How do Buddhists handle coronavirus? The answer is not just meditation

Buddhist monks in Thailand pray at Phleng temple amid the COVID-19 crisis, May 11, 2020. Chaiwat Subprasom/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pierce Salguero, Pennsylvania State University

Millions of Buddhists seeking protection and healing from the novel coronavirus are turning to traditional religious rituals.

Since the emergence of COVID-19, the Dalai Lama, other senior monks and Buddhist organizations in Asia and worldwide have emphasized that this pandemic calls for meditation, compassion, generosity and gratitude. Such messages reinforce a common view in the West of Buddhism as more philosophy than religion – a spiritual, perhaps, but secular practice associated with mindfulness, happiness and stress reduction.

But for many people around the world Buddhism is a religion – a belief system that includes strong faith in supernatural powers. As such, Buddhism has a large repertoire of healing rituals that go well beyond meditation.

Having studied the interplay between Buddhism and medicine as a historian and ethnographer for the past 25 years, I have been documenting the role these ritual practices play in the coronavirus pandemic.

Talismans, prayer and ritual

Buddhism originated in India about two and a half millennia ago. Today, with well over a half-billion adherents across the world, it is a highly diverse tradition that has adapted to many cultural and social contexts.

There are three main schools of traditional Buddhism: Theravāda, practiced in most of Southeast Asia; Mahāyāna, the form most prevalent in East Asia; and Vajrayāna, commonly associated with Tibet and the Himalayan region.

In Buddhist-majority places, the official COVID-19 pandemic response includes conventional emergency health and sanitation measures like recommending face masks, hand-washing and stay-at-home orders. But within religious communities, Buddhist leaders also are using a range of ritual apotropaics – magical protection rites – to protect against disease.

A Nepalese Buddhist monk offering ritual prayer, May 7, 2020. Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In Thailand, for example, Theravāda temples are handing out “yant,” talismans bearing images of spirits, sacred syllables and Buddhist symbols. These blessed orange papers are a common ritual object among Buddhists in Southeast Asia who see crises such as epidemic illnesses as a sign that demonic forces are on the rise.

Theravāda amulets and charms trace their magical powers to repel evil spirits not only to the Buddha but also to beneficial nature spirits, demigods, charismatic monks and wizards.

Now, these blessed objects are being specifically formulated with the intention of protecting people from contracting the coronavirus.

Mahāyāna Buddhists use similar sacred objects, but they also pray to a whole pantheon of buddhas and bodhisattvas – another class of enlightened beings – for protection. In Japan, for example, Buddhist organizations have been conducting expulsion rites that call on Buddhist deities to help rid the land of the coronavirus.

Mahāyāna practitioners have faith that the blessings bestowed by these deities can be transmitted through statues or images. In a modern twist on this ancient belief, a priest affiliated with the Tōdaiji temple in Nara, Japan, in April tweeted a photo of the great Vairocana Buddha. He said the image would protect all who lay eyes upon it.

The Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. Pixabay

The third major form of Buddhism, Vajrayāna, which developed in the medieval period and is widely influential in Tibet, incorporates many rituals of earlier traditions. For example, the Dalai Lama has urged practitioners in Tibet and China to chant mantras to the bodhisattva Tārā, a female goddess associated with compassion and well-being, to gain her protection.

Vajrayāna practitioners also advocate a unique form of visualization where the practitioner generates a vivid mental image of a deity and then interacts with them on the level of subtle energy. Responses to COVID-19 suggested by leading figures in traditional Tibetan medicine frequently involve this kind of visualization practice.

Buddhist modernism

Since the height of the colonial period in the 19th century, “Buddhist modernists” have carefully constructed an international image of Buddhism as a philosophy or a psychology. In emphasizing its compatibility with empiricism and scientific objectivity they have ensured Buddhism’s place in the modern world and paved the way for its popularity outside of Asia.

Many of these secular-minded Buddhists have dismissed rituals and other aspects of traditional Buddhism as “hocus pocus” lurking on the fringes of the tradition.

A former Buddhist monk practices visualization meditation during the coronavirus crisis, April 24, 2020. Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images

Having documented the richness of the history and contemporary practice of Buddhist healing and protective rituals, however, I argue that these practices cannot be written off quite so easily.

In most living traditions of Buddhism, protective and healing rituals are taken seriously. They have sophisticated doctrinal justifications that often focus on the healing power of belief.

Increasingly, researchers are agreeing that faith in itself plays a role in promoting health. The anthropologist Daniel Moerman, for example, has identified what he calls the “meaning response.” This model accounts for how cultural and social beliefs and practices lead to “real improvements in human well-being.” Likewise, Harvard Medical School researcher Ted Kaptchuk has studied the neurobiological mechanisms for how rituals work to alleviate illnesses.

To date, there is no known way to prevent COVID-19 other than staying home to avoid contagion, and no miracle cure. But for millions worldwide, Buddhist talismans, prayers and protective rituals offer a meaningful way to confront the anxieties of the global coronavirus pandemic, providing comfort and relief.

And in a difficult time when both are in short supply, that’s nothing to discredit.

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Pierce Salguero, Associate Professor of Asian History & Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Transmodernity, The Transnational Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calendrical Clock and the Cosmic Breath Qi

Dr. Rey Tiquia is an alumnus of the University of Melbourne. He is a philosopher of science as well as a qualified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). He took his Bachelor of TCM from the Beijing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine;  BA from Manuel Luis Quezon University, Manila, Philippines, and his MSc and Ph.D. degrees in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne, Australia. His dissertation was entitled, Traditional Chinese Medicine as an Australian tradition of health care (2005) wherein he proposed the construction of a symmetrical translating knowledge space between traditional Chinese medicine and Western scientific medicine in Australia. He has lectured on the history and philosophy of TCM at both University of Melbourne and Victoria University of Technology. In 2000, the Wellcome Trust invited him to facilitate a workshop for the Closed-Door Research Conference on Complementary and Alternative Medicine in London, UK. Since 1997, he has been an Honorary Professor at Shanxi College of TCM, Taiyuan City, China.    

Modernity’s Mechanical Metaphysics

Modernity, which had its originary moment as a European phenomenon in 1492[1]  is a historical epoch characterised by the emergence of capitalism, industrialism, ratio-legal bureaucracies, and state control of military power and surveillance. Icultural dimensions include discourses of rationality, scientism (‘an uncritical faith in science’)[2] and progress through economic development, objectivity, and in the field of medicine the culture of the randomised controlled trial (RCT). In his book Cosmopolis the Hidden Agenda of Modernity (1990), Stephen Toulmin aptly describes the cosmology of ‘High Modernity’ as one ‘which saw nature and humanity as distinct and separate’.[3] This cosmology in turn gave rise to the Cartesian credo of ‘I think, therefore I am’[4] which opened the way to the mechanical metaphysics of dichotomising the mind from the body, theory from practice,[5]‘heaven’ from ‘man’.[6]‘God the father’ from ‘Mother Earth’,[7] ‘space’ from ‘time’ and a ‘gulf’ or a ‘divide’ between ‘people’s expectations and their daily experiences of real life’. [8]

One of the consequences of the 1911 revolution (xinhai geming) in China was the political demise of the traditional Chinese calendar (li fa).[9] On 1 January 1912, Sun Yat-sen announced the establishment of the Republic of China in Nanking, and was inaugurated as the provisional president of China’s first republic. In the ‘Inaugural Announcement of the Provisional President’, the unity of the ‘Chinese races as one’ was greatly emphasised. Subsequently, on 2 January 1912, Sun Yat-sen informed all provinces that participated in the uprising against the Qing imperial rule that ‘the Yin calendar yin li陰曆 (lunar calendar) or Xia Calendar xia li 夏曆,[10] has been abolished and replaced by the yang calendar’[11] (yang li).[12] The ‘fourth year of the Xuantong emperor (1911), calculated using the lunar calendar, will be followed by the first year of the Republic (1912), calculated using the solar calendar’.[13] The Era of the Republic of China was promulgated, and 1912 was officially declared the first year of this historical period, with 1 January 1912 officially the first day of the Republic and years to be counted successively from 1912.[14] After 1949, the People’s Republic of China in Mainland China adopted the Western Gregorian Calendar.[15] Hence, since 1912, as China adopted the Gregorian Calendar and Greenwich Mean Time, the modern Western time system replaced the pre-modern Chinese time system. The traditional Chinese calendar was hegemonically translated i.e. one-sidedly rendered into the image of the ‘universe’ of the Western Gregorian Calendar and Greenwich time. The ‘primordial unity of the system of space with the system of time’ (yu zhou) was replaced by the Newtonian doctrine of absolute space and time. According to Shu-hsien Liu, this doctrine never developed in pre-modern China.[16] Instead, Shu-hsien Liu (quoting the late Chinese contemporary philosopher Thomé H. Fang) saw 

The ‘Universe’ or ‘Cosmos’, as expressed in Chinese, is ‘Yü-Chou’, designating Space and    Time. What we call ‘Yü’ is the collocation of three-dimensional spaces; what we call   ‘Chou’ is constituted by the one dimensional series of changes in succession—the past continuing itself into the present and the present, into the future. Yü and Chou, taken together, represent the primordial unity of the system of Space with the system of Time. Yüchou without a hyphen, is an integral system by itself to be differentiated, only later on, into Space and Time. The four-dimensional unity of Minkowsky and the ‘Space-Time’[17] of S. Alexander even cannot adequately convey the meaning of that inseparable connection between Space and Time that is involved in the Chinese term ‘Yüchou’. The nearest equivalent to it would be Einstein’s ‘Unified Field’. ‘Yü-Chou’, as the Chinese philosophers have conceived it, is the unified field of all existence. 18 

In the pre-modern Chinese time system (which is the traditional Chinese calendar), Shu Hsien Liu contended that ‘space and time are not to be separated from the actual content or happenings of the world, material and spiritual’. ‘The ‘universe’ or Yuchou [18] is seen by the Chinese philosophers to embrace within itself a physical world as well as a spiritual world, so interpenetrated with each other as to form an inseparable whole. It is not be bifurcated, as is done in Western thought into two realms which are mutually exclusive or even diametrically opposed.’ I believe these ‘two realms’ refer to the ‘realm of the abstracted theoretical world’ (theory) and the ‘realm of the real world’ (practice). 

In essence, the political demise of the traditional Chinese calendar in 1911 fractured the ‘unified field of all existence’ i.e. the ontology and epistemology of various pre- modern traditional Chinese natural studies and their corresponding practices including traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) chuan tong zhong yi, chrono-acupuncture zi wu liu zhu, astronomy tian wen xue, calendrical studies li fa, geomancy feng shui, organic farming, traditional Chinese sexual practices fang zhong shu, ancient Chinese divination zhan bu 占卜and traditional Chinese prognosticational yu ce 預測 systems of foretelling major climactic events (floods, droughts) epidemics, natural disasters like earthquakes etc.[19]

Modernity: New Technologies, New Media and ‘New Modes of Existence that Replace Former Ways of Inhabiting Space and Experiencing Time’

To operate within modernity according to Sharon L. Snyder also meant to participate in the belief that one finds bold contrast between modern conceptions of the cosmos and the worldview of premoderns or “ancients.”[20] In the field of philosophy, premodern beliefs yielded to modern dismay about how social systems determine a great deal of life experience for any one individual. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche  proposed that modernity is typified by crises in systems of morality, so that once belief is lost, there can be no restoration. He also noted that many of these crises in self-perception occur because of advancements in knowledge and an uncritical embrace of new technologies. ‘Modern’ technologies[21] themselves participate in the decentring[22] of human confidence in perception[23] and planning. Modernity as a historical coordinate, a marker in a chronology of named epochs, depends on the distinction between new modes of existence as well as new perceptions of a self that attends to transport, architecture, mass events, and media[24] that replace former ways of inhabiting space and experiencing time. Thus, some scholars will even go so far as to locate modernity with the advent of the printing press and the mass circulation of print information that brought about expanded literacy[25] in a middle class during the 15th century. The printing press are machines by which text and images are transferred to paper or other media by means of ink. Although movable type, as well as paper, first appeared in China, it was in Europe that printing first became mechanized. The earliest mention of a printing press is in a lawsuit in Strasbourg in 1439 revealing construction of a press for Johannes Gutenberg and his associates. The invention of the printing press itself obviously owed much to the medieval paper press, in turn modelled after the ancient wine-and-olive press of the Mediterranean area. A long handle was used to turn a heavy wooden screw, exerting downward pressure against the paper, which was laid over the type mounted on a wooden platen. In its essentials, the wooden press reigned supreme for more than 300 years, with a hardly varying rate of 250 sheets per hour printed on one side.[26]

The Hegemonic Scientific Translation of  the Chinese word Qi 氣:  The  Calendar Case , The Hou Qi  ‘Watching the Ether’ Controversy and the Inroad  of ‘Western Learning’ and  Modernity into China

As modernity xiandaixing or xiandaihua or ‘Western Learning’ or ‘Western culture’[27]  or ‘Western science and technology’[28] sat foot in late Ming (1368-1644)  and early Qing  (1644-1911) China  xixue dong jian西學東漸 i.e. as ‘Western learning spread to the East” , the polysemic Chinese word qi  ‘lost’  its premodern metaphysical meaning  which saw the  natureworld and the humanworld as  organically linked by one  cosmic breath  qi   tianren tongqi[29] By the late Ming and early Qing, Western scholars like Johann Adam Schall von Bell while adopting mechanistic metaphysical values which dichotomizes the natureworld from the humanworld,  mind from  body; space from time, as well as theory from practice, encountered problems in  ‘seeing’ and ‘watching the ether’ qi氣 i.e. ‘watching for the rise of the invisible qi 陽氣and visible matter’陰氣.[30]

Johann Adam von Bell (1592-1666), whose Chinese name was Tang Ruo-wang湯若望 assumed directorship of China’s Astronomical Bureau during the Ming-Ch’ing transition. Beginning in the second year of  the Shun zhi 順治reign (1645), Schall reinstated the yearly excursion to  Shun-tien prefecture to watch the ethers (qi) during the five days preceding the onset of the Li Chun 立春 forthnightly period (jie qi 節氣). Perhaps as a proleptic gesture to silence possible mutterings, which could have led to undesirable confrontations, the Jesuit sent an official from the Calendrical Office (li ke 歷科); one from the Clepsydra Office  lou ke ke漏刻科) and such local officials as timekeepers (si chen 司晨) to perform the traditional operations. However, perhaps because the operations of hou chi 侯氣 [31] were unverifiable, these officials did not normally bother to make actual measurements and instead thje timekeeper si chen  simply submitted a false report stating that the c’hi  (qi 氣) had manifested itself. The day before the arrival of  li Chun 立春forthnightly period (‘Spring Begins,’ author) the pitch pipes were put away and a report made to the effect that some or all of the ashes had flown…The astronomical Bureau charged with making the yearly calendar, had the formal responsibility of ensuring the precise timing of Li Chun…When Adam Schall assumed the directorship of the bureau, he deliberately forced out those astronomers who had been trained in traditional Chinese and Muslim astronomy. However, he had underestimated the tangled intertwining of astronomy and yinyang numerology shuli tianwenxue fangfa  数理天文学方法. The old method numerologists had used in telling fortunes were undermined when Schall ‘changed the (spacetime) sequence of  Zi (the twentieth of the 28 constellations) and shen 參(the twenty first of the 28 constellation) ; ‘transposed luo hou 羅睺 (Rahu) and ji du 計都 (Ke tu) and obliterated zi qi 紫氣 ( the auspicious purple cloud) in his new calendar 新法. [32]The reaction to this was intense, recriminatory outcry from conservatives. Yang Guang-Xian 陽光先(1597-1669) , in order to uphold tradition, brought a suit against the Jesuits in 1664— this was the so called ‘Calendar Case.’ In the midst of this conflict, the attitudes of the Catholic astronomers toward hou-chi 侯氣 (‘watching the ether’) came to be the focus of the attacks of the Chinese conservatives.”[33]

A close up of a piece of paper

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The 12 Pitch-pipes as Instruments that Validated the Existential and  Metaphysical Values of the Invisible Cosmic Breath  Qi    

‘During the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220), when the pitch-pipe lore was greatly elaborated, the dimensions of  the primary huang chung tube was also made the basis for deriving the standard measures of length, capacity and weight. In view of this central importance of  the pitch-pipes for music, the calendar, and the system of weight and measures alike, it is not surprising that they should come to be regarded as instruments whereby to observe the cosmic movements’[34] yu zhou yunxing i.e.spacetime motion of the yin (visible matter) and yang ethers (invisible qi)” 

Performing Watching the Ether’ hou qi  


[Bodde, “Chinese Cosmic Magic  1981,353]


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The Twelve Pitch-pipes十二侓

  1. Yellow Bell        黃鍾  
  2. Big Bell 大呂
  3. Great Foliage 太簇
  4. Pinched Bell  夾鍾
  5. Maiden Purity 姑洗
  6. Median Regulator 中呂
  7. Fringe Guest  蕤賓
  8. Forest Bell  林鍾 
  9. Tranquil Pattern  夷則
  10. Southern Regulator 南呂
  11. No Discharge  無射
  12. Responsive Bell 應鍾

Provenance: Joseph Needham &Wang Ling. Science and Civilization in China Vol. 4 ‘Physics and Physical Technology. Cambridge University Press,1962,174.

“At all times, in recording data or information for a new  traditional Chinese Calendar, numbers are used to calculate it 推之; the celestial phenomena to fathom it 測之; the waterclock (clepsydra) lou 漏to verify it kaozhi考之; and the presence (existence) of the ‘ether’  陽氣 (invisible qi)) to validate it yanzhi驗之… Hence the  clepsydra must be checked and tested  so that it runs 100 ke 刻 a day. Then the  pitch-pipes are placed inside the triple-walled chamber to observe the phenomena of the arrival of  the ‘ethers’ 陽 氣 (invisble  qi) i.e. ascertain the exact time when the reed ashes (‘visible matter’) 陰氣came out of the corresponding  pitch-pipe tube. In this way one can  determine and calculate whether this is  the exact time or day when the sun has entered the 1st or 15th degree of  one of the 12 zodiacal signs (each forthnightly  period or solar term  jie qi 節氣) being given an appropriate name indicating the obvious changes in nature at the time it comes around) or not 以知推算之時刻分秒與天地之節氣合與不合. [35]

Nowadays, (Schall) relies only upon his own calculations and has abolished those offices that used this old system… [When ]the pitch-pipes used by the Lou-k’ o Office are abolished and no consideration is given to their flying ashes, even if people go so far as to violate the hou-ch’i   in its very chamber and celestial aberrations appear, who will dare to speak up? Thus will Schall deceive the whole world  in order to present his new method.”  -Yang Guang Xian 陽光先.[36]

Reconstructing A New Metaphysical Spacetime Cosmic Order

Having restored the metaphysical value of the cosmic breath qi to the real world , let us now proceed to a reconstruction of a new metaphysical spacetime cosmic order in the emerging era of transmodernity.[37]

According to Ian Coulter, metaphysics are ‘broad generalisations about the nature of the world and are usually ontological (about the ultimate nature of reality). Unlike thories that try to make sense of observations, metaphysics are a priori   in that they provide schemes in terms of which reality can be approached before we even begin to think about theory. Examples of metaphysics in science include mechanism, dualism, realism, idealism, materialism and reductionism. These are all fundamental presuppositions whose truth or falsehood cannot be established empirically through observation. They are also fundamental in the sense that the purpose of research done under their guidance is not to question or test these assumptions. To this extent, they are taken-for-granted guidelines for investigations. If they are challenged, it will be through appeal to an alternative metaphysics. So for example, Descartes challenges the extreme notion of mechanism, and rescues mechanism by establishing a dualism to deal with the order of the mind. Current chaos theory challenges the metaphysic of determinacy.’ Yan Fu 嚴複 (1854– 1921) was one of the first generation of Chinese translators of European texts who used the Chinese term xing er shang 形而上 to translate Aristotle’s metaphysics. [38] Thomas Michael believes that the domain of metaphysics begins with the question of ontology: ‘what is there in the universe?’ (minds? Bodies? Stuff? Ghosts?Spirits?Angels?). It then asks the question of cosmogony: ‘whatever there is in the universe, how did it originate?’ (Genesis? Brahma? Shunyata?). It finally asks the question of cosmology: ‘Whatever there is in the universe, how do the pieces of it relate to each other?’ (Mind body problem, how many angels dance on the head of the pin, reductionism). Theology adds a further consideration with its soteriology: ‘Whatever there is in the universe, where does it lead?’ (Salvation or damnation? Utopia? Democracy, theocracy, or socialism?. [39]

Ian Coulter pointed out that Joseph Agassi in 1964 proposed that metaphysics play a dominant role in working out which scientific or technoscientific problems at any given time will be engaged with by scientists, a role given to paradigms in Thomas Kuhns [1962) theory. [40]

 The Discourse of Modernity: A Standard Representationalist View in Science 

And according to associate researcher fellow at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, Sean Hsiang Lin Lei, central to this ‘discourse of modernity’ is what philosopher of science Ian Hacking referred to as the “representationist conception of reality”[41] or the standard representationalist view in science which upholds the universalizing role of theory in knowledge production. It puts theorizing forward as the main activity of value in knowledge production. That is to say, all knowledge is a mere abstraction of the objective world. Joseph Rouse in emphasizing science as a field of practice said that “action has its own kind of understanding which cannot be reduced to theoretical representations.” [42]

I would like to suggest a way of ‘healing’ this fractured metaphysics that separates the realm of ‘the abstracted theoretical world’ (theory) from ‘the realm of the real world’ (practice ). In its place I propose the performative metaphysical paradigm of theory-as-practice which holds a ‘macrocosmic (yin)-macrocosmic (yang) view of the living human  being as the universe contained in the individual [Yinyang PMPTAP. [43]The interaction between the yin visible material cosmos and the invisible yang cosmic breath qi brings about life in our universe. And ‘the Five Elements wu xing,  are  encompassed by  the  two Yin and Yang Qi (invisible yang cosmic breath qi  and the yin visible material cosmos and the five ascending, floating, descending,  sinking  and centering space-time-matter-in-motion.

The Western notion of the four elements of fire, air, water and earth is comparable to the five elements wu xing of TCM: mu  (wood), huo  (fire), tu  (earth), jin  (metal) and shui  (water)—in the sense that in both philosophical systems, the elements constitute the ultimate roots of all natural things. In the atmosphere (of the universe), there are four basic chemical elements i.e. oxygen yang, hydrogen qing , nitrogen dan  and carbon tan .There are numerous chemical elements in the athmosphere. Aside from these four elements which accounts for the most numerous, other elements do not affect the integrity of human life. Oxygen moves upwards; hydrogen floats upwards; nitrogen moves downwards while carbon sinks downwards. These four elements combine making it impossible to differentiate one from the other thereby neutralizing or counterbalancing each other zhong he in the course of their cyclical motion. The quickest upward motion ‘floats’ fu. The most rapid downward motion ‘sinks’ chen [44]

‘It is also important to realise that the basic elements necessary for life as we know it – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen exists throughout the heavens, and that amino acids have been found in meteorites. Given the proper environmental conditions, these molecules may join to form proteins and RNA of living cells, which can then replicate themselves. Such action would signify life.’[45] As Paul Pitchford pointed out in 2002, “in ancient Chinese therapeutics, jing  contains growth and development, including genetic codes  and networks ( RNA/DNA) . In many practices of ancient China, people would actively strengthen their jing  with appropriate foods, herbs and awareness practices.”[46] And this jing精is refined qi undergoing transformation ab initio.

Metaphysics As A ‘Unified Field of All Existence’

Chen Dingsan (1875–1960), a classicist Chinese medicine practitioner from China’s Sichuan province and author of the book Exploring the Origins of 

Medicine,[47] drew a circular and quadratic diagram[48] that explored the metaphysics or ‘unified field of all existence’ of the various traditional Chinese natural studies and practices. The circular diagram represents temporality or ‘time’ (yang) while the square or quadratic diagram represents ‘space’ (yin) 圆图为时间方图为空间. The two Chinese scripts 地方 di fang may lend themselves to be translated into English as ‘the square Earth’ while the two Chinese scripts 天圓 tian yuan may be translated into ‘circular sky’. And the ‘square earth’ is the yu 宇or ‘space’ or yin ; while the ‘circular sky’ is the zhou 宙 or ‘time or temporality’ or tian or yang . My view on this matter was confirmed by Zu Xing in his book Pictorial Explanation of the Book of Change which was published in 2007. Zu Xing in explaining the picture of the 64 hexagrams arrayed in a circular manner with another set of 64 hexagrams arrayed in eight columns horizontally and vertically thereby forming a square figure inside the circle of the other 64 hexagrams concluded that ‘the circular diagrams represents temporality or time while the square diagram formed represents space’ [49]圓為時間,方為空間.[50]

In performing the metaphysical paradigm of theory-as-practice which holds a ‘macroscopic (yin) -microscopic (yang) view of the living human being as the universe contained in the individual,’ in localities of the northern hemisphere, spatial positions or cardinal directions like the northern cardinal direction, simultaneously indicate the temporality of the winter season; the sub-seasonal phase or jie qi of the winter solstice 冬至, the month of December; or the zi two-hour period (23:00–01:00 ). And in the Southern Hemisphere localities, the reverse of this is true.[51] And zi 子 as one of the twelve terrestrial branches, together with ‘eight of the ten heavenly stems (tian gan ) and four of the ba gua 八卦 from the Yijing (the si wei 四維, four directions namely gen 艮, xun 巽, kun 坤, and qian 乾 for the inter- cardinal points’ form the ‘twenty-four compass-points ershisi fang ershisiwei ershisi xiang, or in geomantic parlance ershisi shan and set at 15° intervals. And the geomantic compass (luopan [52]) evolved from the Han diviner’s board (shi 式 ) from which the mariner’s compass (zhinanzhen ) evolved[53] And the diviner’s board is also referred to as the ‘cosmic clock’ or ‘cosmograph’.[54] This ‘diagram’ has  now evolved into the Transnational Elemental  Stems and Zodiacal Branches (Northern and Southern Hemispheres). 

The Transnational Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calendrical Clock (Northern/Southern Hemispheres)

The Transnational[55] Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calendrical Clock TESZBCC (Southern and Northern Hemispheres) is a new global space time system whereby the 60 (sexagenary) ten elemental stems shi tian gan and twelve zodiacal branches shi er di zhi cyclical symbols representing the flow of the lunar years, months, days and 12 two-hour time periods of the traditional Chinese calendar are arrayed in tandem with the years, months and days of the Western Gregorian calendar and the 24-hour system of the Coordinated Universal Time. The TESZBCC is a heterogeneous assemblage of nature, people, places and practices which are site and time specific and thus inhabits a spacetime. This shared spacetime metaphysics or ontic-epistemic imaginary entities/beings  or  ‘unified field of all existence’ is sustained by the social labour of creating equivalences and connections, i.e. spacetime equivalences and connections in and between various time zones in all hemispheres of the globe. When varying knowledge traditions are performed in this spacetime way, an emergent local (time), national and transnational real world comes into existence.[56]

In the paradigm of theory-as-practice, space time qi or cosmic breath [Tiquia, ‘Paradigm’, 2015, 215] is ̳forever flowing without beginning or end‘. And ̳traditionally, it is customary for the Chinese people to use the Gan-Zhi (ten elemental celestial stems and twelve zodiacal terrestrial branches) system [[57]to mark the passage of spacetime [Shu-hsien Liu, ̳’Time and Temporality” 2]. There are ten celestial elemental stems shi tian gan and twelve terrestrial zodiacal branches shi er di zhi. An alternating and sequential combination of the two sets of Chinese scripts make a cycle of sixty (sexagenary) lunar years, months, days and two-hour time periods in a day.[58]

According to Thomas Michael, time and space in early China tend more towards cyclicity than unilinearity’ [Michael, Pristine Dao, 6]. In his master‘s degree thesis (2004), Li Shao Yao from Taiwan Xuan Zang Institute of Humanities and Culture argued that the ten celestial elemental stems gan and the twelve terrestrial zodiacal E branches zhi constitute a system of spacetime codes[59] or symbols. He said: 

The celestial elemental  stems  symbols are: Jia yi , Bing , Ding , Wu ,  Ji ,  Geng , Xin , Ren and Gui . While the twelve terrestrial zodiacal  branches symbols zhi are Zi, Chou , Yin , Mao , Chen , Si , Wu  , Wei , Shen , You , Xu , and Hai . The [elemental stems and zodiacal branches are symbols or codes that the ancient people in China used to record the passing of time as well as one‘s spatial position (cardinal direction) in the universe ji shi he ji fangwei de fuhao. [60]

In the Transnational Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calendrical Clock (Northern and Southern Hemispheres), yin embraces yang, one element embraces the other four elements/agents/phases and one trigram and hexagram embraces the other seven trigrams and sixty three hexagrams of the Book of Changes; north embraces south, east embraces west, the heart-mind embraces the body while the physical embraces the spiritual;[61] the 24-hour astronomical time system embraces the twenty four  solar terms; the Gregorian Calendar months embraces the sexagenary lunar months of the traditional Chinese calendar and the human endogenous organ systems and their corresponding merdian/acutracs  embrace the triad of the Earth, Heaven and Humanity. In this way, the performance and mapping of the cosmic breath (qi) in a four-dimensional process encompasses the three spatial dimensions of length, breadth, depth and the fourth dimension of time[62] can be realised, i.e. the realisation of space embracing time. 

The basic unit for measuring time is the second. The second multiplied evenly by 60 gives us minutes, or by 3600 gives us an hour. The length of days, and even years, is measured by the basic unit of time, the second.[63] 3600 multiplied by 2 gives us 7200 seconds in a ‘ two-hour time periods.’ 7200 multiplied by 12  gives us 86,400 seconds in a day. Eighty six thousand 86,000 multiplied by 30 gives us 2,592,000 seconds  in one month. And finally 2,592,000 multiplied by 12 gives us 31,104,000 seconds  in one year. 

The Southern Hemisphere Calendrical Clock has two hands: a shorter hour hand as well as a longer second hand that both turn in a counter-clockwise direction. This is the directional flow of the motion and transformation ab initio of spacetime qi 時空之氣in the Southern Hemisphere [Tiquia, ‘Paradigm,’ 212]. To complete an hourly cycle, the longer second hand of the SHCC has to move round the clock in a counter-clockwise direction in 3600 seconds <> Accessed December 24, 2019. The Northern Hemisphere Calendrical Clock NHCC also has an hour and a second hand as well that move in a clockwise direction. This is the directional flow of the motion and transformation ab initio of spacetime qi in the Northern Hemisphere. This sequence is used to explain the principle of spacetime qi motion and transformation in the Northern Hemisphere universe yuzhou and was the basis for the development of the Chinese calendar in the Northern Hemispherical region of China.[64] To complete an hourly cycle, the longer second hand of the NHCC has to move round the clock in a clockwise direction in 3600 seconds <> Accessed December 24, 2019

As an ̳assemblage, the Transnational Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calendrical Clock (Northern and Southern Hemispheres)  are at the same time a translation media, i.e. a transcription media upon which an equivalent version of an entity is rendered or performed. It is made up of letters, characters, phonemes, ideograms, tongue, mouth, throat, teeth, pin yin, books, discrete signals, computers, the internet and so on. In this assemblage, the performative nature of qi, i.e., the binary yin ̳0‘ (space) and yang ̳‘ (time)[65], i.e., spacetime sequences of the sexagenary year, lunar months, days and two-hour time periods of the Transnational Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calendrical Clock is translated or transcribed into an equivalent digital version[66] of the UTC (Coordinated Universal Time i.e. temps universel coordonne).[67]

The system of ‘Coordinated Universal Time’ (UTC) has now replaced Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). With UTC, time (in various spatial zones on earth) is coordinated or synchronized well within 100 nanoseconds or 100 billionths of a second. Time is synchronized or coordinated through a network of 24 satellites that emit signals as they “orbit the earth at the height of 20,200 km in six fixed planes inclined 55 ̊ from the equator. The orbital period is 11 h 58 min, which means that a satellite will orbit the earth twice per day”. A GPS (global Positioning System) transceiver (mobile phone, computer) receive these signals from the satellites which then specify its position with an uncertainty of <10 meters.

Using the enabling capacity of the internet, I am developing the Transnational Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calencdrical Clock (MNorthern/southern Hemisphere) into an i-phone appliance that can translate the traditional Chinese sexagenary time system of the Lunar Years Nian/Sui, Lunar Month Yue, Days ri and ‘Two-hour time periods’ shi chen into the different times zones of the world. This project can facilitate the reconstruction of the ‘unified field of all existence’ of the various pre-modern traditional Chinese art and practices in a transmodern[68] world like the traditional Chinese chronomedicine, chronoacupuncture,  feng shui, traditional Chinese organic farming, and the traditional Chinese prognosticational system of foretelling major climactic events (floods, draught), epidemics, natural disasters like earthquakes etc. in various localities of both hemispheres of the globe [Tiquia, “1911 Revolution,” 2012]

For the years 2016 and 2017, 2018 and 2019 I have manually translated and transcribed data on the years, lunar months, days , and the twelve two-hour time periods of the traditional Chinese sexagenary time system on to my personal computer Google Calendar with its settings fixed on GMT+ 11:00 AEST Melbourne, State of Victoria, Australia. Now, I am proposing to extend this to all time zones in all hemispheres of the globe thereby developing an i-phone appliance that can generate an equivalent UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) version of the traditional Chinese sexagenary time system of the years, lunar months , days and ̳two-hour time periods  in various times zones of the world.

 The Invisible Yang Cosmic Breath as an Ontological, Cosmological, Cosmogonical, Soteriological, Astronomical and Meteorological Force in the Universe

The metaphysical i.e. ontic-epistemic imaginary being cosmic breath qi  as an ontological, cosmological, cosmogonical, soteriological, astronomical and meteorological force in the universe drives the flow of the oceanic wave of “current and surf ( the swell of the sea bouncing on the shore of the reefs or the effervescence produced by this). The skill of the surfer lies in knowing at what time and in what direction to catch a wave.[69] The prowess of a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner or feng shui or yinyang master rest in knowing when i.e. choosing the most auspicious Yang day ze ri  and time ze shi  and in what spatial orientation to perform a given act or construct a building[70] i.e. to collect, concentrate and accumulate the universal energy of life or yang cosmic breath, and in the process hamonise and match space yin and time yang [Tiquia, “Paradigm,” 2015,220]. And in this regard, to successfully surf the oceanic wave of the invisible yang cosmic breath in various timezone localities in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, one needs the services of a new global time system — The Transnational  Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calendrical Clock. And in Melbourne, Australia, this new global time system is currently being used in locating effective acupuncture points (chronoacupuncture) in dealing with difficult clinical conditions[71] as well as in adapting to dire climate changes we are experiencing globally by aligning our spacetime Qi  with the flow of season and time.


Adopting a new metaphysical world view i.e. a performative metaphysical paradigm of theory-as-practice which holds a ‘macroscopic (yin) -microscopic (yang)

perspective of the living human being as the universe contained in the individual [Yinyang PMPTAP], a critique is made of modernity’s. mechanical metaphysics. In the process, a new metaphysical spacetime cosmic order emerges thereby narrowing the gulf between nature and humanity; body and mind; theory and practice; God the Father and Mother Earth . The metaphysical values of the Cosmic Breath Qi and the Transnational Elemental Stems and Zodiacal Branches Calendrical Clock (Northern and Southern Hemisphere) are reconstituted. Consequentially, these will  interrupt the decline of traditional Chinese Medicine and other Chinese technoscientific practices and their respective prognosticative power as mobile bodies of local knowledge while ensuring  their continued innovation and regeneration.


[1] David Turnbull in his book Masons, Tricksters, and Cartographerst highlighted the fact that the South American historian Enrique Dussell’s perspective that ‘ modernity had it’s originary moment as a European phenomenon in 1492, when Europe defined itself as the centre of world history in it’s encounter with the non-European other –an alterity it has erased’ [David Turnbull, Masons, Tricksters, and Cartographers (Australia: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000), 227.

[2] Professor Benjamin A. Elman pointed out in 2003 that scientism influenced a number of influential Chinese scientists trained abroad as well as other intellectuals like Chen Duxiu and Ba Jin (Li Feigan), who in his 1931 novel Family attacked ‘premodern Daoism 道教 and traditional medicine 中醫 as haven of superstition and backwardness’, Benjamin  Elman, ‘Rethinking the Twentieth Century Denigration of Traditional Chinese Science and Medicine in the Twenty-First Century’, paper presented at the Sixth International Conference on the Significance of Chinese Culture in the Twenty-First Century: The Interaction and Confluence of Chinese and Non-Chinese Civilisation’, International Sinological Center, Charles University, Prague, 1–2 November 2003, 20. 

[3] Stephen Toulmin described ‘High Modernity’ as an age ‘which saw nature and humanity as distinct and separate’ giving way to an epoch of ‘humanised Modernity’ or postmodernity ‘which reintegrates nature and humanity’: Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (New York: Free Press, 1990), 182–3. Arguing for a sympathetic understanding, continuation and development of the northern hemispherical ancient Chinese geomantic practice of ‘wind and water’ 風水 from a local knowledge perspective into the southern hemisphere, Michael Paton and Zhang Chengmin pointed out that ‘in the large-scale social, political and environmental evolution in the global economy we need to be careful not to wage war on nature by remembering that the earth is one connected life system’: Michael Paton and Zhang Chengmin, ‘Southern Culture and the North/South Divide: More Than a Metaphor’, JOSA 46 (2014): 26–40. 

[4] .J. Chan and J.E. Chan, ‘Medicine for the Millennium: The Challenge of Postmodernism’, Medical Journal of Australia 172:7 (2000): 332–4.

[5] R. Tiquia, ‘Constructing a Non-Hegemonic, Interactive Space for Traditional Asian Medicine’, paper presented at the Seventeenth Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia ‘Is This the Asian Century?’, Monash University, Melbourne, 1–3 July 2008: <>, accessed 14 October 2013. 

[6] Li-chen Lin from National Taiwan University in looking at three ancient Chinese scholars’ (Meng Hsi, Wang Pi and Chu Hsi) interpretations of the Book of Changes concept of ‘time’ and ‘position’ (cardinal direction) concluded that ‘all three upheld the unity of heaven [i.e. nature] and man, and denied that heaven and man constitute two distinct realms’. Li-chen Lin, ‘The Concepts of Time and Position in the Book of Changes and Their Development’, in Time and Space in Chinese Culture, ed. Chun-chieh Huang and Erick Zürcher (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 112–13. 

We can also say that the European colonisation of the Australian continent signalled the fracturing of the ‘Dreamtime’ metaphysics of the indigenous people. ‘Dreamings’ are the ‘secrets’ of the ‘country’ which is a ‘complex of myth, ritual, and local knowledge, binding man and nature in a living, personal relationship’, A.P. Elkin, The Australian Aborigines (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1976), 43. 

[7] “ If Western thinking arrived at a dualism of “God the Father” and “Mother Earth,” Chinese elixirists strove to transcend the yin materiality of earth and rise to the yang spirituality of heaven.  The drive for  transcendence is one for Christian and Taoist, but for Christian it was an act of faith backed up by will and mental concentration, whereas for the later Taoists the substance of the body itself could be transmuted.”  Douglas Wile, Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics Including Women’s Solo Meditation Texts (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992), 71.

[8] Chang-Tze Hu, ‘Historical Time Pressure: An Analysis of Min Pao (1905–1908)’ in Huang and Zürcher, Time and Space in Chinese Cultureedited by Chun-chieh Huang and Erik Zürcher.Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill , 1995,  329. 

[9] Li fa refers to the traditional Chinese Calendar in contemporary times. The character li 曆 is translated into English as ‘calendar’ and ‘astronomy’, see L. Weiger, Chinese Characters (New York: Paragon, 1965), 618. Li fa is defined as ‘the method of calculating the motion of the sun, moon, stars and planets as well as the flow of the seasons’: <曆 &x=33&y=19&stype=0>.

[10] The Xia Calendar  夏历 “which embody the astronomy and reality in the locality of the  Xia Dynastic Kingdom”was the calendrical system constructed through the auspices of the  Taosi Astronomical Observatory 陶寺观象built during the late neolithic era in the north central China plain. The Taosi site is located in  N35° 52’  55.9’’  E  111°29’   54’’  in Shanxi Province, 5.5 km from the Fen River to the west and barely 10 km from Ta’er Mountain to the east. According to historical accounts and local tradition, this area was the heartland of the first dynastic polity in Chinese history, the Xia, which ruled the north central China plains along the Yellow River from ca 2100  to ca 1600 BCE. The Taosi astronomical observatory is identified in ancient sources as the location of the capital of Emperor Yao, the semi-legendary hero whose sagely government supposedly played a crucial role in the  formative period of Chinese civilisation [David Pankenier, Ciyuan Y. Liu, Salvo de Megs, “ The Xiangfen, Taosi Site: A Chinese Neolithic ‘Observatory’, Archaeologia Baltica 10 <<>> Accessed April 28, 2017. [R. Tiquia, Project proposal to hold a workshop in China : “Restoring the Chinese Calendar 历法 and the Cosmic Breath 宇宙之氣 to the Real World:From the Xia Calendar 夏历 to the Stems & Branches Calendrical Clock : North/South Hemispheres) 天干地支 历法时钟(南北半球) submitted to the International Research and Research Training Fund(IRRTF), University of Melbourne, 2017]. 

[11] Li fa is also referred to as yin li 陰曆 and xia li 夏曆 while the Western Gregorian calendar is referred to as yang li 陽曆, gong li 公曆, and ge lili 格里曆 Gregorian Calendar.

[12] Li Chien-Nung, The Political History of China, 1840–1928, trans. and ed. Ssy-Yu Teng and Jeremy Ingalls (Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1965), 256. Also see <>.

[13] Henrietta Harrison, Inventing the Nation China (London: Arnold, 2001), 158. Similar dates for these events are in Huang Qiu 黃秋 et al., Shiyong wannianli 實用萬年曆 (Practical Chinese perpetual calendar) (Beijing: Zhongguo Zhongyiyao chubanshe, 1994), 315.

[14] Hence, 1913 is min guo er nian, 1914 is min guo san nian and min guo 89 would be the year 2000, Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A Manual (Harvard University Asia Center, 2010), 185.

[15] ‘In their desire to abolish ancient customs, the Communists did not wish to create a new era (at least in the calendar) and they adopted instead the Western calendar. But till now, they have not been able to eradicate the old system; and thus, after several attempts to suppress the traditional dates in the newspapers (as happened at the beginning of 1977), they have returned once more to the solution of citing concurrently both calendars, the “common” calendar and the “peasant” calendar’, see Jean- Michel Huon de Kermadec, The Way to Chinese Astrology: The Four Pillars of Destiny (London: Unwin, 1983), 23.

[16] Shu-hsien Liu, ‘Time and Temporality: The Chinese Perspective’, Philosophy East and West 24:2 (1974): 145–53.

[17] The relativity revolution…dates from1905and1915…While struggling with puzzles involving electricity, magnetism and light’s motion, Einstein realised that Newton’s conception of space and time, the cornerstone of classical physics, was flawed. Over the course of a few intense weeks, in the spring of 1905, he determined that space and time are not independent and absolute, as Newton had thought, but are enmeshed and relative in a manner that flies in the face of common experience. Some ten years later, Einstein hammered a final nail in the Newtonian coffin by rewriting the laws of gravitational physics. This time, not only did Einstein show that space and time are part of a unified whole, he also showed that by warping and curving they participate in cosmic evolution. Far from being rigid, the unchanging structures envisioned by Newton, space and time in Einstein’s reworking are flexible and dynamic. The two theories of relativity [specific in 1905 and general in 1915] are among humankind’s most precious achievements, and with them Einstein toppled Newton’s conception of reality. Even though Newtonian physics seemed to capture mathematically much of what we experience physically, the reality it describes turns out to be not the reality of our world. Ours is a relativistic reality.’ Brian Greene, quoted in Alan Atkinson, The Europeans in Australia (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2014), 31. The ‘unified field of all existence’ is also referred to these days as the unified theory which is an ‘all-encompassing framework capable of embracing all of nature’s laws’ which today ‘ranks among the most important problem in theoretical physics’, Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos (Melbourne: Penguin, 2008), 16. 

[18] Yuchou is the Wade-Giles romanisation, rendered in pinyin as yu zhou.

[19] Weng Wenbo 翁文波 and Zhang Qing 張清 (1993). Tian gan dizhi li yu yu ce 天干地支歷與預測 (The elemental stems and zodiacal branches sexagenary cyclical calendar and prognostication). Beijing: Shiyou gongye chubanshe,

[20]According  to Marshall McLuhan in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy The Making of the Typographic Man (1962), preliterate or premodern cultures ‘depended primarily on face-to-face forms of communication in which all the senses –sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing—were simultaneously in play. Early forms of literacy, in which most reading took the form of reading out loud in a variety of social and public contexts, similarly involved seeing, speaking and hearing. Print culture, by contrast, abstracted the eye from the other senses and subjected it to a distinctive form of training by obliging it to follow each letter and each word, in their sequential toil across the page, then on the next line, and so on. The social consequences of this were, in McLuhan’s assessment, pretty well unlimited. The abstraction (‘disassociation’ , Merriam-Webster) of the eye from other sensory and other tactile forms of involvement paved the way for perspective art and for abstract numerical forms of calculation that proved crucial to the development of modern states and markets. Print, in encouraging silent and solitary reading, also played a key role in the development of modern forms of private life. And unlike manuscript culture, in which each letter is unique, the uniformity of print provided a model of visual repetition for the development of standardised forms of commodity production’ [Tony Bennett, “The media sensorium: cultural technologies, the senses and society,” in Mary Gillespie (ed) Media Audiences. Berkshire, England: Open University Press, 2005,51-96; 52-53]. 

Jack Goody in his book The Domestication of the Savage Mind (1977) claims that “the shift from  writing and then to print must be considered of critical importance in both formalising and increasing the flow of information that has been the precondition of many of the features that differentiate the prehistoric societies of the Neolithic and Paleolithic from the ‘modern’ civilizations that followed.” But it also crucially changes the kind of thinking and the kind of knowledge that is possible. “ Writing puts a distance between man and his verbal acts. He can now examine what he says in a more objective manner.”  Writing accounts for the difference between the open and the closed, between the rational and traditional, because it permits a different kind of scrutiny of current knowledge:” “Writing enables you to talk freely about your thoughts.” Writing allows for lists, formulae, classification, record keeping recipes, logic and formal texts of instructions. Thus, according to Goody, “Traditional societies are marked not so much by the absence of reflective thinking xingsi省思(‘examine oneself critically’ Plausible Labs Cooperative,PLECO)  as by the absence of the proper tools for constructive rumination. PLECO). This is because words assume a different relationship to action and to object when they are on paper than when they are spoken. They are no longer bound up directly with ‘reality’; the written word becomes a separate ‘thing’, abstracted to some extent from the flow of speech, shedding its close entailment with action, with power over matter’ [Turnbull,Mason, Trickdsters, 2000, 151].

[21]   Premodern technology which is referred to as  ji shu 技術in Chinese, is a body of knowledge, skills and operational techniques  that humanity directly applies and uses in their practical life activities.  Ji shu 技術 人類在實踐活動中直接應用·的知識, 技能 和操作方法   Gu Hanyu Da Cidian古漢語大辭典,Shanghai, Lexicographical Publishing House, PLECO) . The Classical Chinese script  ‘ji ‘ 技  means ‘qiao’ 巧  (‘skillful’) . Cong shou從手 (manage with the hand),支聲 (phonetics  zhi  ).《漢語大字典》p. 770. While shu 術 translates into English as ‘art’, ‘skill’‘way’ ,  ‘technique’, ‘method’ or ‘tactics’. Hence, premodern Chinese technology refers to is a body of knowledge, skills, techniques, methods, or tactics that humanity directly applies in their practical life activities  which involves skilful use of their hands. Premodern Chinese technology then is a combination of ‘technology’ or technique and a practice-based sciential  body of knowledge or ‘Technoscience’. 

[22] ‘Decentering’ means to cause one to lose or shift from an established center or focus, especially to disconnect from practical or theoretical assumption origin, priority or essence [Merriam Wesbster]. 

[23] ‘Perception’ refers to an awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation [Merriam-Wesbster

[24] In 2005, Arthur Asa Berger defined ‘media’ as the plural of the term ‘medium.’ And he saw a ‘medium’ as a “means of sending communicating messages, information, or texts of one kind or another, from one person to another or, in the case of mass media, to many people… Media communicate texts for the most part. For example, speech is a medium we use in conversation with one another; it is a personal medium. The mass media are generally held to include books, and other kinds of printed works, radio, film, television, CDs, DVDs, and the Internet. With the mass media, large numbers of people are involved as audiences in the communication process… As many commentators have pointed out, the purpose of television shows–as far as the television industry and advertisers are concerned—is to deliver audiences to advertisers. The obsession radio and television stations have with obtaining money from advertising helps shape programming. The same applies to all media” [ Arthur Asa Berger (ed), Making sense of media : key texts in media and cultural studies. Malden MA USA: Blackwell Pub, 2005, 4-5]. 

[25] “The dissemination of printing to Europe terminated the monopoly of clergymen of the right to learning and higher education. It provided important conditions preparatory to the whirlwind advance of science following a long period of medieval darkness and to the Renaissance movement. In his letter to F. Engels in January 1863, Karl Marx referred to the discovering of gunpowder, the compass and printing as “prerequisites of bourgeois development,” a remark that places the art of printing in its properly significant role” [ Chinese Academy of Sciences, Ancient China’s Technology and Science, 1983, 391]. 

[26] “Modernity” Encyclopedia Britannica <>Accessed: July 2, 2017<<>> Accessed July 2, 2017.<>Accessed October 15, 2019; Tiquia, Rey, “Restoring the Metaphysical Values of the Cosmic Breath Qi 氣  to the Real World.” Powerpoint  presentation  at the 15th Biennial Conference of the Chinese Studies Association of Australia (CSAA ) Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, 10th -12th of  July <<

[27] Advocating digital minimalism and living better with less technology, Cal Newport expressed deep concern about  modernity  being at odds with solitude i.e.‘a subjective state in which one’s mind is free from input from other mind.’Quoting Anthony Starr who stated that “ contemporary Western culture makes the peace of solitude difficult to attain. He pointed to Muzak  and the recent invention of the “car telephone” as the latest evidence of this encroachment of noise into all parts of our lives.” [Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism, UK: Penguin Business, 2019, 99, 93. 

[28] “ In the 17th century, Western science and technology began flowing into China via the Jesuit missionaries. Some 200 years later towards the end of the Qing dynasty, the feudal rulers who have panicked before imperialist gun-boats suddenly turned from xenophobia to blind worship of anything foreign. This latter type of delusion infected certain influential people, who advocated “wholesale Westernization” even after the patriotic May 4thMovement of 1919. China was submerged in Western science and technology at the cost of almost total obliteration of her own fine traditions” [Institute of the History of Natural Sciences , Chinese Academy of Sciences, Ancient China’s Technology and Science,Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1983,2]. Endymion Wilkinson refers to this Western European colonization of China as “The Transplantation of Modern Science” into China [ Wilkinson,2000,674-679]. 

[29] Chen Dingsan 陳鼎三 and Jiang Ersun 江爾孫, Yixue tanyuan 醫學探源 (Sichuan: Kexuejishu chubanshe, 1986, 16). 

[30] “For humans are endowed with the Six Qi from Heaven which in turn generates the Six endogenous fu organs 六腑. He/she is also endowed with the Five Elements which in turn generates the Five endogenous Zang organs 五脏. The Six endogenous fu and Five endogenous zang organs generate the twelve acupuncture meridians, the Five Sense Organs 五官 (eyes, ears, lips. nose, tongue), the ‘nine body openings’ 九窍, the four extremities, and the ‘hundred bones’. These are all categorized under ‘visible matter’ you xing zhi zhi有形之卮. None of these are unconnected with Heaven and Earth. The visible matter or substances in turn generate the ‘invisible qi sheng wuxing zhi qi生无形之气. On the other hand, the invisible qi moves the visible substances, none unconnected with Heaven and Earth. When the yin and yang qi move in harmony, then all the natural things multiply and thrive. And when the six qi flow in harmony, then all the acupuncture meridian pathways in the human body are not blocked, while human logic li 理and emotions manifest naturally. Otherwise, people become sick.” [Chen Ding San, Jiang Er Sun (ed. 1985), Yixue Tanyuan 医学 探源 (Sichuan: Sichuan kexue jishu chubanshe, 1985), p. 236.] R. Tiquia, “Constructing a Symmetrical Translating Knowledge Space between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Scientific Medicine in Australia.” In Complementary Medicine and Culture: The Changing Cultural Territory of Local and Global Healing Practices, edited by Tass Holmes and Evan-Paul Cherniack  161-189. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2017,182-183; Rey Tiquia, “Restoring the Metaphysical Values of the Cosmic Breath Qi 氣  to the Real World.” Powerpoint  presentation  at the 15th Biennial Conference of the Chinese Studies Association of Australia (CSAA ) Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, 10th -12th of  July <<

[31] According to Huang Yi-Long and Zhang Chih-ch’eng, hou qi 侯氣(watching the ethers) was a method used to calculate the seasons. It embodied the premodern Chinese concept of unity of Heaven, Earth and Man. The practice of hou qi involved the burying of twelve musical pitch pipes of graduated lengths in a sealed chamber while filling the pipes with ashes produced by burning the pith of a reed (Phjragmites communis). People during premodern China believed that when the sun entered the second forthnightly (ershisige jie qi 二十四個節氣 or twenty four subsdeadsonal phases or ‘climactic periods) in any given month, the Earth’s qi would rise and expel the ashes from the pipes [Huang Yi-Long and Chang Chih-ch’eng, (1996) “ The Evolution and Decline of the Ancient Chinese Practice of Watching for the Ethers”, Chinese Science, No. 13,pp. 82-106, p. 82]. 


[32]The Chongzhen Chinese Calendar is a Western Astronomical Encyclopaedia. It’s first part included theories of Western astronomy and a compilation of astronomical tables (ephemeris). These tables were never recorded in the traditional Chinese Calendrical System 中國傳統曆法. They were hanged inside the offices of the Chinese Astronomical Bureau 钦天監. Hence, ordinary people could not see them [Jiang Xiao Yuan 江晓原, Xu Guang Qi yu Chongzhen Li Shu 徐光啓與崇禎曆書 (Xu Guang Qi and the Chinese Almanac),  2005年11月8日在“徐光启研讨会”上的演讲 (A speech delivered on the occasion of a symposium on Xu Guang Qi held on Novem ber 8, 2005)  , <<>>Accessed, June 28, 2017]. The Chongzhen calendar (Chinese: 崇禎暦; pinyinChóngzhēn lì) or Shixian calendar (Chinese: 時憲暦; pinyinShíxiàn lì) was the final lunisolar Chinese calendar. It was developed by the Jesuit scholars Johann Schreck and Johann Adam Schall von Bell from 1624 to 1644, and was dedicated to the Chongzhen Emperor but he died a year after it was released, so it was propagated by the Shunzhi Emperor in the first year of the Qing dynasty who changed its name to Shíxiàn calendar <<>> Accessed December 22, 2019. 


[33] Huang Yi-Long 黃一農, Zhang Zhi-cheng 張志誠, Zhongguo chuantong houqi shuo de yanjin yu shuai tui 中國傳統侯氣說的演進與衰頹, qinghua xuebao 《清華學報》,23 (2), 1993, 125-146.

[34] Derk Bodde,”The Chinese Cosmic Magic Known as Watching For the Ethers,” in Essays on Chinese  Civilization,Edited by Charles Le BlancAnd Dorothy Borei, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1981,366; refer as well to R. Tiquia, “Restoring the Metaphysical Values of the Cosmic Breath Qi 氣  to the Real World.” Powerpoint  presentation  at the 15th Biennial Conference of the Chinese Studies Association of Australia (CSAA ) Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, 10th -12th of  July .<<

[35] This is this author’s translation of the original Chinese version of Huang Yi-Long and Chang Chih-

ch’eng’s paper.

[36] Huang Yi-Long and Chang Chih-ch’eng, (1996) “ The Evolution and Decline of the Ancient Chinese Practice of 

Watching for the Ethers”, Chinese Science, No. 13,pp. 82-106, p. 92. 

[37] David Turnbull quoting Enrique Dussel sees the ‘transmodern’ as a historical era where ‘modernity and its alterity co-realise themselves in the process of mutual creative fertilisation’[ Turnbull, Masons,2000, 227 

[38] R. Wang, YinYang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 66.

[39] Thoimas Michael, The Pristine Dao: Metaphysics in Early Daoist Discourse (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005), 6. ; Tiquia, Rey.  “ Restoring the Chinese Calendar Lifa  and the Cosmic Breath Qi to the Real World,”   Proceedings of the  Intelligent Systems Conference,   7-8 September, 2017 , London, UK. <<]. 

[40]Ian Coulter, ‘Integration and Paradigm Clash: The Practical Difficulties of Integrative Medicine’, in The Mainstreaming of Complementary and Alternative Medicine , ed. P. Tovey, G. Easthope and J. Adams (London: Routledge, 2004), 103–21. 

[41] Sean Hsiang-Lin Lei, Neither Donkey Nor Horse Medicine in the Struggle Over China’s Modernity,(Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2014), 14 .

[42] Joseph Rouse, Knowledge and Power: Toward a Political Philosophy of Science, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, l987), 77].

[43] And talking about Daoist  cosmology, Chang Chung-yuan (1907-1988) in his book Creativity and Taoism A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art and Poetry (1963,137-38) pointed out that “Chinese cosmological theories  and the macrocosmic-microcosmic view of man as the universe contained in the individual” sees man/woman  as a “ microcosmic universe reflecting the macrocosmic universe about him. The movement of the inner and outer worlds is intimately correlated. Outwardly, man/woman move with the vast forces of the Heaven and Earth; inwardly there is the functioning of his own organs, following their universal pattern. Thus the physical functions and the structure of the inner organs have their cosmic analogies yuzhou leisi [43]i.e. spacetime analogies. It is on these cosmic analogies that the Taoist system of meditative breathing is constructed. 

[44] Peng Ziyi, Yuan yundong de gu zhongyixue 圓 運動的古中醫學 (Ancient Chinese medicine’s concept of cyclical motion). Beijing: Zhongguo zhongyiyao chubanshe, 2007, 269-270]. 

[45] Milton D. Heifetz & Will Tirion, A Walk Through the Southern Sky: A Guide to Stars and Constellations and Their Legends, Cambridge United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press,2012,12. Please refer as well to Rey Tiquia, “Translating the Life Energetic QiYin and Yang and the Five Elements as Ontic-Epistemic Imaginary Entities to Interrupt the Decline of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ensure its Continued Innovation and Regeneration,” powerpoint presentation before Annual Conference of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) , ‘Innovations, Interruptions, Regenrations,’ Sheraton Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, September 4-7, 2019. 

[46] Paul Pitchford. Healing with Whole Foods : Asian Tradition and Modern Nutrition. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002, pp. 20-22. Refer as well to R. Tiquia “ The Use of Chrono-acupuncture and Chemotherapy in Treating Lung Cancer as Kesou (‘Cough’) in Melbourne, Australia : A Clinical Report, ” in presentation before the  1st International Conference of Advances in Cancer Medical Research (ACMR

2013) . Singapore. November 18-19, 2012 <>Accessed:December 22,. 2019.

[47] Chen Dingsan 陳鼎三 and Jiang Ersun 江爾孫, Yixue tanyuan 醫學探源 (Sichuan: Kexuejishu chubanshe, 1986). 

[48] This diagram featured in Chen and Jiang, Yixue tanyuan, , is equivalent to a ‘cosmic clock’, a ‘diviner’s board’ 式 or a ‘cosmograph’ which I will elucidate later in the text. 

[50] Zu Xing 祖行, Tujie yijing 圖解易經 (Xi’an: Shanxi shifan daxue, 2007). 

[51] R. Tiquia, ‘The Construction of a Chinese Medical Lunisolar Calendar for the Southern Hemisphere’, The Lantern 9:3 (2012): 33–51. 

[52] ‘The Chinese used the compass less for navigation than for defining on the ground the points of the compass and auspicious and inauspicious influences by a system imaginatively called Feng Shui (Wind and Water). The basis of calculation is essentially the same as that used for the calendar and the establishment of the horoscope’, see Huon de Kermadec, The Way to Chinese Astrology, 52–3.

[53] Field describes the use of the diviner’s board thus: ‘the cosmographer would orient the board to the cardinal directions, represented by the four sides of the board. Then he would align the number of the month on the heaven disc with the double hour of the day or night from the earth plate. Finally, he would note the constellation on the portion of the disc that fronted the southern edge of the board. These are the asterisms that would appear in the sky in the month and hour of the query.’ Stephen L. Field, Ancient Chinese Divination (University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), 93. 

[54] Wilkinson, Chinese History, 680.

[55] The theme of the 2018 annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science — TRANSnational STS – encourages presentations, panels, and other events that deepen and extend the transnational character of the Society itself, while engaging issues invoked by both the TRANS prefix (across, beyond, to change thoroughly), and by the problematic and evolving status of “nations” – and the reassertion of nationalisms – in processes of global ordering. Leveraging the global scope of Science and Technology Studies (STS), our aim is to intensify connection between conference participants (scholars, practitioners, and students) based in different regions, stimulating conversation about ways 4S and other scholarly societies can provide critical infrastructure for next-generation, transnationally collaborative, intellectual and political engagements. We also aim to encourage consideration of a broad array of concepts that are undergoing – or should undergo – transformation if we are to address key scholarly and practical problems of our times. Current concepts, knowledges, practices, and institutions of “the nation” are exemplary, pointing to a need for radical reformulation of habitual ways of thinking about and organizing governance, bodies and lifeworlds. Expansive reconsideration of other concepts, foundational and emergent (justice, biopolitics, innovation, Empire, and the Anthropocene, for example), are also encouraged. Activities that draw conference participants into issues of special importance in Australia and the broader Asia-Pacific region – indigenous politics, border controls, mining, climate change, and renewable energy, for example — will be threaded throughout and offered in advance of the conference. The overall goal is to foreground diverse STS genealogies and approaches, leveraging the rich pluralism of STS, attuned to the rich pluralism of the contemporary world.

[56] 4S Sydney TRANSnational STS Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Conference, Sydney International Convention Centre, August 29- September 1 2018 <<>> 

[57] Shu-hsien Liu, ̳’Time and Temporality: The Chinese Perspective’,  Philosophy East and West 24:2.

[58] R. Tiquia, ‘The Paradigm of Theory-as-Practice: TraditionalChinese Natural Studies and the Performance of the Cosmic Breath qi in a New Global Spacetime System, The Journal of The Oriental Society of Australia, Vol 47 (2015), 215-216. 

[59] Codes‘ are a ̳systematic modification of a language, information into letter figure or symbols for the purposes of brevity, secrecy or the machine processing of information‘ [Lesley Brown (ed) . The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary vol. I. [Oxford University Press,1993]. 432. 

[60] Li Shaoyao , Huangdi Neijing yunqixue yanjiu [Research on the Doctrine of Periods and Qi], Master‘s thesis, Centre for Religious Studies, Xuan Zhuang Humanities Institute , Taiwan, 2004, 15.

[61] R. Tiquia, ‘The Paradigm of Theory-as-Practice: TraditionalChinese Natural Studies and the Performance of the Cosmic Breath qi in a New Global Spacetime System,’ The Journal of The Oriental Society of Australia, Vol 47, 2015, 228.

[62] R. Tiquia, ‘The Construction of a Chinese Medical Lunisolar Calendar for the Southern Hemisphere.’ The Lantern Journal. 7:33-51. 2012. 

[63] James Jespersen and Jane Fritz-Randolph, From Sundials to Atomic Clocks Understanding Time and Frequency [ Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999] 23 

[64] Jou Tsung-Hwa, The Dao of Taijiquan Way to Rejuvenation, ed. Sharon Rose and Loretta Wollering (Scottdale, Ariz: Tai Chi Foundation, 2002), 119. 

[65] The binary numeral system, or base-2 system , represents numeric values using two symbols, ̳0‘ and ̳1‘…Owing to its straightforward implementation in digital circuitry using logic gates, the binary system is used internally by all modern computers. ‘Binary numeral System’.<<>> Accessed: November 8, 2019.

[66] Digital |ˈdɪdʒɪt(ə)l| adjective 1 (of signals or data) expressed as series of the digits 0 and 1, typically represented by values of a physical quantity such as voltage or magnetic polarization. Often contrasted with analogue. relating to, using, or storing data or information in the form of digital signals: digital TV | a digital recording.• involving or relating to the use of computer technology: the digital revolution. 2 (of a clock or watch) showing the time by means of displayed digits rather than hands or a pointer. Three relating to a finger or fingers. ORIGIN: late 15th century: from Latin digitalis, from digitus finger, toe‟. [Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg (eds) New Oxford American Dictionary Oxford University Press, 2010.Accessed November 10, 2016. 0.1093%2Facref%2F9780195392883.001.0001%2Facref- 9780195392883&q=digital. 

[67] M. A. Lombardi,., L. M. Nelson,., A. N. Novick, , & V. S. Zhang, (2001). Time and frequency measurements using the global positioning system. Paper Presented at the Measurement Science Conference, A Walk Through Time. <>

[68] David Turnbul quoting Enrique Dussel sees the ‘transmodern’ as a historical era where “modernity and its negated alterity co-realise themselves in the process of mutual creative fertilisation” [Turnbull, 2000]. 

[69] Thomas E. Aylward, The Imperial Guide to Feng Shui & Chinese Asdtrology The Only Authentic Translation from the Original Chinese.London: Watkins Publishing, 2007, 53.

[70] Stephen Jones, Daoist Priest of the Li Family :Ritual Life in Village China, St. Petersburg, FL: 2017, 14-15.

[71] Rey Tiquia, “ The Use of Chrono-acupuncture and Chemotherapy in Treating LungCancer as Kesou (‘Cough’) in Melbourne, Australia : A Clinical Report, ” in Proceedings of the 1st International Conference of Advances in Cancer Medical Research (ACMR2013) . Singapore. November 18-19, 2012 <<’Kesou’_’Cough’_in_Melbourne_Australia_A_Clinical_Case_Report>>; Refer as well to Rey Tiquia “Surfing the Oceanic Waves of the Cosmic Breath Under the  Guidance of  the Stem and Branches Calendrical Clock .”.Academic Journal of Feng Shui 1st Symposium – Oceania, University of Technology Sydney, Australia, 13 & 14 May 2017 << content/uploads/2017/05/Tiquia_Rey_2017_Surfing_Oceanic_Waves_L_P.pdf>>


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4S Sydney TRANSnational STS Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Conference, Sydney International Convention Centre, August 29- September 1 2018 <<>>

Why Study Chinese Medicine?

A guest post by Élisabeth Rochat de la Vallée (

As a scholar more than a practitioner, my knowledge of Chinese medicine is based more on classical texts than on the practice itself, even if I see some patients. But I also meet a great number of practitioners, in various countries, and work with several of them. And I have been a patient of Chinese medicine for more than half a century, during which time I have encountered many people, of diverse origins, who are treated with Chinese medicine.

The Chinese medicine I know and praise, is the “classical Chinese medicine,” a rather different approach from TCM or bio medicine.

Indeed, studying from another viewpoint is always interesting: it questions our convictions, what we too often take as “given,” “natural,” “scientific,” “unquestionable,” “obvious,” or even “the only possibility.” Another way to approach human beings and their health leads us to ask ourselves: How do we know what we know? Where does our knowledge comes from?

This is not about contradicting Western medicine, nor criticizing it; it is rather about extending medicine to areas and in ways which may not have been thought of previously or not given enough consideration. Studying a medicine which for some 2000 years has quite successfully treated billions of people is a good opportunity to deepen and expand Western medicine.

It allows us to change our view on the importance of certain aspects, which are considered as particularly relevant in Chinese medicine:

1) Another view on health and disease.

In Western medicine, a disease is recognizable with a set of symptoms, identified with a name, and can be treated mainly after this official identification, with the appropriate protocol. In the classical Chinese approach, the disease is rather a disorder, an imbalance (in yin yang), with no clear limits between healthy and unhealthy condition other than the seriousness in the lack of equilibrium. It also shows if a person is capable of re-establishing their equilibrium by themselves or if the help of another person is needed. According to the classical Chinese thought, there is no real dichotomy, not even in yin yang.

Health and illness are not considered as two states, with a clear-cut border; one can shift from one condition to the other but – before an illness can be identified with the Western approach – the signs are already there, ready to be read by the penetrating (shrewd) practitioner or understood by the person experiencing the disorder. One can address the situation then, either by themselves or with the help of a therapist. 

And this is strictly connected to the following points:

2) Prevention

Prevention is present at all levels and in every moment. Not only to avoid falling ill––which depends on the personal conduct of life––but, once sick, also to prevent further damage; this belongs to the practitioner’s skill.

3) Nurturing life

The art of nurturing life (yang sheng 養生) is one of the foundations of Chinese medicine, which definitively opts for the care and taste of life rather than focusing on fighting death. Nurturing life is the best possible prevention, especially when it includes an inner work on one’s emotions and spirit.

This is deeply bound to a harmonious relationship with nature. The pattern for the organization of all interactions of the yin yang qi is the natural order. There is a profound analogy between the process of life in natural phenomena and in human beings; therefore, to know, understand and respect the natural order of life is to be aware of our true nature, original organization of qi and also the model for what we ought to be.

Nobody can be really healthy if they are at odds with the environment and their surroundings. It is the function of medicine to help people recognize a toxic surrounding as well as adjust to a viable environment.

4)  Holistic approach

As is widely known, Chinese medicine considers all the aspects of a person: the physical, psychological, mental health are seen as one, responding to the same balance or unbalance in the interaction of Qi.

5) Humaneness

Any therapeutic act is about two human beings interacting with each other. The bond between patient and practitioner takes part – one way or another – in the accuracy of the diagnosis and the effect of the treatment.

To be true therapists, practitioners must constantly work on themselves, to get closer to what it means for them to be a human being, to develop their ability to receive and accept the sick person with all their disorders, without becoming themselves destabilised; thus remaining able to treat them as human beings.

6) Emotions

A human being cannot be considered, treated and cured if the healing transformation does not reach the core of the person, what is usually called the “spirit” (shen 神).

Consequently, emotions are fully integrated in any pathological situation. Emotions, whether at the origin of the disorder, or a consequence of it, or just a customary state of mind (the psychological background of a person), alter the movements of qi. Chinese medicine regulates the movement of qi inside a human being; therefore emotions are part of the diagnosis. A more balanced psychology is normally one of the results of a good treatment. It is radically different from the psychosomatic approach of Western medicine and emphasizes the unity of the human being.

7) Guidance

More than giving simple advice, the practitioner of Chinese medicine educates the patients about what caused the disease and what will restore the balance, so that they may become co-partners in the treatment and even change the conduct of their lives (for instance, through diet or emotion).

8) Diagnosis and treatment

Both diagnosis and treatment are individualised to suit each particular patient; both are an evolving process.

9) Multiple Tools

Chinese medicine combines several therapeutic “tools,” such as pharmacopeia, acupuncture and moxibustion, massages, qigong and Taiji, diet… 

For these aspects of medicine, the Chinese approach is especially rich and interesting. A dialogue between Western and Chinese medicines is therefore highly desirable and advantageous. But a dialogue can only exist when both medicines are fully recognized as such.

Several prerequisites:

  • A text corpus, that contains the knowledge, expresses theories and explains patterns to understand how to proceed to make a diagnosis;
  • Operating procedures and techniques to treat according to the diagnosis;
  • Research based on the corpus and methods of treatment. 

What is often called research on Chinese medicine is in fact research of Western medicine on Chinese medicine. That can be interesting and even fruitful, but it is not real research on Chinese medicine. To scrutinise one aspect of Chinese medicine, with the tools and postulates of Western science cannot qualify––or disqualify––the Chinese approach of health and treatments as true medicine. One medicine cannot receive its value from another but must draw it from itself. 

To continue to study Chinese medicine not only allows the practice of its techniques, knowing how to make a diagnosis and understanding the subsequent treatment, but it also keeps this medicine alive by innovations and renovations that do not alter its essential attributes. 

In summary, here are some reasons to study Chinese medicine:

  • It is an efficient method of treatment, with considerably fewer side effects than Western medicine.
  • It approaches health and disease from a different angle. This is always necessary but even more mandatory in a field where two (or several) human beings interact. Medicine is a science but it must also remain an art.
  • When correctly understood, it offers perspectives and reflections that enrich the whole approach of medicine.


It is vital that classical Chinese medicine should be kept alive and therefore studied seriously.

The study of classical Chinese medicine empowers its own evolution and transformation, but only from its own roots, not as a graft making it merely a scion of Western medicine. 

It allows Chinese medicine to be and remain a true medicine, able to converse with Western medicine (or others).

Not only does it preserve the knowledge, tradition and reflection, but it also contributes to the expansion of human medicine for the future.

If we don’t study (and practice) classical Chinese medicine, it will disappear definitively. It would be a shame not to use its richness to continue to cure people and also to develop the best possible medicine for human beings.

[SYLLABUS] History of Food in China

HH2031 History of Food in China Syllabus

2nd year undergraduate course covers Chinese food from Yao to Mao, and into East and SE Asian Diaspora. Begins with session on critical terms, and full lesson on Bourdieu.

The “Food with Footnotes” assignment has students each bring in one food over the course of the semester, in teams of 3 or 4.  Students provide a brief presentation on the history of the food, and justify why it’s relevant to the topic for that week.  The entire class  samples the food  while listening to their argument.  Students provide a 6-item bibliography for the presentation, share research items online for others to use.

Students have been blogging, writing poetry and making videos about Chinese food.  Check it out here.

They also respond on Facebook to the weekly course content here.

Transmission of drug knowledge in medieval China: A case of Gelsemium

Syndicated from

One striking feature of classical Chinese pharmacy is the abundant use of toxic substances. Prominent examples are aconite, arsenic, and bezoar. Fully aware of the toxicity, or du, of these substances, Chinese doctors developed a variety of methods to prepare and deploy them for therapy. How was such knowledge produced in medieval China? And how did it migrate from one space to another? Here I use several medical documents from the seventh century to address these questions, focusing on gouwen 鈎吻 (Gelsemium), a highly toxic herb growing in southern China (opening image).[1]

The seventh century is a crucial moment in the history of Chinese medicine. The favorable political environment of early Tang dynasty (618-755) fostered the flourishing of medical ideas and the formation of a number of influential texts. One of them is the Newly Revised Materia Medica (Xinxiu bencao 新修本草, 659), the first state-sponsored pharmacological text produced in China. Compiled by more than twenty court officials, the text reflects the government’s effort to standardize medical knowledge. Gelsemium is one of the 850 drugs in the book (Fig. 1). Defined as warming, pungent, and highly toxic, the root of the herb could cure, among others, wounds inflicted by metal weapons, ulcers, swelling, and convulsion. The authors also stressed the great danger of the herb by showing that drips squeezed from one or two leaves would suffice to kill a person. But not a goat. Quite the contrary, its sprouts could make the animal grow large. It must be, the authors mused, the case that everything in the world submits to something else.

Figure 1. The entry of gouwen (Gelsemium) in the Newly Revised Materia Medica (659).
This copy of the text is from Dunhuang (P. 3714), dated to 667 or later. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France (Gallica).

Gelsemium was also embraced by doctors at the time. Sun Simiao 孫思邈 (581?-682), one of the most famous doctors in Chinese history, incorporated the drug into his Essential Formulas Worth A Thousand in Gold for Emergencies (Beiji qianjin yaofang 備急千金要方, 650s). The toxic herb appears in nineteen prescriptions in the text, primarily for topical treatment. In one case, Sun presented a formula called “Ointment of Gelsemium” to treat toxic swelling, pain and numbness in the limbs, ulcers, weak feet, among other conditions. At the end, he warned: “This formula should not be given to vulgar people. Be cautious.”

Why did Sun keep the formula away from vulgar people, a term probably referring to commoners? Two possible reasons. First, handling Gelsemium was a delicate matter. Due to its high toxicity, any misuse of the herb could result in dire, if not lethal, consequences. Commoners may not possess the proper knowledge of deploying the herb, hence they should refrain from taking this formula. Second, because Gelsemium straddled medicine and poison, laymen might easily use it to harm others. By restricting its access, Sun tried to prevent such malicious misuse. Contemporary sources echoed Sun’s concern. According to an eighth-century statute of medical practice, private families were forbidden to possess Gelsemium. The government tightly controlled the access of the toxic herb to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

This begs the question whether the plant was actually used as a medicine. At the high level of the society, this is likely the case. The evidence came from a precious collection of medicines preserved in the Todaiji Temple in Nara, donated by the Empress Dowager Komyo in 756 as a gesture of benevolence. Because of the vibrant cultural interaction between China and Japan at the time, many drugs of Chinese origin travelled eastward. Gelsemium was one of them (Fig. 2). It is possible that the herb reached Japan as an item of exchange between the two imperial courts that appreciated its medicinal value.

Figure 2. Gelsemium root preserved in the house of Shosoin in the Todaiji
Temple in Nara, dated to the eighth century. The roots are 0.5-2.0 cm in diameter and 17-24 cm in length. Image courtesy of the Imperial Household Agency website.

In the local community, the situation was different. We get a clue from a seventh-century manuscript from Dunhuang, a town located in the far west of the Tang Empire on the Silk Road. The manuscript contains miscellaneous formulas, many for external application. One, called “Ointment of Illicium,” merits our attention (Fig. 3). It closely resembles Sun Simiao’s formula that I showed above, but with an important variation: it doesn’t use Gelsemium. Underneath the ingredient Phytolacca (danglu 當陸), we find an explanation: “The original formula uses Gelsemium. Nowadays it cannot be obtained, so one uses Phytolacca to replace it.” We can posit why this happened, given Gelsemium’s habitat in southern China, which is far away from Dunhuang, and its restricted access to commoners, as explained earlier. By contrast, Phytolacca was a local herb whose medical function substantially overlapped with that of Gelsemium, making it a reasonable substitute for the distant, unattainable plant.

Figure 3. Drug substitution in a seventh-century manuscript from Dunhuang (P. 3731). The formula of the “Ointment of Illicium” is highlighted by the blue box. The arrow points to the note, written in small characters, that specifies the substitution of Phytolacca for Gelsemium. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France (Gallica).

This example of drug substitution is telling. Compared to social elites, lay people in local communities faced the challenge of limited medical resources. Consequently, they sought alternative options. The rise of authoritative texts at the imperial center thus went hand in hand with its fluid transformation as it moved in various geographical and social domains. Medical knowledge, upon transmission, was destabilized, begetting varied practices in society.


[1] This illustration of gouwen (Gelsemium) is from a late sixteenth-century pharmaceutical text (Buyi leigong paozhi bianlan, 1591). Reprint from Buyi leigong paozhi bianlan, ed. Zheng Jinsheng (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe, 2008), vol. 1, 241.

An Old Problem in Indian Medical History Revised

Original guest post by Kenneth Zysk (University of Copenhagen)

I this paper I should like to revisit a problem in the history of Indian medicine, which is yet to find a satisfactory resolution. The issue centres on when and where Āyurveda came into existence and from where all or part of it could have derived, in a word, the origins of Āyurveda.

The Origins of Āyurveda

At the core of classical Āyurveda stands the aetiological theory of the three doṣas (tridoṣa), broadly defined as defilements of wind (vāta), bile (pitta), and phlegm (kapha). Disease is said to occur when for one or several reasons one or more of the doṣas moves from its seat to manifest someplace else in the body. On the surface of it, since the theory includes three well-defined Sanskrit terms, occurring together, it would seem to be a straightforward exercise to trace this transparent mode of thinking in Indian literature prior to the earliest medical treatises, in which the theory was first fully expounded. However, such has not been achieved and at present two opposing theories have been put forth for the origins of the three āyurvedic doṣas.

One maintains that the theory was wholly indigenous to the subcontinent, being embedded in early ideas of four of the five basic elements (mahābhūta): fire (agni) which characterises bile (pitta) and wind (vāyu), universal form of bodily wind (vāta); and perhaps also water (āp) and earth (pṛthivī), which characterise phlegm (kapha). The fifth element, space (ākāśa) is the realm of sound and does not easily fit to one of the doṣas. Sometimes it is paired with five to give bile. This analysis, however, occurs in the second level compilation found n Vāgbhaṭa’s seventh century Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya Saṃhitā. It is also the point of view of most Indian scholars, while the other, advocated mainly by western scholars, posits that the theory is related to, if not dependent on, Greco-Roman medicine, since in its fundamental conceptual basis, Sanskrit doṣabears a similarity to Greek chymos, which gives rise to the four humours of black bile (melaina cholē), yellow bile (xanthē cholē), phlegm (phlegma), and blood (haima). While blood (rakta) is not counted in the list of three doṣas, Meulenbeld has shown that blood was considered in the same way as the doṣas in the classical Āyurveda.[1]The only missing pairing between Greek-Roman and Indian medicine is the doṣacalled “wind,” which was not one of the humours, but Greek pneumalike Sanskrit prāṇais found in a medical context.

Although Sanskrit doṣaoccurs in its original meaning of “defilement” or “fault” from the period of the early Upaniṣads (c. 800 BCE), its specific medical sense is first expounded in the Sanskrit treatises of Caraka and Suśruta. The medical notion of doṣacould not have come from nowhere, but from where and how.

Putting aside the two opposing points of view, I shall began afresh, starting with an examination of old literary sources in Sanskrit and working my way forward to the first systematic and composite treatises, the Carakaand Suśruta Saṃhitās, which date from around the first centuries before and after the Common Era.

Vedic Medicine

An early form of medicine was represented in the Vedic Saṃhitās from about 1300-800 BCE. Among these primarily religious treatises, there was no single text devoted exclusively to diagnosis and treatment of illness and malady; but rather randomly placed charms and incantations in verse were embedded in the earliest treatises of the Ṛgvedaand Atharvaveda for use in rituals to heal the sick and the suffering. The lack of a single text or texts dedicated to the subject of medicine indicated that healing was part of the overall socio-religious matrix in the earliest Sanskrit literature. On the other hand, only in its broadest underlying conceptual basis does a form of healing utilising incantations and rituals occur in the earliest āyurvedic treatises, especially in the context of maladies affecting children. Moreover, no direct linguistic parallels exist between the Vedic and āyurvedic incantations. This naturally implies that the āyurvedic aetiology of the three doṣas together with the extensive list of remedies based on it could not have derived solely from the medical theories and practices found in the early Vedas.

It must naturally also come from somewhere else. Could then part of the overall conceptual basis have derived from beyond the orbit of the Indian subcontinent, as several early western scholars of Indian medicine maintained? To try to answer this question, we must take the next histoical step and examine the literary sources composed between the Vedic hymns and the earliest medical works. My study therefore included an investigation of the later Vedic treatises of the Brāhmaṇas and Upaniṣads and the literature related to them. A deep study of these texts is still a desideratum, since I merely surveyed the principal texts. The cursory examination of them, however, revealed that there was little in the way of medicine that differed from that found in the Vedic Saṃhitās; and, moreover, there were still no individual texts devoted exclusively to medicine, with the exception of the formulation of the five bodily winds.

Although not a book per se, the fixed group of five bodily winds (apāna, prāṇa, vyāna, samāna, udāna) is a well-established idea that evolved from yogic practices involving breath control or prāṇāyamafirst mentioned in the early Upaniṣads and later picked up and medically altered by the early āyurvedic authors.[2]  The occurrence of the doctrine of the five bodily winds in the medical treatises is simply not enough information to establish the later Vedic literature as the principle and only source for the three doṣas, and therefore it was not a viable place for further investigation. I turn my attention rather to a more promising literature, not in Sanskrit but in the Middle Indic language of Pāli, in which the earliest Buddhist scriptures were composed.

Buddhist Medicine

The Monastic Code or Vinaya Piṭaka of the Buddhist Pāli Canon contained a large section devoted to medicines, along with numerous references to healing theory and practice throughout the earliest parts of the Canon, which probably took shape some centuries before it was written down in Sri Lanka in about 29 BCE. This would place the Buddhist medical doctrines historically immediately prior to and contemporaneous with the earliest āyurvedic treatises.

In summary, these sources revealed the following major points. Already in Pāli Buddist literature there is found:

  1. a presumed understanding of the idea of the three doṣas;
  2. a practical approach to healing indicated in case histories and remedies;
  3. a legend of a famous healer, Jīvaka, which has travelled with Buddhism throughout Asia; and
  4. a clearly defined role of the healing arts in the early Buddhist monastery or Saṅgha.[3]

The content of the Buddhist medical theories and practices points to an important intermediate step in the evolutionary history of Indian medicine from Veda to Āyurveda. Moreover, the medical knowledge was preserved and transmitted not by composers and proponents of Brahmanic doctrines and beliefs, but by knowledgeable and literate ascetics living what appeared for the most part to be a mendicant’s lifestyle. The study of early Buddhist medicine made the Sanskrit tradition that was maintained and transmitted by the Brahmans, even a more unlikely source of early āyurvedic theories and practices.

But, does the Buddhist involvement in early Indian medical history bring us closer to finding the origins of Āyurveda? Only in so far as it localises elements of what later became āyurvedic medicine outside the Sanskritic orbit of brahmanic knowledge. Moreover, it shows that the aetiological tridoṣic theory was already well formulated by the time of earliest Buddhist scriptures. The “smoking gun” that provides the precise origin of the doctrines of Āyurveda is still wanting. So, for time being, we shall have to admit that a direct transmission from one medical text to another may never be found and moreover might never have occurred. Some might say “well then give it up and move on to something else.” I preferred, however, to be more creative and widen the sphere of investigation.

I started to look to other systems of thought and practice that are related but not central to medicine. These include systems of knowledge found in the Indian astral science or Jyotiḥśāstra, especially those parts that have some connection to medicine, such as the divinatory system of human marks or physiognomy.

Although these studies are ongoing, they so far indicate that at least part of the āyurvedic system of medicine in India was shared with other systems of Indian knowledge, which indicate also influence from non-Indian forms of thought in antiquity. Three important points come forth, which show

  1. a literary link between information in the early Sanskrit medical treatises and early Sanskrit astral literature;
  2. a fundamental similarity to systems of physiognomy from ancient Mesopotamia and from ancient Greece; and
  3. a possible dual role played by the Indian doctor as healer and diviner.[4]


Perhaps we shall never find the precise origins of the āyurvedic theory of the three doṣas and the methods of the cures based on it, but we have come closer to identifying possible, viable places to search for additional information. Moreover, I have become more and more convinced that we should not expect to find a single text or group of texts from which the early Sanskrit medical treatises were translated or on which they were based. Rather we should consider Āyurveda as a medical system that evolved under the influence of fruitful exchanges of important theories and practices of different kinds of healers, such as Jīvaka in the Buddhist legends. It is likely that the exchange continued for centuries at a time when contacts between different healers were possible. This would imply that the interaction was constant and lasted long enough for intellectual exchange and practical learning to take place and be recorded. For the time being, this is perhaps the more realistic approach to the origins of Āyurveda, which could allow us to speculate that the tridoṣa theory resulted from assimilation and adaption, where a Greco-Roman conception of the four humours blended with Indian philosophical notions of the three guṇas or qualities (sattva, rajas, and tamas) and thenfive basic elements (mahābhūta), both of which were well-known among proponents of Sāṃkhya, with whose philosophical notions the composers and compilers of the classical medical texts were conversant. The precise means by which the assimilation took place could indeed be a fruitful topic of exploration.


Meulenbeld, G. J. 1991. “The Constraints of Theory in the Evolution of Nosological Classifications: A Study on the Position of Blood in Indian Medicine (Āyurveda);” in G. J. Meulenbeld, ed. Medical Literature from India, Sri Lanka and Tibet (Leiden: E. J Brill): 91-106.

Zysk, K. 1991. Asceticism and healing in ancient India. Medicine in the Buddhist monastery. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Paperback: New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991. Indian edition: Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997, reprint, 2000. [Vol 2 of Indian Medical Tradition]. Second revised edition under preparation.

______________, 1993. “The science of respiration and the doctrine of the vital breaths in ancient India,” JAOS, 113.2: 198-213.

______________, 2000. “”Did ancient Indians have a notion of contagion?”  in Lawrence I. Conrad and Dominik Wujastyk, eds., Contagion. Perspectives from Pre-Modern Societies(Aldershot, UK: Ashagate), 79-95.

______________. 2007. “The bodily winds in ancient India revisited.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.): 105-115.

______________. 2016. The India System of Human Marks. Text, translation, and notes. 2 Vols.  Leiden: E.J. Brill [Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, Vol. 15].

______________ 2018. “Greek and Indian Physiognomics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society,138.2: 13-325.


[1]Meulenbeld 1991; cf. Zysk 2000.

[2]Zysk, 1993 and 2007.

[3]Zysk, 1991. I am happy to report that a revised, second edition of this study should be out soon with Motilal Banarsidass.

[4]Zysk 2016.1: 25-53; Zysk 2018.

Understanding Efficacy (yan) in Tang China

When I explain my research on Chinese medicine to my colleagues and friends these days, one question they often ask is “Does it work?” I must confess that as a non-practitioner, I cannot offer firsthand testimony to this question. Yet as a historian, I found much vigorous discussion of the issue in medical writings and beyond. People in the past, it seems, were as keenly interested in therapeutic efficacy as we are today.

The standard Chinese word for efficacy is yan 驗 or xiao 効/效. In premodern sources, it carries a strong sense of “having been tested.” The word started to appear in the titles of medical works during the Six Dynasties (220-589), especially in the genre of “formula books” (fangshu 方書). The bibliographical records of the official histories offer us the following examples: “Personally Tested Formulas” (shenyan fang 身驗方), “Collected Tested Formulas” (jiyan fang 集驗方), and “Efficacious Formulas” (xiaoyan fang 效驗方).[1] What were the criteria to consider a formula effective is unclear, yet it is evident that medical writers at the time paid attention to the therapeutic outcomes of their remedies.

To further understand yan, I now turn to a formula book in early Tang titled “Essential Formulas Worth a Thousand in Gold for Emergencies” (Beiji qianjin yaofang 備急千金要方, 650s), written by the famous physician Sun Simiao 孫思邈.[2] The book contains thirty scrolls organized by the types of illness. In each scroll, Sun starts with a theoretical discussion of the illness, expounding its causes, symptoms, and bodily dynamics. This is followed by a large number of formulas that treat the illness, ranging from single-drug therapies to enormous prescriptions that use as many as 64 ingredients. Altogether, the book includes a massive number of 4,200 formulas.

In general, Sun follows a set structure in the writing of each formula in his book. He starts with the name of the formula, often with the typical symptoms associated with the illness. He then lists all the ingredients in the formula, specifying the dose for each one. Finally, he advises on how to prepare and administer the medicine. Intriguingly, the formula sometimes ends with the confirmation of the efficacy of the prescription, presented in short phrases such as “numinously efficacious” (shenyan 神驗), “extremely good” (shenliang 甚良), “having efficacy” (youxiao 有效), and “as if to pour hot water onto snow” (rutang woxue 如湯沃雪). These “efficacy phrases” are terse, generic, and formulaic, which probably carry more rhetorical force of boasting the value of the formula than serving as evidence of the remedy’s actual usage.[3] Likely, Sun incorporated certain formulas from earlier sources, including these set phrases, without inserting his own voice. Efficacy was an artifact of copying.

Besides these generic phrases, Sun also offers more specific accounts to show the efficacy of some of his formulas, as exemplified by 25 medical cases spread throughout the book. Significantly, Sun was the first person in Chinese history who included medical cases in formula books, manifesting physicians’ rising consciousness of using personal experience to validate the efficacy of medicines during the Tang.[4]

In general, each medical case in Sun’s book appears at the end of a formula where Sun presents a specific situation to testify to the efficacy of the remedy. These cases contain some or all of the following components: time, place, the identity of the physician, the identity of the patient, diagnosis, prescription of the formula, and the therapeutic outcome. In what follows, I present three cases to show different meanings of yan in Sun’s writing.

Case 1: To cure the illness of dragon (jiaolong bing 蛟龍病)

On the eighth day of the second month of 586, someone ate celery and became sick. The symptoms of the person resemble those of bloated abdomen, with the face turning bluish yellow. Upon ingesting cold food and strong sugar, the patient spat out a dragon with two heads and a tail. Greatly efficacious.[5]

The case confirms the efficacy of a food remedy to eliminate a pathological animal inside the body. Sun did not identify who the patient was; he only used the generic phrase “someone” (youren 有人) to refer to him or her, which implies that he had no direct experience of the event described. He may have heard of the story from others and felt the need to include it in his book to validate the formula. Efficacy was disembodied knowledge bolstered by word of mouth.

Case 2: To cure sudden turmoil of abdomen (huoluan 霍亂)

During the Wude period (618-626), a virtuous nun named Jingming had this illness for a long time. Sometimes the illness erupts once a month; sometimes more than once a month. Every time the illness erupts, she almost died. At the time, great court physicians such as Jiang Xu and Gan Chao failed to recognize the disorder. I treated it as sudden turmoil of abdomen and prescribed this formula, which cured her. I thus isolate and record the formula.[6]

Unlike the first case, Sun directly involved in treating the patient. This case particularly emphasizes Sun’s ability to offer correct diagnosis. Revealingly, Sun contrasts his superb skills with the clumsiness of the court physicians, which is a strategy that he uses regularly in his book to elevate his status as a superior healer. Sun’s effective treatment of the patient implies that he had an excellent understanding of the symptoms of the illness and the rationale of the formula. Efficacy was based on personal experience guided by reasoning.

Case 3: To cure sores caused by the urine of earwigs (qusou chong niao 蠼螋蟲尿)

In the sixth month of a year during the Wude period (618-626), I contracted this illness and felt oppressed at the heart after five or six days. I tried other methods to treat it but to no avail. Someone taught me to draw the shape of the bug on the ground, take the soil enclosed by its abdomen, mix it with saliva, and smear the paste onto the sores. It cured me immediately.[7]

This is an example of self-healing, which appears frequently in Sun’s medical cases (10 out of 25 cases). The physician regularly tried medicines on himself and used his experience as compelling evidence of a formula’s efficacy. After recounting the case, Sun confesses that “myriad things under the heaven resonate with each other, and I do not fathom the reason.” Despite this, he cherished the formula because of its undeniable efficacy.

We find a similar sentiment from another case where Sun tried a panacea called the powder of daphne (yuanhua san 芫花散), a massive formula consisting of 64 ingredients. Physicians at the time did not sanction the use of the medicine, yet upon trying it, Sun found it “numinously efficacious” especially for treating emergencies. He then muses:

“I then realize that the efficacy of numinous things is not bound by common rules. The highest principle and the resonance [between things] cannot be understood by intellect. … This is without understanding why it is so—even sages cannot discern the reason.”[8]

What is striking here is Sun’s ready recognition of the inadequate understanding of why the medicine works (buzhi suoyiran 不知所以然). Yet as long as it could effectively save lives, Sun found no reason not to include it in his collection. Efficacy was based on personal experience without doctrinal understanding.

To sum up, we encounter a wide range of meanings of efficacy in Sun Simiao’s formula book. It could be simply a copying artifact manifesting the physician’s respect for past knowledge, or word of mouth without direct observation, or attestation based on firsthand experience, or therapeutic success even devoid of understanding the logic behind. In Sun’s text, he juxtaposes these various presentations of yan without establishing a clear hierarchy. The new phenomenon of integrating medical cases into formulas in the 7th century, though, does indicate the fledgling effort of using experience, especially personal experience, to verify the efficacy of remedies.

Which brings back the question I raised at the beginning: Does Chinese medicine work? Well, it depends on a miscellany of factors, as Sun Simiao’s text reveals. To be clear, 7th-century China is very different from our world today: physicians during Sun’s time did not identify themselves as an autonomous, well-defined, and institutionalized social group; they competed with diverse types of practitioners in society such as ritual therapists, drug peddlers, and itinerant healers to gain the trust of patients. Their authority, unlike that of modern doctors, was not a given, but something to strive for. If our understanding of therapeutic efficacy today is heavily informed by scientific evidence and the approval of professionally-trained doctors, we see a different set of criteria used by Sun to promote his formulas and establish his authority. Therefore, what we can learn from Sun’s writing is not just a more open, inclusive way of perceiving efficacy but also to understand efficacy as characterized through a dynamic process that ties to text, experience, and the building of a healer’s identity.[9]

[1] Suishu 隋書 [Book of Sui], juan 34.

[2] For more information on Sun Simiao, see

[3] On “efficacy phrases,” see Claire Jones, “Formula and Formulation: ‘Efficacy Phrases’ in Medieval English Medical Manuscripts,” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 99, 1998: 199-209.

[4] On the history of medical cases in China, see Christopher Cullen, “Yi’an 醫案 (Case Statements): The Origins of a Genre of Chinese Medical Literature,” in Innovation in Chinese Medicine, ed. Elisabeth Hsu (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 297-323; on the analogous history of medical cases in Europe, see Gianna Pomata, “The Medical Case Narrative in Pre-Modern Europe and China: Comparative History of an Epistemic Genre,” in A Historical Approach to Casuistry: Norms and Exceptions in a Comparative Perspective, eds. Carlo Ginzburg and Lucio Biasiori (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 15-43.

[5] Beiji qianjin yaofang, juan 11.

[6] Ibid., juan 20.

[7] Ibid., juan 25.

[8] Ibid., juan 12.

[9] For more discussion on the issue of efficacy in Chinese medicine, see Nathan Sivin, “The Question of Efficacy,” Asian Medicine, 10(1-2), 2015: 9-35.

Biohacking in China, circa 1915? Or Skipping Breakfast to Save the World?

Intermittent fasting is trending these days. News articles about it are proliferating, celebrities are endorsing it, and the Internet is replete with beginner’s guides to different forms of this way of eating. Its proponents say that it promotes weight loss, lowers insulin levels, and normalizes blood pressure. Others warn that it can be dangerous—for those with a history of disordered eating, for example, or pregnant women. But the enthusiasm radiating from blogs and fitness websites is hard to ignore. Nor is this enthusiasm confined to American pop culture: jianxiexing duanshi 间歇性断食 is attracting attention in the Sinosphere as well.

Source of image: Accessed August 5, 2019.

Trendy though it is today, the idea is hardly new . I’ve been reading Chinese and Japanese books from the early twentieth century, and I came across one that radiates very similar enthusiasm for very similar advice: Jiang Weiqiao 蔣維喬’s On Skipping Breakfast for Health and to Prevent Aging (健康不老廢止朝食論). I’ll just call it On Skipping Breakfast from here on, for simplicity. This book claims that by eating only two meals per day, one slightly before noon and one in the early evening, anyone can improve his health and extend his lifespan. Following this advice, it says, can strengthen cases of weak nerves and prevent conditions such as depression, diabetes and obesity, constipation, and even cholera and typhoid. And, as if that weren’t enough, it gives the eater more time, improves his mental clarity, and makes him more successful in his career. When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says that intermittent fasting “helps him save time, stay focused, and sleep better at night,” it’s almost as if he’s quoting Jiang.[1]Or actually, quoting Mishima Kin’ichirō 美島金一郎,since Jiang’s book is a modified translation of a Japanese book published a year earlier.

But On Skipping Breakfast is not just an example of biohacking before Silicon Valley. While Mishima’s original text does celebrate the potential to lighten the body and boost productivity, Jiang’s version has higher aims: his ambition is to “arrive at a world of great harmony” by promoting moderate eating.

When the Commercial Press published the book in 1915, Western scientific ideas about eating were beginning to permeate China. Increasingly, diets were defined, measured, and quantified as the concepts of calories, vitamins, and minimum daily requirements took root. Underpinning much of this knowledge was a conviction that Western diets were superior to what people ate in East Asia. Scientists as well as political and cultural leaders decried Chinese diets as deficient—in proteins, in calories, in micronutrients and in just about every other way. Modernizers in China, like those in other weak countries, wanted their people to adopt what Rachel Laudan has called the “power cuisine” of the West, a high-calorie feast featuring meat, wheat, and dairy.[2]The goal was to create a taller, stronger, and generally more “fit” population that could better compete in the nations’ struggle for survival.

On Skipping Breakfast, though, approaches the question of national diet very differently. It’s not that Jiang rejects modern knowledge. By choosing to translate Mishima’s tract in all its scientistic glory, Jiang demonstrates his fascination with then-current physiological and anatomical ideas. The body described in this book is clearly the body of Western science, not the one of classical Chinese medicine: it has blood but no qi, yingyang (營養, the neologism “nutrition”) but no yin 陰 or yang 陽, and a mind-hosting brain instead of a heart-mind (xin 心), among many other marks. The book revels in mechanistic descriptions of digestion and excretion. But Jiang harnesses these ideas to a very different goal from the usual one of bulking up to better compete.[3]

Jiang Weiqiao, from his book 因是子靜坐法 (Shanghai: The Commercial Press, 1922). Available through Hathi Trust.

In a preface added to Mishima’s original text, Jiang affirms the Darwinian premise that all living beings are locked in a struggle for survival. But his response sounds like a Buddhist one:

“if there were a way to make living things able to not rely on food to live, then their conflict and killing one another perhaps could be stopped. If there were a way to … make living things return and not be reborn and not die … [t]he conflict and mutual killing could forever not be aroused.”

Unfortunately, he writes,

“there is not yet a good method of not eating. So we will use eating in moderation to save [people]. When there have been generations who have practiced healthy, anti-aging [practices like these] for a long time, this can build up their self-cultivation and produce wisdom, and engrave the truth of no-rebirth.”[4]

Here the goal is not to win the competition but to transcend it. Rather than improving their stock by eating more animal protein and calories, nations can improve their moral essence by eating in a disciplined and economical pattern. Jiang’s perspective echoes not only Buddhist ideals but also Daoist practices like abstaining from grain. It resonates, too, with what Chinese medical classics say about moderating what you eat and drink.

Despite (or perhaps because of) its ties to traditional culture, On Skipping Breakfast clearly remained a contrarian piece. China did indeed absorb Western “power cuisine.” A century later, the attendant problems of a calorie-dense diet heavier in meat, wheat, and dairy have cropped up there, including rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. No wonder, then, that these days intermittent fasting is attracting attention in Chinese societies too. Today, though, you’re less likely to hear about its potential to save humanity.

[1] Aria Bendix and Julia Naftulin, “Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says he eats only one meal a day and fasts all weekend,” Business Insider April 12, 2019 (

[2] Rachel Laudan, Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 255-257.

[3] Hilary A. Smith, “Skipping Breakfast to Save the Nation: A Different Kind of Dietary Determinism in Early Twentieth-Century China,” Global Food History vol.4, no.2 (2018): 152-167.

[4] Jiang Weiqiao, Jiankang bulao feizhi zhaoshi lun [Skipping Breakfast for Health and to Prevent Aging] (Taipei: Xin wen feng, 1980), author’s preface 2 and 5.