, but in other sources on paper or the internet, I have seen two alternative orders.
        Now a question: does the order really matter? I don’t know if it does. I personally see no reason to deviate from what I have been taught, but I could very well imagine that the order doesn’t matter much, as long as one respects and takes seriously the overall procedure and, especially, the reasons for which one took it up in the first place. I could even imagine...but now I’m getting very Western again...that the number of these not-really-physical ‘organs’ is just a convention which could perfectly well be changed. If two weeks from now I consulted a new Teacher and was told that the heart and spleen were so closely related that I could henceforth collapse those two stations into one, I would believe it.
        But I would not do it. True, to do it would be to reduce the five to the supposedly ‘archetypal’ or ‘original’ four. But could my Spleen, or the Earth that is my belly, really Ratiocinate itself into being happy with going back and giving up, relinquishing, saying goodbye to the warm dawn energy gleaming through the branches of Wood, to sunset mirrored in the dream-rich peace of Metal, in return for the restoration of mere thin...Air?

--Lloyd Haft



[1] Also known as A History of East Asian Civilization, Volume One. Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1958/1960.
[2] For an interesting discussion of this with many references, see Aihe Wang, Cosmology and Political Culture in Early China, Cambridge University Press 2000. Wang says (p. 77) the shift from four to five ‘undermined the absolute and sacred centrality of the former ruling clan,’ amounting to ‘reduction’ of the center to a ‘fifth fang.’ There was a shift (p. 92) ‘from centrality to cycles of change.’
[3] An interesting sidelight is that one of my own favorite Chinese philosophers, Shao Yong (1011-1077), actually did advocate a fourfold system, but it never won widespread acceptance. In his scheme, the four are fire, water, earth and...again not air but...stone.
[4] In general, very much in opposition to that grand old patriarch and patron saint of Leiden sinology Gustaaf Schlegel (1840-1903), I believe in a fundamental incompatibility or incommensurability between Chinese and Western concepts. See another Scrap in this series, ‘Haft’s Incommensurability Principle’: http://lhaftblog.blogspot.tw/2011/03/hafts-incommensurability-principle.html
[5] This translation is given by Nathan Sivin (see full reference in note 11 below), p. 287.
[6] Translation from Sivin, p. 209.
[7] This translation is from Kendall, Dao of Chinese Medicine, p. 114. See note 10 below.
[8] Chad Hansen, ‘Language in the Heart-Mind,’ in Robert E. Allinson (ed.), Understanding the Chinese Mind: The Philosophical Roots, Oxford University Press 1989, pp. 119-120.
[9] A. C. Graham, Two Chinese Philosophers: The Metaphysics of the Brothers Ch’eng, La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing 1992, p. 62..
[10] I am referring to Kendall’s book Dao of Chinese Medicine: Understanding an Ancient Healing Art, Oxford University Press, 2002, especially pages 89-92.
[11] In Nathan Sivin: Traditional Medicine in Contemporary China: A Partial Translation of Revised Outline of Chinese Medicine (1972) with an Introductory Study etc., Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan 1987, p. 275.
[12] My terminology here is, I realize, tortuous, simply because the things I am referring to are no less so. Many years ago my former student Michel Hockx pointed out to me that when Chinese refer to ‘imagination,’ very often what they actually mean is what in the West would be called ‘reproductive skill,’ and in that sense not regarded as imaginative at all. I say the stations in the meditation are ‘associated with’ organs of the body to avoid the issue of whether or not the ‘organs’ on which the meditator focuses are ‘the same as’ objectively present physical organs inside the physical body. At the very beginning of my own instruction, Teacher Zhang said very emphatically that when she referred to the ‘heart,’ she was not talking about ‘the physical heart.’ As if to underscore this, she added that for meditation purposes, I should think of the heart as being in the middle of the chest rather than specifically on the left side.
[13] I know of one published biography of Teacher Zhang. I will not quote it because, dating from 2003, by definition it tells us nothing about newer developments in the last ten years. In outlining Teacher Zhang’s later career and life, it takes us up to her decision, as she approached seventy, to retire to a mountain environment in order better to pursue meditative and other spiritual ‘practice.’ It says nothing about her still later decision, as I understand it, to return to big-city life after trying to adapt to the mosquitoes, snakes and general daily inconvenience faced by an elderly person living in a formidably remote rural area. If these were indeed the reasons why Teacher Zhang went back to Kaohsiung rather than trying to engineer a mind-over-matter ‘demonstration’ by ‘overcoming’ the troubles at any cost, I must say that in my view this makes her more rather than less credible as a spiritual Teacher.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tussenbeide (gedicht)



Tussenbeide[1]
voor Franneke


(1)

In den beginne was de voeg,
naad waar niemand eerder stond

hemel en aarde saamvermoedend
tot in deze ogen.

Lippen twee, oogleden
twee. Zo alles

wat ziet,
spreekt. ‘Waar twee zijn

komt geest’ –
opgaand sluiten dat zee

plaatst, zand plek
geeft tot in de ogen.



(2)

Aangeklopt door beide stromen –
lucht die hemel heet van boven,

oceaan van onderen.
En uit hun zoem of zoeven klapt

het woord waar ik een lied omheen moet maken,
mengende van zand en water

iets wat ook van wind en water was.



(3)

Waar beide lichten staan,
daar deel ik mij in mede:

flitsen van een boven,
zee het zwart agaat eronder.

Sprekende bliksem,
zwijgend zware spiegel –

daar sta of stamel,
straal ik tussenbeide.

--Lloyd Haft



[1] Verschenen in Het vermoeden nr. 1, 22 sept. 2012, p. 15

Monday, November 26, 2012

Confucianism and Chinese Medicine



(Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 22)

The Influence (?) of Confucian Philosophy on Chinese Medicine[1]

 Popular Western books on Chinese medicine, and on Chinese body-related disciplines like tai chi and qigong, often claim that traditional Chinese medicine takes a Daoistic view of human life and health, encouraging us to ‘follow nature’ and to abstain as far as possible from ‘unnatural’ medication or other ‘manipulative’ modes of treatment. These Western sources often contrast this supposedly ‘natural’ or ‘wu wei’ approach with mainstream Western medicine which, they suggest, views the human body as something to be controlled rather than trusted.
        At least two leading Western authors, however, have challenged this idea. They assert that traditional Chinese medicine is actually more Confucianist than Daoist in its concept of the human being and body. Paul Unschuld (author of several acclaimed books in both German and English, including Medicine in China: A History of Ideas) and Giovanni Maciocia (whose 2009 The Psyche in Chinese Medicine followed a series of earlier works)[2] both emphasize that in the textual tradition of Chinese medicine, there is little or no notion of the human body as a self-healing, self-organizing entity. On the contrary, the concept of (in politics ‘to govern,’ in medicine ‘to treat or cure’), in medicine as in politics, implies active control and regulation in order to prevent or suppress disorder which would naturally arise without it. Similarly, the contrasting concepts of zheng and xie can be used to mean either the ‘orthodox’ or ‘righteous’ as opposed to the ‘immoral’ in a political-social sense, or the ‘proper’ or ‘healthy’ state as opposed to the ‘unhealthy’ or ‘pathological’ in a medical sense.[3]
        Unschuld’s intriguing thesis is that starting with the unification of the Chinese Empire under Qinshi Huangdi and the subsequent Confucian-oriented Han dynasty, the political concept of the Empire as a unified state with a central government carried out by ‘officials’ was also applied to the human body in which the heart was the ‘emperor,’ other organs were the ‘officials’ (), and so on. As Maciocia explains it,

the first Qin emperor...initiated a huge program of road building and canal digging. Another important innovation of the Qin dynasty was the fostering of trade among the various regions of China on a huge scale...The Qin dynasty therefore provided the first model of a unified state with an emperor, a central government, local officials, a unified economy and a state-wide irrigation system.[4]

Macicia goes on to explain the parallel with medical theory, saying that in this model ‘...the body’s physiology is the unified economy and the acupuncture channels are the irrigation canals.’[5]

Again, in two key passages by Unschuld:

One may well conclude that all these structural changes that accompanied the unification of China were sufficiently innovative to supply intellectuals of that time with the concept of an integrated complex system, the individual parts of which can function only as long as their relations with the remaining parts are not disturbed...The structure of the human organism and the functions assigned to its individual elements reflect a complex social organism founded on the wide-scale movement of goods.[6]

During the course of the last three centuries BC, unknown authors began to develop a system of healing whose theoretical principles corresponded closely to the socio-political order advocated during the same period by Confucian political ideology. As a consequence, this system of healing was continuously dependent on the interests and fate of Confucianism itself. With the elevation of Confucianism to orthodox political doctrine by the Emperor Wu, the Han period theoretical foundations of this ideology remained fixed for a long span of time.[7]

The same model which described society as a well-governed whole was also used as a symbol of the human body. The parallel between the political and the medical model comes out well in a quote from the authoritative Chinese medical classic Huangdi Neijing 黃帝內經: ‘The sages do not treat those who have already fallen ill, but rather those who are not yet ill. They do not put their state in order only when revolt is under way...’[8]
        This notion of quasi-bureaucratic control and governance as a basic principle of the human organism comes out in much detail, for example, in Ted J. Kaptchuk’s The Web That Has No Weaver,[9] which since its first publication in 1983 has been a very widely read Western source on Chinese medicine. Discussing the internal organs in order, Kaptchuk quotes from traditional Chinese sources, mostly the Su Wen 素問 (the more theoretical section of the Huangdi Neijing), as to their traditional rulerships.[10]
        Traditionally, according to the Su Wen, ‘The Heart rules the Blood and Blood Vessels.’ Adding his own amplification, Kaptchuk says the heart ‘regulates’ the flow of blood.
        Again, according to the Su Wen, ‘The Lungs rule Qi.’ Kaptchuk’s explanation in this case says that the lungs ‘administer’ respiration and ‘regulate’ the ‘Qi of the entire body.’ The Su Wen also says the lungs ‘move and adjust the Water Channels.’ In Kaptchuk’s simpler amplification, the lungs ‘move water’ – shades of Unschuld’s ‘irrigation canals’!
        As for the Spleen, traditional sources say it ‘rules transformation and transportation.’ Again, ‘the Spleen governs the Blood’ – in the sense, according to Kaptchuk, ‘that it keeps the blood flowing in its proper paths.’[11] The Spleen also, in the Su Wen, ‘rules’ the muscles, flesh and limbs.
       The Liver, in Tang Zonghai’s 唐宗海formulation as quoted by Kaptchuk, ‘rules flowing and spreading.’ In the Su Wen, it is compared to ‘the general of an army.’
        In the Su Wen, the Kidneys ‘rule water.’ In the face of what might seem to be a contradiction in light of the Lungs’ ‘adjusting’ the Water Chanels, Kaptchuk explains that the Kidneys ‘are the foundation upon which this entire process of Water movement...is built.’ In addition to this, according to Su Wen, the Kidneys ‘rule the bones.’
        Another well-known Western work, Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold,[12] sets out the ‘governmental’ or ‘bureaucratic’ structure of the organism even more strikingly. In it, we read (on pp. 138-157) that the Liver is ‘like a general working out strategy and tactics...’; the Heart is ‘like an enlightened monarch, omniscient and ever-present, sharing his wisdom unconditionally for the benefit of the Whole’; the Spleen is ‘like a minister of agriculture, watching over production and distribution...’; the Lung is ‘like a minister of state, determining the territorial boundaries’; and the Kidney is ‘like a minister of the interior, conserving the natural resources...’

To be sure, there are aspects of Chinese medical theory that seem to accord very well with the popular image of a Daoist lifestyle. But as Maciocia points out, many Daoist ideas were later incorporated into Chinese medical theory during the Song and Ming dynasties when the dominant philosophy of neo-Confucianism imposed its own interpretations. Maciocia cautions that in reading old Chinese medical texts like the Huangdi Neijing, we must never assume that the word Dao is always being used in an old Daoist meaning. In Confucianism or neo-Confucianism, it can often be equivalent to ren or li , both words having everything to do with the individual’s social adjustment and deportment.[13] I would add that more generally, in neo-Confucianism the word Dao is very often used to mean ‘the teachings,’ ‘the Tradition,’ or ‘the proper behavior’ – contrasting thoroughly with the Dao that according to Zhuangzi 莊子 ‘can be passed on but not taught’ 可傳而不可授, and with Laozi’s 老子 cautions against taking social discourse seriously. In this context, it is revealing that some of the best-known Chinese Bible translations have used Dao for ‘the Word’, rendering ‘In the beginning was the Word’ as tai chu you Dao 太初有道.[14] Perhaps the early translators, like the later scholar and sociologist Marcel Granet 葛蘭言whose La Pensée chinoise [Chinese Thought, 1934] became one of the classics of twentieth-century European sinology, wished to emphasize Dao’s quality as an ordering element which makes things be as they are.[15]
        Even aside from neo-Confucianism, we can raise the question of whether the Dao concept really implies that the surrounding social discourse, be it ever so restrictive, is irrelevant or secondary. Chad Hansen, in his A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought, even says the archetypal Daoist writer Zhuangzi, ‘like the rest of the classical tradition, uses dao as a concept of guidance rather than a reality concept.’[16] In another context, he calls Dao ‘the sum of all discourse inputs.’[17]
        Be this as it may, the neo-Confucian stress on a discourse of social adjustment sometimes supplied contemporary Chinese authors with what must have seemed convincing arguments applying to the medical sphere. A frequently quoted example, cited also by Maciocia, is from the writings of the Song-dynasty neo-Confucianist philosopher Cheng Hao 程顥. It involves a pun on ren (often translated ‘benevolence’ or ‘humanity,’ but which I prefer to translate ‘responsiveness’) and bu ren 不仁 (seemingly ‘not benevolent or humane or responsive,’ but also in a physiological sense ‘numb’):

In medical writing the term ‘lack of humanity’ [bu ren] is used for numbness of the hands and feet...A man of ren regards Heaven, Earth and the myriad things as one substance, and there is nothing that is not himself. Recognizing all things in himself, will there be any boundary for him? If things are not parts of the self, naturally there will be no connection between them and himself, just as in the case of numbness of the four limbs...[18]

As Maciocia explains, ‘...a person of ren is someone who regards others as extensions of himself, like his limbs. Such a person is naturally sensitive to the needs and feelings of others...’[19]

Perhaps the Western ‘debate’ (if that is what it is) between the ‘Confucian’ and ‘Daoist’ views of Chinese medicine is mainly a quibble about terminology – or about what Western writers think ‘Dao’ means. This in turn may be related to what motivated these particular writers to study Chinese medicine in the first place. For a long time now, many Western students of medicine have been dissatisfied with what they perceive as Western medicine’s non-unitary, over-specialized character. Feeling that Western medicine encourages too much isolated attention to specific details rather than to the organism or the person as a whole, they have been attracted to what is often called ‘holistic’ medicine. In circles involved in these studies, the Chinese concept of Dao is often considered a positive alternative: because it is often interpreted to imply release from restriction, constriction, or static social definition of persons and their situations.
        Kaptchuk, for example, at the end of his first chapter stresses

...the very important evolution in the last few decades [in the West] toward interdisciplinary and integrative medicine, and the even more recent development of “holistic” medicine. A modern hospital’s medical team employs a wide variety of approaches that go far beyond the late nineteenth century biochemical models. For example, a pain unit may include rehabilitation, occupational, and physical therapists, a nurse, a psychiatrist, a social worker, art, movement, or music therapists, a relaxation counselor, and a nutritionist...The newer concepts of holistic health are an extension of the current Western concern to go beyond a reductionist model. Indeed, this book itself can be viewed as part of the growing holistic interest.[20]

But Kaptchuk takes a nuanced view of all this. Though he stresses and discusses Daoism in his book, in an interview in the magazine MD he cautioned against the ‘tendency...to overvalue Chinese medicine because it is holistic and spiritual,’ saying this attitude was a ‘barrier to a genuine understanding.’[21] He does not present Chinese thought as believing in an always-liberating, ever-free flow. On the contrary, he astutely states that

The Chinese world-view is circular and self-contained...The Chinese physician begins with a knowledge of the whole, made up of the countless details codified in traditional medical texts. The movement between...the macrocosm of all bodily phenomena to the microcosm of one unique human being, is mediated by the conceptual framework of the patterns of disharmony.[22]

What is noteworthy here is that the ‘knowledge of the whole’ is not a new knowledge which the current person has somehow attained thanks to his or her unique new place in the flux. The knowledge itself is made up of elements which have long since been ‘codified’ in ‘traditional texts.’ To me, that sounds like a very Confucian idea. True, there is said to be a movement between ‘macrocosm’ and ‘microcosm,’ but again: the movement is not unstructured: it is ‘mediated’ by a ‘conceptual framework of patterns’ – in other words, as I would phrase it, of socially recognized possibilities.
Between Heaven and Earth contains much autobiographical material on its authors’ personal history of attraction to Chinese medicine – too much to be easily summarized here. Again the concept of the Dao plays a prominent role. But it seems to me that the authors are eager to see it as a totality concept, in this sense downplaying its character as a specifically ordering agency. More than once, we read that the Dao is ‘undifferentiated’ or ‘unbroken.’[23] It ‘transcends the illusion of separation’[24] – yet the authors add that it does so ‘within a pattern of indissoluble connections in a circular network.’[25]
        Here once again, we encounter the notion of a ‘net-’ or ‘web-’ like closure lying at the heart of the Chinese health concept. I doubt whether all Western readers would agree as to whether this is a ‘benign’ or somehow an ‘ominous’ notion. Perhaps their choice as to whether it is ‘Daoist’ (i.e., in this context, benign) or ‘Confucianist’ (suggesting social pre-patterning, hence also control) depends on their personal concept of whether ultimate ‘circularity’ is a supportive or a limiting thing.
        Kaptchuk traces the term ‘the web that has no weaver,’ as in the title of his book, to Joseph Needham, and quotes Needham as saying ‘the key-word in Chinese thought is Order and above all, Pattern....’[26] Also from Needham is the explication ‘...The conception...[is] of a vast pattern. There is a web of relationships throughout the universe...Nobody wove it, but if you interfere with its texture, you do so at your peril...’[27]

Coming to this point, I am reminded of a remarkable poem, titled ‘Life’ 生活, by the eminent modern Chinese poet Bei Dao 北島.[28] The poem consists of a single word:


which I think could equally well be translated as ‘net’ or ‘web.’
        Is a ‘net’ a benign thing, as in a ‘social network’ or ‘support network’...or does it trap, capture as a ‘fishnet’ does?
        Is a ‘web’ usefully benign, as for many of us nowadays ‘the web’ is...or is it more in the nature of a ‘spider web’?
        But perhaps it would be too non-Daoistic, certainly too non-holistic, to expect a yes-or-no answer to these questions.

--Lloyd Haft




[1] Based on a paper presented on October 25, 2012 at the International Scholarly Conference on Chinese Classics and Culture, Department of Chinese Literature, Central University, Taiwan.
[2] Paul Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. Giovanni Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, Edinburgh etc.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2009.
[3] On this opposition, see Unschuld, Das Heil der Mitte –, Theorie und Praxis, Ursprung und Gegenwart der Medizin in China, München/Linz: Cygnus Verlag, 2005, p. 70. Maciocia, in his Pinyin-English glossary, refers to xieqi 邪氣 as ‘pathogenic factor’; the ABC Chinese-English Dictionary (1996) gives as one of its definitions ‘shocking behavior.’
[4] Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, p. 314.
[5] [ibid.]
[6] From Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, quoted in Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, p. 314.
[7] From Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, quoted in Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, pp. 321-322.
[8] Translation in Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, quoted in Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, p. 322. The Huangdi Neijing is far and away the best-known (and still best-read) classical source on medicine. Scholarly opinions differ as to its dating and origins. Many place it, or parts of it, in the first few centuries before the Christian era.
[9] The Web That Has No Weaver:Understanding Chinese Medicine. Chicago: Congdon and Weed, 1983. The book has also been published in Dutch, Italian, German, Hungarian, French, Spanish, Bulgarian, Portuguese and Spanish.
[10] For the full discussion and source references, see Kaptchuk, pp. 54-65. The quotes from old Chinese sources are in Kaptchuk’s translation.
[11] For the particular verb ‘govern’ in this instance, see Kaptchuk, pp. 71-72, note 27.
[12] Original New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. As I do not have the original to hand, in what follows I quote and translate from the 2005 reprint of the German translation Traditionelle Chinesische Medizin, München: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag.
[13] Maciocia, p. 324. On li in this sense, compare the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on Cheng Yi 程頤 [by Wai-ying Wong, consulted 8 september 2012]: ‘The concept of li is central to Cheng Yi’s ontology. Although not created by the Cheng brothers, it attained a core status in Neo-Confucianism through their advocacy. Thus, Neo-Confucianism is also called the study of li (li xue). The many facets of li are translatable in English as “principle,” “pattern,” “reason,” or “law.” Sometimes it was used by the Chengs as synonymous with dao, which means the path. When so used, it referred to the path one should follow from the moral point of view. Understood as such, li plays an action-guiding role similar to that of moral laws.’ For an excellent study of some of these concepts and their interrelations in neo-Confucianism, see Olaf Graf, Tao und Jen: Sein und Sollen im sungchinesischen Monismus, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1970. See also various works written or translated by Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮傑, including Neo-Confucian Terms Explained and Reflections on Things at Hand.
[14] On this, see also Lloyd Haft, ‘Perspectives on John C. H. Wu’s Translation of the New Testament,’ in Chloe Starr (ed.), Reading Christian Scripture in China, London: Continuum, 2008.
[15] See Granet’s book as a whole, and especially the chapter on ‘The Dao.’ To my knowledge, this very important book has never been published in an English translation.
[16] Chad Hansen, A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation, Oxford University Press 2000 [originally published 1992], p. 268.
[17] Chad Hansen, ‘Language in the Heart-mind,’ in Robert E. Allinson (ed.), Understanding the Chinese Mind: The Philosophical Roots, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 96.
[18] Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, p. 319, quoted from Huang Siu-chi, Essentials of neo-Confucianism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press 1999, p. 93.
[19] Maciocia, p. 319.
[20] Kaptchuk 1983, p. 26.
[21] Quoted in the front matter to his book.
[22] Kaptchuk 1983, pp. 256-257.
[23] In the German edition quoted above, pp. 23, 74.
[24] P. 23.
[25] P. 23.
[26] Original from the second volume of Needham’s monumental Science and Civilization in China; quoted in Kaptchuk, p. 15.
[27] Original from Needham, vol 2; quoted in Kaptchuk, p. 265.
[28] Pseudonym of Zhao Zhenkai 趙振開 (1949- ). The poem, widely accessible on the internet, I believe appeared in Bei Dao’s collection 太陽城札記 (Notes from the City of the Sun – this is also the title of a bilingual edition with translations by Bonnie S. McDougall, Ithaca: Cornell University East Asia Papers: China-Japan Program, No. 34, 1983).