The Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine makes many attempts to disguise itself as a scientific medical text that contains the secrets of well being and longevity. Though surrounded by this framework, the text itself contains very little in regards to medicinal remedies and ventures most heavily into aspects of morality and state ideology. By camouflaging these messages in health-heavy garments, the text helps promote and politicize the doctrines of moral order. The editor, Wang Ping, presents the reader with a preface that attempts to substantiate this text, but in fact, upon closer reading, succeeds in detracting from the legitimacy of the text and blatantly reveals the politicized nature of the work itself.
In relation to the text-body proper, the preface certainly misleads the reader by advertising many claims that medicine could never accomplish. The text is presented as a cure-all for any ailment and many illegitimate promises are made. But, before the reader ever makes it to the text, he will first find many discrepancies within the preface itself. These irregularities become very apparent and force the reader to confront uncertainties about the validity of the Canon even before venturing into its body.
[...] Unfortunately, the careful reader would soon be disappointed in the case of Yellow Emperor's preface, because just two pages further the editor informs us that “there have been men who have made diligent and intensive investigations [of original texts]” and further goes on to say that it required twelve years for he, himself, to fully understand the principles. This is a far cry from the proclaimed implicit nature of the principles that require no thought or study to understand, as headlined earlier in the preface. [...]
[...] On page eighty-four, Ping begins to discuss his contributions to the current version of the text. The reader finds the words “combined,” “transplanted,” and “clarified,” as descriptions of the actions Ping himself undertook in altering the text. He even goes as far as “guessing their meanings,” in an attempt to clarify words that were uncertain. All of these changes are justified “with the purpose of clarifying [the text to fulfill] the loyal hopes and wishes [of the Emperor].” One can clearly identify the hypocrisy in this justification and the pretense that surrounds this political motive. [...]
[...] This dualism is an obvious attempt to put forth a morally governing standard that separates the “unhealthy” modernization of China from the traditional Age of Perfection, of which the Yellow Emperor seeks to “re”-capture. The Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine presents itself as a medical text that contains the information necessary for a long, healthy life. The philosophies, sciences, and politics it holds promote a minimalist ideology that seeks to influence all who read it. Though it would never be thought of, in the modern sense, as a medical [...]
[...] In the section of book one that deals with the “Force of Life with Heaven,” the first sentence effectively summarizes the secret to the fountain of youth: “From the earliest times the communication with Heaven has been the very foundation of life.” (105) The text then begins its barrage of pseudo-science via terms like “orifices,” and “paralysis.” Peeling back the layers, the reader finds that the core teaching here has nothing to do with actual medicine or biology, it simply boils down to a prescribed dogma of discipline. [...]
[...] For example, “those who disobey the laws of Summer will be punished with an injury of the heart,” (102) and “those who act contrary to the laws of the four seasons and live in excess have insufficient secretions and dissipate in their duties.” (161) In essence, breaking laws brings punishment. Contrary to the medical language of diseases and treatments, the Canon employs an extensive legal idiom of laws, duties, and punishment. This type of legalist language—one that uses an ideology referring to harsh punishments—is inappropriate for a medical text and is solely about preserving the state order. A key ingredient in defining the philosophy behind this state order comes in the distinction between the ancient and contemporary times. [...]
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